5 ways to waste a travel experience
TRAVEL CAN BE an invigorating, enthralling, life-affirming, eye-opening, magical mystery tour of spectacular and epic proportions, the likes of which shall have you reminiscing wistfully for decades to come about that time you did _____ in _____ and _____ happened.
Or it can be squandered on McDonald’s and imported Western beer and forgotten in a haze of alcoholically induced memory problems and shoddy Hollywood film productions.
We’ve all been there. Galavanting around the world is fun and all, but sometimes it’s just way too easy to stay inside and watch The Hangover Part XIV and dine on a poorly constructed excuse for cuisine whilst peering out the window periodically to wonder if maybe there’s more to the world than…nothing.
And there is.
And here’s how to ruin it.
1. Too much internet
Sorry, internet. I love you. Your endless treasure troves of random factoids and cat pictures provide me no end of education or amusement. Many have been the hours I’ve spent exploring your depths and wonders, and intoxicating have been the wisdom I’ve gained and laughter I’ve exuded.
But I need more.
The internet is one of the easiest ways to suck up all the time you’ve got in a day, but to be honest, it’s not nearly as awful as people make it out to be. The internet is merely the collective voice of billions. Is it so wrong to listen to what they have to say? And what is travel but experiencing those voices and homes firsthand?
But it’s still second-rate to walking out the door, accidentally discovering some random bakery or whatever, and savoring the serendipitous moment a series of accidents have presented to thee.
Internet is great. Keep its greatness at just enough to stay great, but not devour every moment of the day in its endless jaws. Catch up on the cute cat pictures later.
2. The English clique
Sorry, world. English is king. The British Empire planted its weeds all over the world, and the US carried the torch for centuries too. Then the internet drove the last nail into the coffin of any non-Latin alphabet hoping to make a comeback. Plus: Hollywood.
English has won.
Oh, and all those silly people saying it’s going to be Chinese one day? HA! Have you seen Chinese lately? No. Just no. Sure, a billion people speak it, but they’re pretty much all in China, and they’re trying to learn English a whole lot faster than any Americans are trying to learn Chinese. Maybe by 2300. Maybe.
Okay, back to the point. Chances are if you visit any hostel, you’ll hear English spoken almost exclusively between guests, and it’s mostly native speakers doing it. Since Westerners currently make up most of the backpacking demographic, you can easily surround yourself with nothing but familiarity.
It’s not so bad if you’re communicating with people from all over the world, but it can be something of a crutch if you only talk to fellow Westerners. Sure, maybe they’re cool, but if you fly all the way to the other side of the world, it’s good to mix things up. Try doing something stupid in public, like walking into a telephone pole. Good fortune is sure to follow!
3. Irish pub quarantine
This is part 2 of the “Only talk to other Westerners” motif. Going only to Western-style hangouts.
“Dude, let’s go to the Irish pub! They’re exactly the same all over the world and we won’t experience anything new!”
Once again…it’s not like Irish pubs are bad. They’re pretty great. No wonder they’ve taken over. And to be honest, a professionally run Western-style pub might be a whole lot better than a poorly run hovel set up to capitalize on drunk foreign tourists. So fair enough.
But traveling shouldn’t be just about sightseeing and then hibernating inside a sheltered cave of predictable solitude. Want some familiarity? Okay, go for it. Sometimes. But for every visit to the Irish pub, make sure you visit some random hole-in-the-wall nothing bar in the middle of nowhere with only one bartender and six chairs. Good things will happen, I promise.
I’ve lost count of the many parties, and I mean hard-core parties, that I’ve ended up at that I thought were a huge milestone for the party-thrower: 30th birthday, quinceañera, etc. only to find out that the bash had started as a party…for a five-year-old!!! I’ve always wondered if all the fights with all the borrachos at these parties were ever started by a kid wanting his toy back.
2. Total failure at correct name pronunciation
If you happen to have an easy-to-pronounce name like Juan Lopez, you might never experience this, but for the rest of us with lots of “rrrrrrrs” in our names — we just get used to hearing our name mangled. And if we decide to pronounce our name “in Spanish” when being introduced, we always have to say it more than once.
3. Saturday visits to Grandma’s that are more like Don Francisco concerts
I don’t know how or why, but somehow I spent quite a few Saturday nights visiting my Grandma. I know my Grandma loved me very much, but I don’t think I ever got to talk to her during any of my visits. We would always end up watching the ultimate “party in a show” called Sábado Gigante together, but since my Grandma was hard of hearing, it always felt like a two-hour Don Francisco screamfest.
I had more than one nightmare of Mr. Frank and El Chacal and his trumpet chasing me around while my Grandma watched, laughing hysterically. Where was Jerry Springer when I needed him?
We were attacked by some police in Kisangani and one of the cops actually broke our car keys in my hand trying to get them from us — thank goodness we’d packed the spares. We had our car illegitimately impounded, also in Kisangani, and in between all of this we were constantly being hassled by immigration and customs officials, so by the time we finally did get on the barge we were feeling pretty beaten up and weary.Weeks into the river trip, Matthew contracted malaria…
From: Congo River odyssey: An interview
This is the most common comment anyone from Pakistan will hear the first time they have a conversation with a foreigner. People are astonished that anyone from Pakistan, let alone a woman, can speak, read, and write in fluent English. The world expects us to be either the frothy-mouthed zealots or mini-mart owners they see on TV.
In Pakistan, almost the entire school curriculum is taught in English, and this has created generations of Pakistanis who navigate English with complete ease. My first language is English, but I have Pakistani friends whose English is so well spoken that they make my musings sound like the workings of an epileptic monkey at a typewriter.
2. “Do you guys have TV / the internet / cell phones over there?”
Even I ended up guilty of this one when I went to Pakistan on a trip last year, after a six-year gap. I left my smartphone behind, thinking there was no point in taking it. Cue all of my cousins constantly uploading selfies on Facebook and updating their Twitter accounts like there’s no tomorrow. Meanwhile, I felt like a total idiot with my old cell phone that didn’t even have a camera.
This isn’t exclusive to the big cities either — this happened in the dusty village where I grew up.
3. “Pakistani girls are so innocent.”
We get Cosmo in Pakistan too, and just because there is officially “no dating” doesn’t mean there aren’t ways around that. Go to any Pakistani university and you’ll find a dating culture to rival anything in the West. We also have some pretty kick-ass sex education.
4. “Did you come over in a boat?”
When I’d tell people I had actually flown to the UK, their next question was what it must have felt like for me to fly for the first time — at which point I’d gently break it to them that I’ve been flying since I was little. That’s not because I’m ridiculously rich. It’s because Pakistan is quite a big country and flying, especially these days, is quite affordable and often the most trouble-free option for travel.
5. “You’re from Pakistan? I love palak paneer!”
A Pakistani friend who studied in America shared this one with me. When did palak paneer become Pakistan’s official culinary mascot? That’s like meeting someone from the UK and saying “I love jellied eels!” Firstly, you’d have to be out of your mind to love jellied eels, and secondly, it’s not a dish that actually features in regular daily British dining.
Pakistani cuisine is hugely diverse, because the country is so diverse. Go find your local Pakistani restaurant — it probably has a name like Lahore This or Karachi Something — and try a few things there. I recommend haleem and nihari as starting points.
Decided at midnight to drive to Yosemite…
I don’t plan on getting much sleep for the next 72hours.
(at glacier point )
Reflections in the Flow by Jeff Maltzman
(Source: earthdaily, via illusionwanderer)
I WAS BORN AND RAISED in Jakarta until I was shipped off overseas for university. It wasn’t until I came back a few years later to the “Big Durian” that I experienced my own form of culture shock. Since then, I’ve developed a love / hate relationship with this city, which is probably how most people who visit also feel. Here are 13 things you’ll experience when you come.
1. 15 minutes of fame
If you’re Caucasian, you’ll probably be treated like Richard Branson. Poor locals will fall at your feet and kiss the steps you walk on, hoping you might grace them with your magical white touch and some dollar bills for their families. Walking down the city streets, or even traveling to the malls, means stares, questions, and at times, a few photographs with the bule (foreigner).
2. Cigarette ads everywhere
Many Indonesian citizens smoke, so don’t freak out when you enter a restaurant that allows smoking indoors. I’m pretty sure even the trees produce smoke instead of oxygen. The richest man in the country earns his wealth from tobacco, and the poorest man in the country will sell his soul for a cigarette. You see grade-school children around the city smoking, and even orangutans.
Every street has a billboard or banner promoting local cigarettes, although they’re all purposely vague (as per government regulations — the cigarette itself can’t actually be shown). There are disclaimers at the bottom of each ad, and at the end of every commercial it states smoking causes cancer and heart disease. This doesn’t really make an impact, but it helps the government feel a tad better. “Hey, at least I warned you this was going to happen!”
3. Gigantic malls
These aren’t your typical shopping centers. These are giant, marble-floored, extravagant malls, sometimes with apartments nestled on top for convenience (who wants to walk outside when you can go down the elevator in your pajamas to shop?). These malls seem to appear out of nowhere, and each one has a reputation.
There are around 173 malls in Jakarta, which means 173 places you can meet your friends. You go to shopping centers without the intention to shop, but to hang out at indoor cafés, restaurants, karaoke bars, or billiard lounges. Q Billiards is usually the go-to stop for people from different schools to meet up and mingle. OKCupid has nothing on Q.
Sunrise at the Grand Canyon. Photo by #MatadorN reader @colbyshootspeople. Thanks for tagging #travelstoke!
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