Letters + Opinion » Five Things To Know

Before You Travel Internationally



1. The idea of traveling alone may intimidate you, and indeed you'll find your wits, endurance and ability to maintain good humor tested. But flying solo offers benefits, too, on a soul level and on a practical one. You can ask yourself: Who am I when not responding to others? Am I the competent hero I daydreamed I'd be? Am I facing the unknown with grace, saying "yes" to life's offerings? Is this the Journey that is also the Destination? Etc. And, there's no debating about what to do, fewer pee stops, less tantrums, no one waking up complaining of jetlag at 2 a.m. If you do invite others on your trip, let go of your resentment and instead be grateful that your spouse's distaste for flying means he's uninterested in accompanying you — you now have your girlfriends as companions, and girlfriends are the best because everyone helps out and no one gets bossy. Do you really want to be arguing over whose turn it is to do the dishes/ask for directions/choose the day's itinerary while on vacation?

2. Unless you're a celebrity, worry more about packing what's practical than ensuring outfit variety. You will not need six dresses for a week-long Mexico surf trip, but you will — surprise, surprise — need some tampons, a fact you will be reluctant to explain to your male Mexican surf guide. This means you'll find yourself in la farmacia clutching a bright green box underneath a package of tostadas as if you're 12 again and adding any random item to your basket in hopes no one will notice what you're really buying.

3. Do bring some of those books you've wanted to read. Long flights, layovers, and lazy days and nights offer the chance you've been waiting for to engage your brain in uses other than work, Facebook and wondering when the new House of Cards season starts. Do not, however, bring A.S. Byatt's Possession, despite the blurbs tantalizing you with promises of "a truly gripping love story." And when you fail to be gripped, feel no guilt for tucking the book into your host's bookshelf (one less book to haul back home in your already overstuffed backpack) and delving into Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl instead.

4. If you're going to bring your cell phone, check in with your service provider before leaving town. Otherwise, despite your intentions to use it solely as a camera (hello, airplane mode!), you might find yourself worrying about that one work thing you didn't quite wrap up or needing to reassure yourself that your family hasn't experienced any emergencies since your departure. And so you go online just for a minute and then your notifications explode and you answer one, just one, Facebook message in between texting your husband and suddenly you've got 16 MB of international data charges and, hate to say it, but that's not going to end well. Likewise, call your bank and tell them you'll be using ATMs in another country, same with your credit card company, make copies of your passport, register with the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and generally follow all the practical pre-departure tips you'll find on helpful websites like Lonely Planet and Lifehack.

5. Not knowing another language is dumb. Why are we so dumb? I don't know. But the fact that not knowing another language is dumb becomes immediately evident when you step off the plane into a world of not-English. So try to know at least a few phrases to employ in your temporary host country. Even if your pronunciation is terrible, an attempt at basic communications beats coming off like an entitled American jerk. Smile a lot.

Bonus: Take notes. Removing yourself from your usual existence into something unfamiliar is worth remembering. With luck, you'll not only experience new pleasures, but you'll feel some layers of bullshit peeling away and discover you're pretty damn comfortable in both your own skin — riddled with stretch marks and scars as it may be — and the world at large.

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Add a comment