Life on the road and life at home can be quite different, especially when traveling in exotic countries. You learn little things about traveling while going around the world; things that you wouldn’t have necessarily expected to encounter when you were planning your vacation.
Here is our top 10 of what we have learned about traveling while on various trips. These “truths” are quite universal and I find that once you keep these in mind and adjust your expectations accordingly, traveling goes a lot smoother.
Different sound tolerance. In so many places around the world it feels like everyday life is a cacophony. Everything is loud, competing, juxtaposed and can drive you bonkers. Loud bus rides with horrible music coming from the entertainment system mixed with people listening to music on their cell phone without headphone is normal. A garbage truck playing “happy birthday” on a loop for hours while parked under your room’s window that only you seem to notice? Check. What I realized eventually is that many countries have a much better tolerance to sound than we have and they don’t even hear half of what we hear – they just block it out. Bring earplugs and try to not let it get to you.
Lack of personal space. As a general rule, the louder the country, the less personal space you’ll get. It’s just the way it goes, and while it can be uncomfortable and awkward, you have to get used to it. Often locals will try to give tourists more space, but keep in mind that this usually means that they either are making less money because of you (fewer people on a bus, say), that more people have to stand because of you or that you are paying much more not to travel with the locals. In India my husband and I would sit 2 to a bus bench and felt that the bench was already too small for us. Yet, every other bench was occupied by at least 3 people, sometimes 4. During one of our bus rides an old lady sat on my lap for hours: it was uncomfortable and strange but that was the right (and local) thing to do.
Scary driving. There are countries out there where the roads are terrible, the safety standards inexistent and the driving atrocious. You will encounter scary driving, and chances are you will be stuck in that mode of transportation for hours hoping not to die. Try not to look out the front window and distract yourself if you can. Praying can’t hurt either.
No hurrying. In so many places transport schedules are flexible. Buses leave early and arrive late. Train rides take longer than expected. Food takes the time it takes to prepare. “5 minutes” means an hour. Don’t take it personally, and plan buffers into your schedule. Relax, you’re on vacation!
Lackluster food safety. I had one rule and 1 rule only to finding great food in China: choose the dirtiest, busiest restaurants. I figured that if they were too busy to clean, at least the food would be fresh. Sanitary standards are not what we are used to in most places, but surprisingly food poisoning is quite rare. Just use common sense and order foods that are more stable (skip the fish if it wasn’t refrigerated) and eat in busy restaurants. If the locals eat there, it’s usually good.
No toilet paper. That’s right: most places don’t have any. You can buy it everywhere though, so always carry toilet paper with you.
Tourist price. Many places have prices for locals and prices for tourists. While some tourists get really upset about it, I think it makes sense. In those places locals don’t earn as much as we do and often where this happens is at religious sites. It’s already much cheaper than anything at home, so don’t take it personally.
Flexible seasons. No matter how carefully you plan your trip around the wet and dry season, you are bound to discover that these seasons aren’t set in stone. I’ve had this problem a few times, and sometimes it just means that you need to stay flexible and move on to somewhere else.
Bugs. Nobody cares about bugs but you. Bugs are everywhere and eventually you have to (at least try) to get used to them. Locals don’t understand why you’d want to change room or hotel because of cockroaches: to them, they are as common as flies. I really understood this after watching an episode of Beauty and the Geek while in India. It was the local version, and these women were wearing clear raincoats over bikinis. They had to answer questions about insects and critters, and if they got them wrong, they had to place a handful of those critters underneath their raincoat. Well, none of these women cared about putting cockroaches down their shirt, but all of them freaked out when they had to touch geckos. I don’t know about you, but I’d pick cute lizards over cockroaches any day.
Hot and cold. Two rules. 1) The hotter the climate, the colder the bus. 2) Don’t expect heaters in warm countries with cold places. No matter where you go in the world, bring at least warm socks and a sweater.
What are some of your travel truths?