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What Can Scuba Teach Us About Travel?

by Jonny Finity Oct 28, 2009
Over 60% of our planet is covered by water. Most of us only skim its surface.

SCUBA DIVERS LIKE to go deep and stay there for a while. They want to better understand the ocean environment, to feel as much like a fish as possible.

Any scuba dive course will teach you some crucial, potentially life-saving information. It just so happens that it can also give you a few travel tips to help you immerse yourself abroad as well.

1. Breathe

This may sound like a no-brainer. Breathing is the most natural thing in the world. If you stop breathing until you pass out, your body will pick it right back up again.

It’s more important underwater. If you hold your breath while scuba diving, sudden changes in pressure can rupture your lungs.
When you’re in a new environment, it’s easy to get sucked in and forget to forget how your body is reacting.

When the airline loses your bag or a cockroach sets up camp in your hotel room, take a deep breath: everything will be OK.

2. Go slow and steady

The easiest way to spot seasoned divers is by their movements – they don’t thrash around or race from one reef to the next. They move slowly and steadily through the water, working with the ocean currents to conserve energy.

They could cover more distance by swimming faster, but they would deplete their air supply quickly and probably swim right past some of the most unusual and sought-after marine life.

If you jump from one guidebook destination to the next, you’ll end up with a lot of pictures to show people back home, but chances are you won’t understand those people or places much better than you did before. You’ll get the most out of your travels if you take the time to slow down.

3. Equalize often

Underwater, air pockets in divers’ middle ears are squeezed by water pressure. Divers need to stop every few feet and “pop” their ears to equalize them. If they descend without giving their bodies time to adjust, the increasing pressure can cause their eardrums to implode.

Cultural and language differences, rapid climate changes, and an unusual diet can wreak havoc on your body. You need time – both physically and mentally – to adjust to the pressures of travel.

Traveling may not seem like work, but it can be just as taxing. Plan a day to relax – read a book, write in your journal, or take a nap in a hammock.

4. Deeper is (usually) better

Anyone with a snorkel and mask can ogle some pretty fish from the surface. Having an air tank gives you time to get comfortable, and let the local fauna get comfortable with you.

At popular snorkel sites, the aquatic life may be used to human traffic. But in deeper waters, fish will be wary of intruders into their habitat. It also takes time for them to relax and accept you.

If you want to really understand another culture, you have to become a part of it. It takes time to earn people’s trust, but spending that time is well worth it. Not only can you develop meaningful, lasting relationships, but you will discover adventures and experiences only the locals know about.

5. Don’t ascend too fast

Just as scuba divers need to be concerned about getting “the bends” by ascending too quickly from a dive, travelers should be cautious about reverse culture shock.

Leaving home for a foreign land can be daunting. As a responsible and conscientious traveler, you probably spend a lot of time before a trip planning for the journey ahead. You learn a few greetings, how to say “thank you”, and to take your shoes off before entering someone’s house.

Going home to a land of supersized supermarkets and designer jeans can be equally overwhelming. Plan your reentry just as you did your departure, and you’ll lessen the depression and discomfort that often sets in.

Community Connection

Take a dive with Matador Sports’ The Polar Plunge: 5 Cold-Water Dive Destinations.

Matador Sports editor Adam Roy shares some of his own stories of the sport in Emergency: 11 Memories From 8 Years of Scuba.

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