But remember, there’s always a solution. Stay calm, focus, and keep these simple common sense tips in mind and you will get over the hurdles.
R.E.S.P.E.C.T: Always be friendly, respectful and straight when you’re talking to people in a foreign country. You’re in their country, never forget that. You have to be extra careful about offending people when you’re out there on your own, and extra tactful. Sometimes you just can’t face the thought of haggling with another tuk-tuk driver over a few (thousand) measly Dong, but if you mess it up because you’re rude, who else is going to do it?
Timing is everything: We all make mistakes, but it’s time that’s the real killer. Give yourself plenty of room for error and you can still salvage the inevitable mixup. Leave it until the last minute and you’re screwed. If you’re catching a train abroad, I say aim to arrive at the station two hours before it leaves. That might sound OTT but if you’re in a big city and you go to the wrong station, or take the wrong metro, or traffic is murder, there’s a giant of a queue to get into the station, or you leave your passport at your hotel, it sure as hell doesn’t feel too long.
Always look back: Whenever you leave anywhere, do a sweep of the taxi/café/train compartment/hotel room you’re walking away from; it might be your last chance. You really have to concentrate – you’ve only got one pair of eyes and one brain to think about everything, so it’s even easier to leave something crucial behind then it’s gone forever. Take a little torch so you can look under beds or on the floor under your seat thoroughly, it only takes a few seconds. Get in the habit of doing this wherever you go and you could save yourself a hell of a lot of hassle later.
Embrace difference: Accept the fact that you’re on your own in a weird and wonderful country and it’s life – but not as you know it. So when you find there’s no toilet, only a hole in the floor, or you have to eat chicken’s feet to be polite, or an old lady spits on the floor in front of you because you’re showing too much cleavage, don’t get fazed. It’s the little things, even the uncomfortable ones, that make traveling so special.
Keep your head: If you feel threatened, keep a neutral exterior; don’t overcompensate by being bolshy, but definitely don’t show fear either as this can invite the wrong type of attention. Be the grey guy – not aggressive or weak, just calm and collected, even if inside your heart is pounding.
Go with your gut: Respect the line between being adventurous and just plain stupid. You’ve got to push yourself out of your comfort zone if you’re going to experience those magic moments, but listen to your instincts – you have to be your own voice of reason as well. If your gut is telling you there’s something wrong, there probably is. You’re on your own, you don’t have to answer to anyone, so take control of all the decisions.
Carpe Diem: The end of the trip creeps up subtly, and the next thing you know you’re back home, compromising. You’re back in your old routines, you’re your old self, and no longer on the move. Yes, there are some bloody annoying things about travelling: the endless lugging of backpacks around hot muggy cities, the surly officials, cockroach-ridden hostels, delays, language barriers, time zones, mosquitos, etc. But none of that matters when you’re replaying the tapes in your head. Just the fact that you did it counts, and the wonderful moments that each little stumble was just a step toward. So while you’re out there, don’t meditate on the mishaps. There will come a day when you’d happily relive every single second, cockroaches and all.
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