‘What do you DO all day?!’
This question from friends and family at home makes me chuckle and flatters me — as if everything were perfectly mapped out, and I, the omniscient traveler, know the exact location of every street, bus stop, well-recommended but hidden restaurant, general store, health clinic, and hiking trail; along with who to trust and who not to trust; how to decrypt train timetables; speak foreign languages; and elegantly drift through unknown lands.
Truth is, the lack of knowledge of one’s surroundings takes up time – copious amounts of time – and makes one quickly aware of the clumsiness, the challenge, and the exhaustion that comes along with exploring far-off lands.
Not every travel day is spent gallivanting from one tourist attraction to the next – imagine how draining it is to deal with pushing crowds, long lines, screaming kids, and overpriced food — for a year or more.
It’s just life…somewhere else.
Here are some of the things that turn our hours into days into months:
Get lost. This accounts for about 37% of your day. Greater than 50% when you’ve just moved to a new location.
Sightsee – I’ll get this one out of the way, since it doesn’t happen as often as you think.
Research accommodation, food, and sights of your next destination.
Wind up doing nothing with that research and take about 3 full days to get acclimated to your new destination anyway (or wind up not moving at all because you met cool people and your whole plan changed).
Scramble around town in search of accommodations with your backpack on (extra turtle pace).
Bargain for accommodations once you find a place you like.
Have travel small talk. How long have you been in France? What parts of Thailand have you been to? How long are you on the road for? What were you doing back home?
Meet new people (prerequisite: tolerance of #8).
Take way longer to figure out who to trust and who not to trust since you’re outside your normal surroundings.
Have amazing, deep, multiple-hour long conversations that you’d never have at home.
Explore – hard-to-get-to natural beauty, charming side streets, local hang outs.
Scramble around for places that back home you’d get to in a cinch – somewhere to buy toothpaste, get your shoes fixed, buy a phone charger, a book you want, underwear, etc.
Think – processing the overstimulation of an unfamiliar environment takes an abundance of time and energy.
Hunt for an ATM.
Hunt for a functioning ATM.
Search for wifi.
Search for functioning wifi.
Look for public toilets.
Look for other alternatives once you see the public toilets.
Take courses (Spanish language, Ayurvedic massage, Muay Thai boxing, Yoga, etc.)
Bargain – which turns what would be a 2-minute process into a 10 to 15-minute ordeal or great experience.
Keep up with people you meet traveling – Whatsapping, calling, Facebooking to see who you can link up with next.
Keep up with people from home – video chatting at odd hours thanks to different time zones, uploading pictures to Facebook, etc.
Watch the sun rise.
Watch the sun set.
Find non-shady-looking places to eat.
Often: Send your order back because it wasn’t what you asked for, and wait again (if you’re from the United States, Australia, Germany, or any other place with speedy, accommodating service, lower your expectations as soon as you venture abroad.)
Get sick – inevitable if you’re journeying anywhere off the beaten path .
Come up with creative ways to stay in shape (handstands, bench pressing your backpack, deliberately choosing the hostel up the steep hill.)
Shower (3 times a day when you’re hot, sweaty, and gross.)
Try to find a place to do laundry in each new spot you visit .
Until you realize (in some places) that handwashing your clothes is the cheapest, safest, and cleanest way to get the job done.
Learn the local language…or don’t and spend more time stumbling around not knowing it; both are fun .
Ponder life in coffee shops.
Deal with cultural inconveniences, even for things that you’d swear are the simplest of simple – e.g., sugar for your coffee in India might take 3 requests and 15 minutes; a Costa Rican ‘yes’ means maybe just not showing up to the meeting you planned; and a 5pm social gathering in Jamaica is sure to start at 7 o’clock the earliest. You’re not back home in the predictable.
Ask questions – about the culture, the country, the prime minister, why they eat rice & beans for breakfast, how to say ‘how much is this?’ in Spanish.
Answer questions – about your country, your culture, your president, why you eat croissants for breakfast, why you’re travelling alone, why you’re not married yet.
Listen to people’s stories – which seem to be much more varied and captivating than the tired-miserable-and-sick-of-work story you constantly hear at home, so suddenly you’re a great listener.
Walk to places instead of drive.
Brainstorm tons of ways to make money on the road…and not do any of them till your back’s against the wall. Don’t let this happen.
Attend goodbye dinners (every other day) for people you swear you’ll keep in touch with.
Wait – on lines, in traffic, for trains, for cell service, for internet connection, for friends, for waitstaff, for food, for packages, for your shower to be fixed, for your body to recover from sickness — or from the night before.
Watch the rain instead of running through it.
Lie on the beach .
Spend 30 minutes to 1 hour asking around about how to do something that should be relatively simple, but you’re a rookie in this country, so it’s not (how to send a package from Tokyo to New York, catch a train from Rome to Florence, buy tickets to a Flamenco show) .
Find out that despite your inquiries you messed up #54…and do it over again the right way .
Book buses, trains, flights.
Run into problems with #56 due to having a foreign credit card, a foreign phone number, and a foreign passport, and overall just sucking by being foreign.
Travel from one place to the next – time spent is inversely correlated with the thickness of your wallet (e.g., a 30-hour train from Bangalore to Mumbai or 1.5 hour flight.)
Randomly get invited to cultural events just because you’re foreign.
Still do meaningless things you’d normally do at home – like aimlessly scroll through Facebook, watch dumb YouTube videos, lay around after your shower, procrastinate doing your laundry or calling your grandma (I mean, you’re still living regular life…just somewhere else.)
Practice accepting that you’re not home, that nothing goes the way you’re used to, and get really good at catching the next intriguing curveball that comes your way…
This article originally appeared on Thought Catalog and is republished here with permission.
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