One of my favorite blogs is the daily photography blog Stuck in Customs. I love the pictures but the writer, Trey, also occasionally has some great travel tips.
A couple weeks ago he posted some great tips for enjoying travel and dealing with the various immigration authorities as you travel the globe.
Here it is:
1) Prepare way in advance with your paperwork. If you’ve traveled around Europe or Canada or Mexico or a lot of these easy-in-easy-out places, you don’t have to worry about visas. But getting a visa is kind a pain in the butt… it takes a while, and you have to mail off your passport to parts unknown. This always makes me very nervous! I pay extra to get the Fed-ex service to minimize errors! Also, it may surprise you, but you never know what countries require a visa! Like, for example, I wanted to leave the Sydney airport for 4-5 hours during a long layover, and they would not let me out of the airport! I didn’t know I needed a visa… how annoying! I thought that Australia was just kind of like a floating Canada where people are even more laid back. I was wrong.
2) Go with the flow. The more you get into a distant land, the more different everything becomes. Schedules, food, drivers, basic communication, and more can seem at odds with your customs. (BTW, that is a secondary meaning of “Stuck In Customs” — but that is an element that no one ever gets… that’s okay I can see why it’s kinda out-there). Anyway, if you stop thinking about how “different” it is in terms of “better/worse” — and start thinking about it in terms of a “different” way of doing things that is not necessarily better or worse… then that makes everything easier. Imagine you are on a Star Trek away mission — studying the culture like a scientist. And, well, you better just stick to the prime directive since they may not have yet discovered warp technology.
3) Don’t worry so much about speaking the local language. Don’t let your lack of knowing the language scare you into not going or staying in the hotel room! When you travel to a lot of different countries, it’s just impossible to know all the languages. For example, I know barely enough French to get around, but that doesn’t help me anywhere else in the world! And it barely helps in France! There is an international language, actually. If you just open yourself up to a conversation, you can communicate almost anything. It takes a lot longer than usual, but it’s certainly possible.
4) (If you are American) don’t be an annoying loud American. I know I may catch flak for this one… but it is kind of a big thing to me. Earlier this year, I was on a train from Montpellier, France to Barcelona, Spain. I was sitting with my wife towards the front of the train. There were a lot of empty spots, but we were sitting in assigned seats. The other passengers in the car were from Germany, Japan, Thailand, and a few other countries. Anyway, a loud, obnoxious American woman came in and said, “Oh my God! Look at all these empty seats! I talked to that woman at the ticket counter and she said there are no seats!” Then, one of the Germans (who understand trains very well, mind you), said, calmly, in English, “The train makes many stops, and people get on and off, so these seats will probably be full by the time we reach Barcelona.” To this the American woman said, in a rather shrill way, “Well there are seats available right now! Well that’s the French for ya!” My wife and I just buried our heads in our hands…
5) Plan loosely. Don’t Griswald-up your schedule. It’s really hard to hit exact timetables and fit a lot of stuff in… just be calm and leave plenty of “getting-lost” time! When you get dropped off at a destination, have them drop you off “near” the destination, then find the rest of your way there on foot. You’ll see all kinds of unexpected things. If you’re feeling stressed… just channel me and my favorite Buddha quote: “It’s better to travel well than to arrive.”
I urge you to check out his excellent blog, Stuck in Customs.