The Travel Experience

How to Improve the Travel Experience

St Mary’s Day Ceremony – Axum, Ethiopia

St Mary’s Day Ceremony – Axum, Ethiopia

Arriving at a destination is when both the enjoyment and challenges of travel really begins.  After three decades of travel, I have developed several techniques to improve the quality of my travel experience.

Travel can be tiring for one must always carry a sense of heightened awareness along for the journey. The benefits are usually two – the first and most obvious is that you become aware of any potential dangers. The second and often overlooked benefit is that you become more aware of your surroundings and therefore observe things you may have otherwise missed – such as a shop tucked away down an alley, a small cafe dwarfed by larger buildings, or a group of men gathered around a backgammon game.

Common sense should not take a holiday just because you do. Simple rules such as not walking alone along an unlit alley at night, receiving drinks from strangers, or accepting free car rides from people you barely know is not something you would do at home, so why do these when abroad. In some cultures (particularly the Middle East) such offers are the norm, so use your judgement to determine which are genuine and which have nefarious undertones.

The more you immerse yourself in a destination the more rewarding and memorable the travel experience becomes. Eat where local people eat, stay where they stay and loiter where they loiter.  Strive to embrace the differences and shun the familiar.  Immersion provides the difference between seeing and experiencing a destination.

If you are new to destinations with cultures very different from your own, it is important to immerse yourself gradually. Undertake a reconnaissance on the first day, content to be an observer of the different restaurants, transport and sights. The following days delve deeper, which is best achieved through interacting and conversing with local people as much as possible.

However, you want to avoid culture shock that occurs when you become overwhelmed by these new surroundings. If you think this could occur, stay at a more comfortable hotel with familiar television channels that you can retreat to at the end of each day.  As you become more experienced with different cultures, you will be more comfortable staying in locally run establishments from the first day of your trip.

The reason I usually travel solo is that immersion is extremely easy for a single traveller, more difficult as a couple or a family and slightly more difficult again with two couples or families. The fewer conversations you have with local people, the harder immersion becomes – and the more people you travel with means less time to converse with local people.  It is why I never travel in groups larger than those already mentioned for immersion is almost impossible with larger numbers. I can understand and appreciate why people would prefer to travel with small group tours,  but to receive the fullest travel experience, one needs to stride a different path.

No use immersing in a destination if you do not possess the correct attitude. For me, just because a local person does not have an education, material possessions and has never travelled does not mean that this person is lesser than me – it is solely because I have been graced with more opportunities. Every single person I meet can teach me something about life and I always seek to uncover that lesson by learning more about them.

If you think yourself better than other people and look down at them, then they too will look down at you; see the world through suspicious eyes and the world will regard you the same. However, if you are genuinely interested in other people, they will show a similar interest in you; and if you smile at the world and what it has to offer, then the world will smile back in return.