Thursday, 25 June 2015

Lessons Learnt: Traveling

There are certain things in life we learn from doing and certain things we learn from other people's experience. Unlike school subjects or college classes, the topics of these lessons aren't specifically disclosed. You have to know which lesson to learn and which wisdom to take out of it all. One of the things you can do to become a successful person in life is to acknowledge the lessons you've learnt and, if possible, share them with other people. Sharing knowledge, as opposed to popular belief, can actually make you smarter, wiser and a better person. Plus, it can be so much fun! Here's to lessons learnt and me sharing them with you.

Traveling has always been one of my passions. Going to an unknown place, discovering new cultures and meeting new people intrigue me so much. Dare I say it's how I spend 80% of my time when I lived in Germany. If you don't believe me, you could always see it for yourself. Obviously, traveling isn't always as glamorous as all the photos portray, it takes a lot of planning, a lot of financing and a lot of patient. Especially when you're going somewhere you've never even heard of or don't speak the native language. Despite what you might think, traveling can be quite stressful - as is with most activity outside your comfort zone. But there are obviously ways to deal with these conflicts peacefully. And this is what I've learnt.

Come Prepared

Always, always, always make sure you know your way around everything you plan to do. Check all the opening hours to the landmarks you’d like to visit, see the price list to all the tickets you'd require, download the maps to all the places you’d like to explore, learn a little bit of the native language of the land and remember to watch the weather of your destination. This way you’d be able to plan everything out and have the best time during your travel. Little tip: in Europe most museums close on Mondays for restorations and inspections. Also, bring all the supplies you’d need (toiletries, money, clothes, bags, etc.) and store them safely. With money, it’s always best to store them separately in little amount, in case you get robbed. That is not to say that you shouldn't leave room for improv, of course.

Bargain Hunt

It always pays to plan your trips far in advance. One of the reasons being the abundant availability of bargains and promotions. So always keep your eyes peeled to explore the best options for your accommodations, transport and food. Check any hotel/transport websites you know, in case they have some good offers for you. There are actually many websites devoted to offering you travel bargains, such as Trivago, Traveloka and Urlaubspiraten. If you can’t find any that suits your liking after all, you can still count on couch surfing and airbnb to give you cheaper options for lodgings. Or, you know, go to a hostel. My favourite in Europe is Meininger Hostel. They have rooms which can fit up to 10 people, which means you will probably bunk with strangers. There are also guest kitchens, bars and game rooms. It feels like staying in a college dorm minus all the alcohol stink and low hygiene.

Just Ask!

Although you probably don’t want to seem like a total tourist during your trips, you have to admit that you are. And, when you’re lost, there is no shame in asking a local to show you the right way. What if the locals are notorious for being stuck up and unfriendly to tourists? Here’s a reassuring fact: when I went to Paris, the locals were very helpful and friendly - without being asked! And if that could happen in Paris, it could happen anywhere. Give them the benefit of the doubt and ask away. Politely, of course. But every city, every nation, has their own preferences when it comes to tourists. Make sure you educate yourself on this before being all in their face. In Paris, for instance, if you first greet them in French and THEN ask them for directions (in English), they’d be more than willing to help. This also goes for asking how the ticketing system works and other information you would like to obtain. You just need to know how to get on their good side.

Damage Control

No matter how you perfectly plan something, things are just bound to go wrong. It could be a sudden change in the weather, a flat tire or even your own health. When this happens, it doesn’t help to frustrate over it. What you want to do is work around it. If you arrive hours after you’re supposed to thanks to a flat tire, just take a look at your list of places to go, see which ones you can visit now and plan tomorrow at the end of the day. If your wallet got stolen and it contains all your money and ID, calmly find out where the nearest police station is or your embassy, inform them what happened and hope it gets resolved soon. You just have to realise that some things are just out of your hands. Things sure don’t always go as planned but sometimes it could actually turn out to be for the better. 

Indulge in the Locals

First of all, I am not saying you should meet a local, flirt with them and hook up. No. What I mean is local food, local art, local language and local habits. What difference does it make if you go halfway around the world only to gorge on same old McDonald’s again? Try the local cuisine, how strange and unorthodox it may be. You might actually grow to like it. Check out the local art shows and music performances, dance to the tunes and maybe learn what they mean. Listen for the local language and maybe learn a word or two. Take the local public transport and feel even for a second how it feels to be a local, within the hustle and bustle of the metro. There's no point in traveling if all you get is some great pictures, with no real and raw experience with the culture.

There is a saying that goes, "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one chapter." Now, wouldn't you prefer to read a whole book, get into the climax and find out the ending? It's a good story, it will be worth your while. There are people who prefer to join a tour and those who prefer going all backpacker. Personally, I prefer somewhere in the middle - do a bit more planning, add a bit more budget but free to roam around aimlessly and get into the depth of the area. Plus, when you're young, there are tons of travel bargains and offers to take advantage of. For starters, in Paris, European students under 25 get into museums for free! Wouldn't that be way better than being ushered about by a guide? Obviously, as usual, if you have other tips you'd like to add, feel free to leave a comment.

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