i consider myself a pretty versed traveler for my age. i turned 26 this year and have visited 44 cities in 7 countries so far and counting. my personality and interests are deeply shaped by the experiences i’ve had traveling around the world – everything from exploring cultural foods, art, and language to the amazing people i happen to meet. as i get ready to explore a completely new country in the next month – india – i wanted to take the time to share a few thoughts on my love of travel.
why do it?
traveling for me comes in all shapes and sizes. at face value i sometimes feel that i just choose cool places and book a ticket, but when i think about it, i can tie most of my destinations to a specific reason.
language. i decided to study abroad in barcelona in 2005 because i wanted to immerse myself in the spanish language and experience the culture i’d learned so much about through 7 years of spanish classes. i signed up to live with a host family – a mom (my senora), and two brothers oriol and alex. i also entered an exchange speaking program and was set up with valenti soley, who would soon become one of my good friends. the culmination of my immersion in the spanish language happened one night when i had my first dream in spanish.
sights. i’ve visited plenty of places just for the sights and usually bounced around all day checking them off my list. i went to barcelona for gaudi’s architecture, rome for the colosseum and pantheon, france for the louvre and champs-elysee, costa rica for the rain forest, venice for the gondolas, florence for the duomo, sevilla for the flamenco…i could keep going. this was probably my most high paced time of traveling, waking up at 8am, walking all day, passing out from sheer exhaustion anytime and anywhere possible.
experiences. more recently, i travel in search of experiences. i became enamored with surfing the first time i tried it in puerto rico in 2008, and that took me to costa rica, oahu, and san diego within the next year. i’m also a foodie and am constantly on yelp or asking around for the best local thing to try – paella, tortilla espanola, gallo pinto, poke, soup dumplings, cafe au lait, etc. over the past 8 months i have been studiously practicing yoga and as a result, i am headed to rishikesh, india in november to live in an ashram for 2 weeks. my stay will consist of yoga 3 times a day, vegetarian food, meditation, and writing. i will also be visiting room to read’s work in ajmer and jaipur, reading to the boys and girls to which i have dedicated my nights fundraising over the past few years.
i feel as though i have evolved as a traveler over the past 5 years. i used to pack my schedule with too many places to see, too many things to do, and felt utterly exhausted when i returned. so much for vacation. i now approach my trips with the goal of staying still, letting go of agendas and checklists and just allowing myself to do whatever i feel like in that moment. in san diego, this led to photographing flowers, sitting in a meditation garden, doing yoga in a yurt, as well as surfing every morning. it was one of the most relaxing trips i’d ever taken.
as i’ve experienced with my upcoming trip to the developing world, research can really make or break an experience, so maey sure to be smart and planful, and most importantly, ask for help!
do your research. i cannot stress enough the importance of doing your research before you go. it will enhance your experience, all the while keeping you safe and confident. it doesn’t have to be super intensive but just cover the basics: wikipedia your destination – understand the customs, language, food, sights and attractions, transportation, etc. go on trip advisor and check out the recommended places to stay, browse the forums, and find the experts for really detailed advice. i successfully used trip advisor forums for my trips to costa rica, oahu, and india and highly recommend it. lastly, ask friends. most people have their lists of things to do in nyc or san fran or know people who might be willing to show you around. my coworker reached out to his mom who will have me over for dinner while i’m in india. i can’t think of a better way to experience the local food than that!
live the culture. aim to understand and experience the culture as best as you can. don’t go to mcdonalds when you can try traditional cuisine. talk to locals and ask about their experiences as well as recommendations. travel safely and blend in. after being mugged in my sleep on an overnight train in italy, i now splurge for the private cars when possible, especially if traveling alone. also be conscious of wearing revealing clothes when you visit certain places like cathedrals or in general when you’re around conservative cultures. ask for advice, be flexible, and try to spend a few days wherever you go to truly experience it.
embrace the unknown. keep an open mind but use good judgment, and you’ll create unforgettable memories. i remember responding to the email from my study abroad coordinator to request a language exchange partner. i set up a meeting and was really skeptical about how it would go. it turns out i met a great friend who i still keep in touch with today. not only did my spanish improve tremendously, but i experienced barcelona as a local – i ate the best food, went to hole in the wall bars, and met tons of cool people. i also got the opportunity to go on a late night cable show and ended up being photographed in an art exhibition on a roof top 😀
document and share. bring a journal and write. alot. grab business cards and pamphlets for restaurants, excursions, etc. you never know when someone will ask you for advice or when you’ll need it, so pay it forward!
my itinerary for the upcoming year: india – nov/dec 2010, vietnam – march 2011, australia – winter 2011/12 (of course with a few local trips sprinkled in between). check out my ‘places’ tab to see where i’ve been, and let me know if you need any advice. here’s to jetsetting around the globe…next stop Delhi, India!