Growing up I was fortunate to see a lot of my country. My family and I enjoyed one, and if we were lucky, two family vacations a year. While some of my closest friends and family members stayed nearby for a break from their everyday lives, my parents treated us to the likes of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, the beautiful cliffs and landscapes of Southern California and the rolling waves of South Carolina’s beaches. But where have I been outside of the United States? While I traveled my country all 25 years of my life, I am hard-pressed to say I’ve been many other places. The standard North American tip-toe across the border to Canada and Mexico is basically all I have.
It wasn’t until I moved to the East Coast from the Midwest last year that I had even conceived of international travel. I was ashamed and pitied by friends who had toured through Europe, grew up in South America and traveled through Africa. I’ve been asked time and again, “What is Americans’ aversion to traveling?”
Though I am a novice to international travel (I have come to terms with this, but it still hurts), I have decided to dedicate my life to seeing as much of the world as I can. Although a lot of people in the traveling community have been to or lived on many continents, I am a bit shamed to say I have not. For those of you out there who had not yet considered traveling beyond your comfort zone, below are some essential Dos and Don’ts of delving into international travel head on:
DO research: When is the last time you sat down and really thought about where in the world you like to go? Make a list! Ever dream of taking an Arabian horse ride through the deserts of Egypt at dusk? Are you dying to discover what inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution in the Galapagos Islands? Unable to shake the urge to daydream about the rain forest canopies of Costa Rica? Now you’re getting somewhere. Looking back on the list should get you excited about seeing the world and should be a push in the right direction of actually planning a trip.
DON’T let finances stop you: Something is always going to pop up so as to discourage you from saving money for an overseas excursion. Don’t let routine bills, car maintenance and other day-to-day expenses stop you from a trip of a lifetime. If you’re afraid you can’t afford a hotel, consider staying in a hostel. It’s not only a great way to meet people and get a local perspective on a different country, but also an affordable lodging option. You can also visit countries where exchange rates to the U.S. dollar are remarkably lower and enjoy stretching your dollar to the limit.
DO change the way you vacation: Americans typically work hard all year to afford nice things. Vacations are often equated with luxury getaways. While the all-inclusive island getaway to the Carribean sounds nice, packages are often lofty and expensive, your money going more toward marketers and timeshare companies than your own happiness. What about a more authentic trip? Home stay options are becoming more and more popular as people crave to immerse themselves in the local culture. Don’t be afraid to stay with a family, learn a new language and see how they live. Oftentimes the more unspoiled the environment, the more genuine fun you’re likely to have.
DON’T let haters hate: Xenophobia is a real phenomenon and one you should combat when the opportunity presents itself. A few months ago while explaining to my friend that I’d like to backpack through Central and South America, he looked as if he has swallowed a spoon full of castor oil, his face contorting into a display of utter dismay and disgust. He heard it’s dangerous down there and would never give his blessing for such a trip. It’s in situations like these that you must remind the “haters” of what different wonders other worlds hold and that you absolutely ready to discover them, regardless of their perceived notions of what SHOULD be holding you back.
DO develop an international mindset: “Is it outrageous to proclaim that I WILL be a worldly person?” I wondered one day. Absolutely not! In fact, I actively seek that title and make strides toward achieving it. To ready yourself for the jump from savvy-domestic traveler to first time international traveler, arm yourself with as much know-how as you can. Start by setting your bookmarked CNN webpage to “International Edition.” Don’t just pretend to read the New York Times, do it! Follow international media coverage (Al Jazeera and Reuters are some of the most reputable in the world.) Begin to seek out and eat foreign cuisine in and around your city. All of these small steps will add up to help you make the transition from American citizen to American citizen with worldly interests. Sounds much more erudite, doesn’t it?