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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Insulated Travel

Insulated Travel: a method of traveling that restricts you to certain experiences, that leaves you closed off from the full potential of what might be had from each and every day.

Five things to do or not to do when traveling in order to avoid insulated travel:

1) Do not restrict yourself to interactions only with those of your nationality or race. This means rushing to find people in your hostel to spend time with, only eating at guidebook recommended restaurants, and walking through cities without even bothering to smile at the people staring at you, waiting for some acknowledgement of their existence, something other than a returned stare.

How to avoid this? Not knowing a language makes it harder, of course. There is no doubt about that. Still, one can choose a random restaurant crowded with locals and point at food items if all else fails. One can offer up some of his fruit or bread, or perhaps propose a drink of beer. One can smile at everyone around him and answer repeated attempts at English queries as graciously and patiently as possible. If one is using a digital camera, he/she can show the people staring the results of the photo on the back of the screen. This also leads to further great photo ops with the people themselves.

2) Do not discount out of hand certain actions and reactions of local people. It is absurd to expect a foreign country (at least one that is not Australia or Western Europe or Canada or the US) to be run in a smooth and sensible manner. Annoyed responses to bad situations give you a bad appearance and pushes people away. It is important to remember that people always want to ask where you are from, and you are representing that place whether you want to or not (and thus in many ways I think Americans traveling abroad and making an effort to talk to people and leave a good impression are among the most valuable citizens we have these days - everybody doing it is an ambassador of sorts. Now, if only we could get paid...).

3) Do not discount out of hand contact with other foreigners. While some people do everything they can to spend all their time with other travelling foreigners, some do everything in their power to avoid them. These people miss out on a lot of interesting people and conversations and close themselves off to a significant part of the travel experience (and I should know this as I have been known to do it on occasion).

4) Do: (and I have mentioned this already, but it is so important--) smile. And if you know a bit of the local language, use it! Play with kids,sweet talk old ladies, joke with the vendors and cabdrivers trying to sell you their wares. You do this and they stop being annoying and a whole lot of fun. And you never know, there might just be a little reward by way of some free fruit or a discounted something or other.

5) While traveling, listen to yourself closely. Gauge your reactions in certain situations and get a feel for the people you are encountering. Develop a sense of safety that you feel is somewhat reliable. In other words, grow to have confidence in your impressions. Once you do, become aware of how many people are willing to go out of their way to help you. Perhaps they want to invite you to their home or take you somewhere outside of town, to a place that tourists don't see often, or maybe they want to sit you down for a cup of tea so they can practice their English. These are just a few potential scenarios. If you feel safe in the situation, if your instinct says go for it...then go for it. A memorable experience is around the corner (and most likely a good one!) --- Having said this, if you feel at all doubtful about the person's intentions...if you think he/she is dangerous, or after money, then say no and walk away. No regrets.


Anonymous seadragon said...

I've noticed that traveling with my (now) husband is a completely different experience than traveling with a friend and is completely different than traveling alone. There's something about being alone that encourages interaction with local people and other travelers. But at the same time, you're absolutely right that there are approaches you must take if you want to break out of insulated travel.

Your last point reminded me of when I was in Korea with my husband who is much more outgoing with strangers than I am and I got to reap all the benefits of that. He was so willing to chat with whoever started to talk to us (and in Korea there was always someone) that we were invited out to dinner four times in the span of a week. They were so eager to show us their country, and I swore I would do the same for any Korean traveler I ever came across in the US.

11:46 PM  
Anonymous Mom said...

This posting reminds me of seeing you in action in the Czech Republic, when all those kids kept coming to you to ask for help. You must have learned how to radiate expertise in the tenets you prescribe. I'm jealous.

4:25 AM  

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