There are some simple and basic ground rules that one can only truly learn through assimilation and an understanding that comes from visiting many, many cultures. These are the five things that frequent travelers know, that everyone should know and as Asians travel more it is important to know, we call it zen and the art of travel.
Whether you travel a lot yourself, listen dreamily to friends that frequently travel or just read all things travel-related that you can get your hands on, you’ve probably heard from many perspectives that travel enriches the soul and changes who you are as a person. You become humbled as you realize through your journeys that the more you know of the world, the less you truly know. These are inspirational and aspirational drops of understanding that leave us wanting for more. But there are some finite grains of universal knowledge that most travelers can agree upon, and these are five of them. This all the key to zen and the art of travel.
- People are different than you AND the same as you.
Part 1) People do not all think the same as you. Really. You say it from your living room, watching your television, and you THINK you understand this, but when you really get out there you discover that there are liberal folks, there are conservative folks, there are pro-marijuana or alcohol people, there are people that like their tea. There are people that pray to many Gods, people that pray to one God, and people that pray to none. Some folks love to eat at 9 PM and others at 5 PM. There are more opinions and ways to live than there are stars in the sky, and unless someone is being hurt or having their human rights impeded, this is FINE! Live and let live. If you can’t, you’re narrow minded and maybe shouldn’t travel.
Part 2) People are basically all the same as you (if you’re a decent human). People all want the best for their children, they all want a purpose in life, they all want to make friends and be happy. Most people are just like you in these ways. Know this, appreciate it and give everyone respect and the benefit of the doubt, just as you would want for yourself.
- You need to learn the basic greetings in every country you visit and this!
As you prepare to travel to any destination, learning the basic greetings of “Hello”, “Goodbye” and “Thank you” in the local language are very important, but it is advisable to also always learn a complimentary word. “Beautiful” works very well, but any word that is an overall compliment will help you out in more ways than you think. This is a go-to to ingratiate yourself with someone, get yourself out of a social faux-pas, get permission to photograph and more. Learn one generic word that compliments.
- It almost always takes longer to get there than you think, or someone tells you.
Different countries and cities have different levels of efficiency when it comes to getting around. The level of infrastructure in some Asian cities puts every city in North America to shame and would shock many. But whether you are flying, driving, grabbing a train or boat, there are almost always some sort of logistics to deal with, whether it’s weather, traffic or another issue. So be prepared (have all your batteries fully charged and pack some water), because that particular part of the journey will very often take longer than you think.
- Etiquette is different everywhere you go, but always be nice!
Some countries are more crowded than others, and people have a different sense of personal space or queuing for things. In many countries you do NOT raise your palm upwards for a taxi (so rude!), in other places slurping your noodles and burping is just fine. Etiquette can be very different from place to place, and you should do a little research and inform yourself so as not to offend (or be offended). Manners on the other hand, really are universal; just be nice!
- Catastrophes are often opportunities.
From a canceled flight to a typhoon in Hong Kong to an explosion outside of your hotel in Bangkok (yes, this happened to this writer), catastrophes ARE catastrophes (and it’s important during your impatient moments to remember that someone is always having a worse day than YOU!). But problems and upsets can also be opportunities; opportunities to meet people and make new friends while being stuck in a hotel bar watching the fish sail by the window, or to explore an airport in a way that you never had before, or even to impromptu-change your plans and make a discovery that you might not have otherwise. Always try you best to “roll with it” and see just what gifts a problem might bring.
The earlier you understand these little gems, the better you will get along on your journeys across your country and around the globe. This is all you need to know about zen and the art of travel.