16 Oct Overcoming Difficulties in Travel
Overcoming Difficulties in Travel
I love to travel in challenging situations. I’m not a masochist; I just like to learn, and no one learns inside their comfort zone. traveling in developing nations not only teaches me about my own boundaries, but it gives me perspective on the big picture – what the world needs, what we’re doing well and what we’re failing at miserably. Of course these ideas are subjective, but overcoming difficult travel conditions is necessary if you want to test your limits and challenge yourself.
This is bound to happen anywhere you travel, unless you’re inside your country of origin or a neighbor so close that the cultural lines are blurred. Nearly anywhere you travel is going to have customs, foods or perspectives on life that will surprise and (often) shock you. This is an amazing opportunity to question the truths you believe to be self-evident and try something new. It’s a chance to grow, to learn, and to be humbled by change.
OF COURSE, IT ISN’T QUITE THAT EASY.
It’s actually terrifying at times. You can feel totally vulnerable or ignorant, feel embarrassed or anxious, any range of emotions can appear as you confront your bubble and pop it. And it isn’t a one-time thing. Like an onion you peel back another layer with each place you visit, discovering more with each risk.
I remember my first experiences with culture shock in Ghana and how they shaped my vision of my future self – who would I become with this new knowledge? How would I ever be the same? Many trips and places have made me feel that way. I carry those discoveries around with me; because they challenged what I thought I knew and required that I open myself to their lessons.
TIP FOR CULTURE SHOCK:
KEEP AN OPEN MIND. TAP INTO YOUR YESNESS. ACCEPT WHEN YOU WOULD NORMALLY DENY. SUSPEND LOGIC. AND IF YOU NEED TO SCREAM, DO IT INTO A PILLOW.
Thoughts: Recently, ugly tourism nurturing ignorant consumerism is what bothers me most. I find it impossible to ignore when I travel to new places. Pollution and unnecessary consumption marks the tourist trail in many places, and I wonder can’t we be more astute consumers and drive the market toward a different kind of tourism?
We see some countries making great advances to protect the planet (and their country’s best interest) like Costa Rica’s eco-tourism industry; Guatemala’s protected mangroves and jungles; and Bhutan’s organic revolution.
Relationship to Sound
American, Canadian and many European countries react to noise. They pride themselves on keeping the noise to a minimum, enforcing it through ordinances if need be. Being noisy is even considered rude, an offense to neighbors and family alike. Homes of barking dogs receive angry phone calls and no horns are honked unless a collision is imminent.
NOT SO IN THE REST OF THE WORLD.
This isn’t to say that noise is good or bad, simply that we have a cultural relationship to sound and no matter where we travel this acute awareness will travel with us. Latin American culture, for example, is raucous, animated and oozes sound from every pore. As much as you may want to love that – and may love it when you’ve mentally prepared for it – being awoken by it at 4 am may produce different feelings.
Learning to celebrate something outside your comfort zone takes time and process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a commitment to introspection, to letting go, and to embracing spontaneity.
TIP FOR NOISE OVERLOAD:
OPEN YOURSELF UP TO THE EXPERIENCE. WHATEVER IT IS – DIVE IN. PARTICIPATE, INVESTIGATE, AND QUESTION YOUR REACTIONS. AND, IF ALL ELSE FAILS: BE PREPARED. BRING EARPLUGS AS A SLEEP AID IN CASE THE NOISE BECOMES REALLY INVASIVE.
Logic is relative
There are many paths to the top. What is an easily-spotted path by one goes unnoticed by another. Just because it doesn’t make sense to you, doesn’t mean it’s nonsensical.
We have an idea of logic as fixed – as in there is a logical way to do something (the way we envision it) and that concept is often black and white. But reasoning is wildly multi-faceted, valuing different elements and processes over others, and often reaching the ultimate goal through different means. Understanding that, for example, efficiency may not trump enjoyment, gives perspective about cultural norms and what creates them. It helps you reflect over your own culture and recognize the values that determine your reasoning.
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH PUZZLING LOGIC:
RELEASE THE NEED TO BE RIGHT, EVEN IF IT FEELS UNCOMFORTABLE. RELAX. ALLOW FOR FRUSTRATION TO ARISE WITHOUT STICKINESS. AND WHEN ALL TOLERANCE FAILS, TAKE SOME “YOU” TIME. A WALK OR SOME QUIET TIME READING CAN REFRESH YOUR DESIRE TO EXPERIENCE A DESTINATION WITHOUT JUDGMENT.
Governmental/ Bureaucratic Inefficiencies
This one often gets me, personally. It can be really hard to accept the seemingly endless obstacle course of bureaucratic inefficiencies that exist in many countries. I’m often humbled by the locals who aren’t fazed by the incredible time-suck and repetitious paperwork, which may be due to any number of causes such as lack of interfacing technology, lack of job training or corruption.
THERE IS NO UPSIDE TO THIS. JUST THE WAY IT IS.
For example, when Sean and I entered Mexico from Belize, it took us 3 attempts and almost 2 hours driving illegally in Mexico to get our correct paperwork. Why? They only accepted American dollars.
So, without documentation we were sent 20 minutes into Chetumal, Mexico where we went to 4 different exchange houses before driving back to the border to get legal with our new found buckaroos.
TIPS FOR MASTERING GOVERNMENTAL MADNESS:
IN LATIN AMERICA, THE KEY LIES IN HAVING PAPER PRINTOUTS AND COPIES OF EVERYTHING. AND I MEAN EVERYTHING. IF IT COULD HAVE ANY POTENTIAL BEARING ON YOUR PAPERS, BRING IT. BEING OVERLY PREPARED WILL SAVE YOU MANY TRIPS TO GOVERNMENT OFFICES, AND MUCH FRUSTRATION. BEYOND THAT, I LIKE TO THINK OF IT AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PERSONAL GROWTH, TESTING MY PATIENCE, COMPASSION AND EMOTIONAL ENDURANCE. EXPECT THE WORST, AND CELEBRATE ANYTHING LESS.
This, of course, could be its own article altogether, as so few places in the world have the bathroom conveniences that the most developed nations do. The differences can be small, like not being able to flush toilet paper (a very common practice in much of Latin America) or not providing paper without a small fee, to more surprising differences like not having a toilet seat or even a toilet, just a well-positioned hole in the ground.
Customs may also be noticeably different, such as concepts of privacy. In rural Guatemala, we saw men urinating anywhere they felt the urge, but women displayed no such behavior. In Ghana, gender wasn’t the defining factor, but time and location: sunrise and sunset on rural beaches.
TIP TO OVERCOMING BATHROOM BLUES:
TWO THINGS I LIKE TO KEEP WITH ME: TOILET PAPER AND HAND SANITIZER. A SMALL ZIPLOC BAG OF TOILET PAPER CAN MAKE YOU REALLY THANKFUL IN COMPLICATED CONDITIONS; AND HAND SANITIZER, WELL IT’S A MUST. SUSPEND GERM-PHOBIA LONG ENOUGH TO DO THE INEVITABLE AND THEN YOU’LL HAVE GEL TO GET DISINFECTED.