Gah, where do you even start with a topic as vague and general as travel? How in the hell do I summarize something as meaningful and life changing in a single blog post?
I can’t. But I have to start somewhere.
So I guess I’ll start with the “where” of travel.
In my opinion, there are two kinds of travel.
English speaking trips and…non-English speaking trips.
Places where you can ask someone where the bathroom is, and places where you have to make embarrassing gestures to figure out where the bathroom is.
Obviously, you have the language barrier aspect. But then there’s the cultural difference, the currency difference, hell – even the plug outlets can be different. But really the main differences are within you. When you’re in a place so far out of your comfort zone where you can’t even fully understand something as basic as the language, your mentality and your expectations do a 180˚ shift.
English speaking trips are almost like vacations. Do a little shopping, see the sights, eat the food, drink the drinks….Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice. I love sitting on the beach and listening to the waves as much as the next girl. But when I’m on vacation, I expect…more. My needs shift from “just getting by” to “I want excellent service, perfectly prepared food, and a clean environment because I’m paying this much.”
And then you have non-English speaking trips….
Non-English speaking trips are more like learning experiences. Every single thing you do, you have to work for it. Do some shopping is more like spending 2 hours bargaining with the vendor over a five dollar price difference (it’s the principle of the matter, damn it.). Seeing the sights is more like deciding to walk there but having to stop at a cafe…or two…to use their wifi because Google Maps lost your location. Eating the food is more like eating what you think (hope) is chicken when you randomly pointed at something on the menu. And drinking the drinks is more like screaming “GAN BEI” (“bottoms up” in Chinese) with some random strangers while shooting their version of moonshine.
With vacations, the goal is to relax and have fun. That being said, I still have not really found the right balance of having fun and relaxing on a vacation by myself…yet. Since the divorce, I have found myself to be a lot more self-conscious traveling within the States because I just feel like people are judging me for being alone. (Yeah, I know. I’m working on it. More on that later.) But when you’re in a foreign country that doesn’t speak English, your mentality goes from “I bet these people are thinking I’m a loser because I’m alone,” to “How the hell am I supposed to do x…?” And when you actually do hear someone speaking English in a coffee shop, your head turns immediately like a dog being called for food. You feel an instant connection with a random person, and all of a sudden, you’re open to talking to strangers and hearing how they ended up where you are, too. Not to mention, your expectations are pretty much non-existent, which means you’re always pleasantly surprised when something goes right. And because most everything is a struggle, you’re actually proud of yourself once you complete the simplest of tasks. Which means you stop taking things for granted…at least for a while. “Hell yeah, I just got on the right bus! Booya!”
Non-English speaking trips are messy.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’ll probably have a poop emergency…or two. And it’s like you’re slowly trudging your way from one stop to the next, totally unsure of what you’re doing but still managing to make it there in one piece. Maybe this sounds awful to you. But maybe, just maybe, this sounds like a chance to test how strong you are. A chance to see how much of a badass you can actually be.
A chance for an adventure.
The non-English speaking trips…that’s my sweet spot.
This kind of travel is, quite literally, an escape from my life where I can experience an extreme pattern break in my perspective. I’m so thrown off of my everyday routine that I truly get a chance to find out who I am (what I like and dislike, my fears, and when I am happiest) instead of just doing what I always do. It’s a chance where I can experience other cultures, eat crazy foods, and see beautiful places without being 100% aware of the conversations going on around me. When I can’t automatically understand the language, it’s like I get to turn into my alter-ego who’s a badass and doesn’t give a shit about what other people think or say…partly because she can’t understand what they’re saying even if they were talking about her.
This kind of travel shows me the kind of person I want to be. Someone who cares less about how she looks and is grateful for more of what she already has.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like domestic trips (or trips to any other English-speaking country) aren’t learning experiences or great exposure to new cultures, different perspectives, etc. Going anywhere that’s out of your normal routine can be this for you, but MY favorite kind is when I can tune out the chatter and focus on the little things that make life fucking amazing. The kind where there’s a little more risk, but the reward is a feeling of “Oh my God, that’s the best meal I’ve ever had in my life,” and “That was the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced,” and “Fuck yeah, I did that…on MY OWN.”
I think you’ll be surprised to find out what you’re really made of when the only voice inside your head is your own.
So this year, instead of a beach vacation to Florida or a wine tour through Napa, I challenge you to have an adventure. Ride on the back of a boy’s scooter on the crazy streets of Saigon, or have tapas and sweet vermouth at midnight in Madrid, or drink the best damn “table wine” you’ve ever had at a chateau in the Loire Valley, or watch the “Symphony of Lights” while crossing Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, or maybe just take a little swim at the base of a waterfall in the El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico.
Because the “where” doesn’t actually matter. As long as you start