Don’t Prepare Too Much for Travel
This morning I was sitting in the library with a pile of guidebooks on Hungary and Budapest, browsing and getting ready for my big move to this new land. I’m starting the important stages of preparation. Preparing to be thrust into a completely unknown language, an unknown culture and a million other unknowns I can never know until I get there!
It’s always drummed into us how much we should ‘be prepared‘ for everything but when it comes to travel I believe that being over-prepared for a new adventure may be counter-productive.
A large part of preparation for many travellers is reading the guidebooks back to front, learning every written cultural custom and gesture, looking up the best spots to eat recommended by such books, nailing perfect pronunciation of key sayings and creating a ‘absolutely must do’ list of things that 100% have to be done.
Focusing so heavily on learning everything about a new place when not actually in that place can give us a very heavy preconceived idea of what said place is like and I believe can interfere with experiencing it for what it really is. When I say ‘what it really is’, I mean how we perceive and enjoy that place, not how someone else did.
I sometimes think guidebook writers spend 8 months drinking vodka in one bar and then suddenly realise they have to bumble together a book in a month to reach deadline! Information is often subject to heavy debate and sometimes just plain wrong.
One example was reading that wearing shorts on the streets of Cairo was frowned upon. That Egyptian men only wear shorts for sport! So, I didn’t really have any shorts when I arrived only to see the local young men quite happily strutting around in board and cargo shorts. That’s just one of a few examples that taught me to take “customs” that I read prior to arrival with a pinch of salt.
Also having well planned out activities and plans based on recommendations could lose you time for real exploration and the gems you only discover by immersing yourself with local people.
Travel is something that we all individually experience in our own way and following what everyone else tells us we must do and how we must act will bring down the experience a notch.
I’m not advocating a zero preparation approach.
So how do you prepare?
I believe a lot of preparation can be done simply by trawling through the internet and reading experiences from other people such as Wandering Earl and Don’t Stop Living, two bloggers who have been almost everywhere!
Do read the guidebooks and do digest as much as the info as possible but don’t base your trip around them and be willing to go against their advice. If a local gives you a better alternative or you come across something that looks cool then go for it. If it seems too good to be true of course it may be not what it seems, read down for my thoughts on safety.
Learn the basics of the language but don’t worry about being perfect. Get your words and phrase remembered and have fun with it. If you can do a language exchange with someone before you leave you can learn far more than just language from them and they may give you invaluable advice.
Also as much as I like to be trusting, reading up on any safety warnings and scam alerts is always worth your while. Simple things like taxi scams or bar bill scams are things that in the moment may get you but having some prior knowledge may make you make the right decisions to stay safe. On arrival it’s worth talking to your hostel / hotel about these too as there could be new scams and issues that have just started happening.
Do you have any thoughts / tips to add?
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