TIP 1: ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES
Yesterday sucked. I can be positive and give you the highlight reel. There are always things to be thankful for. But everything that could go “wrong” did. And it was a record breaking 99 degrees in Paris, so that put an extra layer of shweaty on top of this snow loving, Washingtonian’s attitude. There is nothing better than travelling to give you lessons in patience and flexibility, despite your kicking and screaming to the contrary. (Just to clarify, I wasn’t actually kicking in screaming, but I may have been in my head…) I often joke that all relationships should go to a third world country after three months into their courtship, because that is where you will see someone’s true colors. In my experience, people who travel are cooler. Be cool.
TIP 2: DRESS APPROPRIATELY (OR LESS LIKE AN “AMERICAN”)
Does anyone actually zip off those technical fabric “look, my pants can become shorts!” things? Did you really have to bring your Crocs to France? Are you going to wear cut-offs where your cheek hangs out in a Muslim country?
There are other travel fabrics aside from spandex and whatever Ex Officio makes. I go for things that don’t wrinkle and are breathable. It doesn’t have to say it’s for travel to be great for travelling. Expand your horizons. And that brings us to footwear. Aside from the memo that must have been sent out to American tourists, there are a lots of comfortable walking shoes, aside from white tennis shoes and those Merrels that I am certain someone created, because they made a bet they could make the ugliest shoe on earth wildly popular in the United States. Italians and Spanish tourists travel in loafers and leather sneakers and they seem to be getting along just fine. I am talking to you University of Wisconsin shirt sporting, Teva with socks wearing dude. The French dress impeccably. We can at least try a little harder. And lastly, when you go to a Muslim country, dropping the hemline a little is just good manners. Morocco is quite a blended community and does not feel judgmental in the way other parts of the Middle East have to me. That being said, you can blend in more, and as a solo woman traveler, avoid some of the unwanted male attention, by dressing a bit more conservatively. Save the crop tops for Cali.
TIP 3: RESEARCH AND OBSERVE CULTURAL NORMS
In Iceland, strangers on the street are unlikely to smile at you. In Paris, you will get scoffed at for pausing in the middle of the sidewalk. And in Morocco, haggling is a way of life. Culture norms, if you are unaware of them, can create significant discomfort and problems when travelling. Doing a little research can go a long way to an enjoyable trip.
Nordic people and most Eastern Europeans are very warm, friendly people when you get to know them, but they are stoic on the outside. They think smiling for no reason is a bit odd and naïve. Knowing this allowed me to appreciate the smile I got from a bartender when we had a real conversation about life, rather than feel people were unkind when they greeted me with, what by American standards, we would call a scowl. In Paris, they have a certain way of doing things. For the first time, I downloaded a couple of Rick Steve’s talks about Paris and enjoyed them while I strolled around. (A little quirky, but very informative.) One was hosted by an American living in Paris called: Walk Like a Parisian. She explained that in Paris, they see sidewalks like freeways. You don’t just stop in the middle and you must be mindful when passing. This did wonders to avoid the “harumph” you can get when you stop to take, yet another, photo of a beautiful doorway. I would have been oblivious to this cultural practice without a little research. Lastly, haggling. Haggling is something can be very counter to many American’s culture. And certainly female American’s culture. Haggling is central to many cultures around the world and should be enjoyed, not feared. I am pretty confident, the way I haggle is different than most, because it is not about squeezing every last penny out of the deal, but here is what I recommend to blend the cultures and have fun doing it, because that’s the whole point.
First, walk around to more than one shop. Ask how much things are. This will give you a range to start working with. Then, decide how much you want to pay. This can be a range or a certain number. I just think about what it is worth to me, not how much I think it is worth in that country. And then haggle. Don’t start with your final price. It could be 25% less than their asking price or 75%. You are not offending them. If they say you are, that is part of the game. Think of it like playing a role in a movie. I am not a great haggler. I usually pay more than I could have. When they tell me they “aren’t going to make any money at that price,” even though I know it is a charade, I feel empathetic. I don’t start my price low enough, because I am naturally inclined to be honest about what I want to pay. I am not that great at it. And I am okay with that. If I pay a dollar more for a sarong in Mexico or one hundred dollars more for a carpet in Morocco, I still have something to remind me of the experience that I bought at a price I felt good about. Where people get in trouble is in the “should-ing.” I should have started lower. I should have bargained longer. Like any should-ing, this is a pointless exercise. Who cares if you paid a little more? They are not taking advantage of you or swindling you. They are doing what they do best: haggling and selling. They have been doing it for thousands of years. We can’t expect to be experts. Enjoy the fun and what you get to take home!
TIP 4: LISTEN AND LEARN
A Cambodian countrymen summed up the difference between different nationalities better than any of my seasoned traveler friends. A South African, Muslim man who invited a friend and I for dinner in his home taught me more about Islam than any CNN headline. Overhearing a wife blaming her husband when they are lost after a twelve hour flight and she is hungry and stinky, will teach you more about projecting your feelings than any Brene Brown book.
Communication does not require words. I am one of the ignorant Americans who speaks zero other languages. I have been present to pain, joy, fear, and love, and I have secured transportation, ordered food, and purchased goods with zero words. There is so much to be gained from those people we encounter in travel. When we truly listen, it is amazing what we hear, both from others and from inside ourselves.
TIP 5: BE PRESENT
Dovetailing on TIP 4, I love travelling, because it enriches my senses, offers compassion for different ways of life, and causes reflection, but most of all, I love travelling because it mandates I be present. Yesterday’s mangled Paris feet from the “I thought they would be super comfortable” shoes, became fodder for conversation with today’s Moroccan shoe purveyors. My heat rash is a good reminder that "this too shall pass." Navigating the labyrinth of alleyways of Marrakech is an exercise in concentration like nowhere I have ever been. You must be fully present or you will be lost. (And you will be lost repeatedly, so being present to THAT is its own exercise for those of us who are OCD and always like to know where we are. Oh, I get the lesson now. Sigh.) Being delayed, being awestruck, being moved by the kindness of a stranger, being inspired by a beautiful handbag, and noticing the way the moon is showing above the medina in the daylight all require being present. I never feel more alive than when I am present. I believe this is why my soul loves travel. Being present transforms my experiences and my life.
Thank you for reading my blog. My experiences are enhanced by sharing them with you. I am reflective, present, and joyful. Thank you for giving me that opportunity.