Fundamentals : The Beauty of Travel
issue three : fear thy neighbour
practical advice for travelling the globe.
There is no denying that travelling is the best way to open your eyes to the beauty of other people's cultures and countries. Exploration opens not only the mind but also the heart.
I have been fortunate enough to travel a fair amount in my adult life. Sometimes for work, but mostly for pleasure. I'm a pretty contentious traveller, but that doesn't mean I haven't had my fair share of cultural hiccups.
Here is what I have learnt.
When travelling to Japan, the powdery green stuff you assume is weird tasting wasabi, is actually green tea powder.
The neatly folded cloth on the counter at the noodle bar is not to wipe your face with. It's for the counter. It's also a valuable bit of information to have in your "back pocket" if you're having an argument with your travel companion. Just saying.
If you're going to a fancy restaurant in Thailand, flat sandals won't do, but high heeled sandals will. So make sure you pack light so you have space for an extra pair of shoes on your return flight.
You will be laughed it. After all, we are as weird and wonderful to them as they are to us. Embrace it. Take the opportunity to learn to laugh at yourself. After all, laughter is the best medicine.
Pack light. You will always land up buying stuff.
Lend me your ears and listen well. You DO NOT need to fill your 23kg luggage allocation at the start of your journey. Firstly, don't take your entire hair and makeup kit. Think of a holiday as a vacation for your hair and skin too.
Despite being an advocate of minimalist beauty, I am not saying you have to go beauty free. On the contrary. I am merely suggesting that you pack smart.
If you're going to a city, you will be able to find any toiletries you might might have left at home and if you're staying in a hotel, they will more likely than not have a hair dryer. If you're going to the jungle, there is no where to plug in your straighteners anyway and no one cares about your frizzy hair. So leave all that clunky, heavy, space taking stuff behind. Embrace you. You're beautiful just as you are.
Here are my suggestions for hassle-free travel beauty. Multi-use products under 100ml. You could get all these items (and more) into that silly little carry-on plastic bag, so you wouldn't be without your essentials from start to finish of your journey. After all, you never know who you might meet in an airport.
Don't worry, there is still space for your toothpaste.
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Remember, dry goods go in your luggage, not that you really need more than this to wow locals and tourists alike. You can also buy other basics when you get to your final destination.
If you're a fan of facial oils, most countries have their own cultural preferences, this is the perfect opportunity to try locally sourced oils from around the world.
First things first
One of my favourite things to do when I land in a new country is head straight for the closest spa for a massage. Of course it makes sense after hours of being cramped up in awkward positions. It's also a great way to get accustomed to the local traditions and beauty practices. Not to mention settle into a new time zone. Nothing like a power nap to reset your internal clock.
Next on the agenda
Post check-in and massage, I head for a local cafe, restaurant or coffee shop (depending on the time). I use this to time to refuel with some local cuisine, brush up on local customs and partake in some all important people watching. If you travel like I do (no fixed itinerary and not too many plans) then this is time well spent charting out a rough plan of action for your first few days in a new city.
I heard someone once suggest that it is advisable to have a shot of local whiskey whenever you get to a new country (provided of course they produce a local whiskey. If not, choose the next best locally produced spirit on the menu). Apparently, locally produced alcohol is made from a local water source and ensures that you get your body accustomed to the water which can help fight off dodgy travel bellies.
Before you head off on your travels, it's worth reaching out to your extended Facebook family and let people know that you are off travelling. Instead of asking only for recommendations on things to do and places to see, why not ask for introductions to friends?
Without question, the best way to truly experience a new place is with a local. It also means you give a local person an opportunity to be a tourist in their own city... and who knows, you may just make a friend for life. I know I have a few life long friends because of this approach.
Try new things
Don't be afraid to try something new. No one will be judging you. To put it into perspective, you might have eaten Chinese your entire life, or Mexican for that matter, but in reality, what we are served in the west is NOT authentic food. It has been dumbed down for us. So if you truly want to eat cultural dishes, be sure to eat what the locals eat. You never know... you might actually enjoy it.
It is always advisable to brush up on your destinations culture and religion/s prior to visiting. Nothing screams "ignorant tourist" like a person walking about cleavage exposed and bare-shouldered in Muslim country, for instance. It sounds obvious, I know, but so many people just don't bother. No doubt, it would be those same people who would be up in arms about tourists not respecting their "culture."
I suggest learning a few key words or greetings. "Please", "thank you", "hello" and "goodbye" are generally enough to keep you in good stead with locals, but learning a saying or greeting that extends beyond that will really set you apart from the other tourists. Check out this great article by Oliver Smith for the Telegraph on language faux pas to avoid (as well as some other excellent advice).
Bargaining happens in many countries around the world. Bargaining is something I struggle with personally, as I have always just wanted to know the price and if I felt it was worth it, I am happy to pay. If not, I simply walk away. What I need to constantly remind myself is that bargaining is a cultural practice and not something that is just done to rip-off tourists. That realisation has come with many adventures under my belt.
Dave Tomlinson's advice in a piece he wrote for the Huffington Post suggests "In markets around the world, the art of bargaining is practised every day. It’s often expected and ideally, results in the purchase of an item for a price that is satisfactory for both the vendor and the buyer. But when bargaining is done too hard it becomes embarrassing and a waste of everyone’s time. If some tourists paused for a moment to consider what they are arguing about in their own currency I’m sure they would most likely agree."
Remember that you are a guest and you need to act as such. Be respectful and courteous to the locals and their customs. Your practices and traditions might not be tolerated in other countries, so don't expect to push your way of life on others (unless of course, they ask you about it). Sure, you may be bringing money into the country, but being a dick won't get you very far in the long run. In a worst case scenario, it may even land you in jail.