16 February, 2014

A Traveler’s Guide to the World

10 Things you need to know before you embark on your journey to feel the world a little closer.

10.       Eat where the locals eat


There’s a reason why small local eateries exist – because people eat there. The food’s cheap enough to be afforded by the regular crowd, and hygienic enough to gain the locals’ trust. No one knows their food better than the locals. So when it comes to eating in India, try the occasional local Dhaba. Trust me; pizzas aren’t going to remind you of your homeland.

9.         Know the weather and pack accordingly


Because as much as you say you want to be this guy, you really can’t pull this off.

8.         Go where the city looks from, not where it looks to


Once you reach the end of the rainbow, it isn’t as pleasant to look at. The tall lighted buildings look nice from a distance. You can’t see a palm tree once you’re on the palm tree island. Some things are meant to be enjoyed at a distance and some are meant to be conquered. While you are just a wanderer, you’ll find the perfect view. Resolve in your mind to scale it some other day.

7.         Spend on experiences, not souvenirs


Because a book on Shakespeare brought from his home down isn’t quite the experience as sitting on the bench on which he sat and brought Hamlet to life. The thrill of riding the World’s biggest roller-coaster isn’t quite the same as bringing a smaller model of it home to gift your loved ones. Tell them the story, that’ll be a better gift.

6.         Don’t let go of a once in a lifetime opportunity just because it’s “too expensive”


Yes money matters and it’s good to save. With that, you’re also entitled to use your savings before you’re mugged or you lose it in a friendly game of poker. If speed gives you thrills, riding the fastest train in the world will be worth the experience.

5.         Think in terms of the local currency


Just because it “costs the same in my country” doesn’t mean it’s a good buy. Some things are cheaper in your world and some aren’t. It’s a difficult practice, but once you master it spending decisions are far more easier (and wiser).

4.         Visit the local shops


Every city will have malls and supermarkets, who will sell exactly what is sold in your hometown. And every city will have the local market which is actually a fancy market for the foreigners. A local shop is not where the local people sell; it’s where the local people buy. If you don’t see Mexicans buying from a shop in Mexico, it’s because it’s a rip-off. You don’t find local shops on the main expat street. You’ll find them where you’re likely to be abducted, but won’t be.

3.         Date a Local


Because no one knows the city better than she does. She’ll haggle for the prices, ask for directions in the native tongue, and warn you for any cultural offences you might commit. She’s the point of view which you won’t find in your guidebook. She’ll tell you that the temple which you’re eager to see is nothing but an old rickety building to her. And hey, who doesn’t like a good date.

2.         Do what YOU want to do, not what the guidebook wants you to do


This will be the most difficult part. Specially while people at home are waiting to ask, ‘You went to China and came back without climbing the Great Wall?’ But ignore that. The guidebook will only help you see the highlights. If you want to touch the heart of the city, you need to read the book, and then throw it away. Because nothing teaches you to adapt better than the unknown. If you prefer a disco to a TED talk, do that. If you think going atop the Eifel tower is better than skydiving, so be it. Your life. Your decisions. Your regrets.

1.         Be a Traveler, not a tourist


This final rule isn’t for everyone. Only if you think you are ready to venture out into the unknown carrying only your wit and a backpack, you’re ready. It’ll leave you hungry, stranded, helpless, desolate and hostile. But remember, what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.

“A new city is a good book. One introduces you to new people, see sights you hadn’t imagined before, think in ways you didn’t know you were capable of, appreciate someone else’s perspective; and the other allows you to live the entire experience yourself.”

Vishal Gupta
(The Lonely Traveler)
December 2013