By Guest Blogger, Kathleen Hannon
1.) Harry Goes Everywhere. Harry Potter and I are on a first name basis. Well, maybe not everywhere. And maybe not Harry, specifically. Harry Potter (specifically books 5 – 7) may seem to be an odd choice, given the sheer size of the novels, but this is a book that I could read over and over again without ever feeling bored. When traveling (for long periods of time especially), I have found that it’s always good to have something from home with you. If and when you become homesick, you can take this out and feel comforted. Me, I’m a bookworm, therefore I like to carry books – they collect the dust (or mold, as in the case of my travels in India) of the journey. When you’re home safe and sound again and you crack that book open, you’re momentarily transported back to the time you read it in an airport in Dubai during the world’s longest layover or at a café in Sevilla as the hot sun turned you an ever deeper shade of red.
2.) Expect Nothing. To clarify, expectations are different from planning and researching. I am not telling you not to prepare for your trip. That being said, it is amazing how much more open to new experiences and cultures you can become when you show up in a new place with no idea what to expect. It makes it that much easier to go with the flow when you drop your preconceived notions about the way things should be. Because, let’s face it, when has any trip ever gone exactly the way you planned? Isn’t that part of the beauty of traveling? There is bound to be something that will go disastrously wrong, but it’s okay. You’re experiencing something new and you’re growing in the process.
3.) You Don’t Need To Be Rich To Travel. A theme I see throughout travel blogs is the idea that the average person can, in fact, afford to travel for a lengthy period of time. With my student loan debt reaching numbers that make my brain shut down, I am the opposite of wealthy. Having the money to travel is all about two things: priorities and smart budgeting. If traveling is your first priority (obviously after all important bills), then maybe you’ll skip on that new pair of shoes and put that $60 (plus S+H) into a jar marked for “Travel” (or, if you’re fancy, another bank account). Maybe you’ll do a BYOB potluck dinner instead of going out to eat with all your friends. If you’re determined to travel no matter what, you will be able to save enough. And, if you budget smart, you’ll be able to make a little bit of money go a long way. Book flights well in advance (prices go up the longer you wait) and stay in hostels rather than hotels. Contrary to what that movie of a similar name would have you believe, hostels are usually bright, clean, friendly places. Plus, there is the added bonus of meeting other travelers, all of whom seem to have fascinating, inspiring stories. Plan to travel overnight so you don’t have to pay for a room. Cook a meal once in a while (most hostels have kitchens you can use) or, if you don’t cook, get away from the touristy sections for less expensive meals.
4.) Get Dirty. There will be days when you can’t shower. It will be awful. You will feel repulsive. You will live. There will be hostels that will be terrifyingly dirty. It will be gross. You will live (hand sanitizer helps). There may be downright horrifying toilets. You will want to puke (I’m still traumatized by a Turkish toilet that was on a train in India). If you “hover” (instead of sitting) you will live. If you ever read Calvin & Hobbes, you’ll remember that Calvin’s dad was always telling him that struggling “builds character.” This is true. It also gives you awesome stories to tell when you get home. More importantly, however, you learn more about yourself in these situations than you ever could if everything was perfect. You learn that you can adapt (even if you meltdown first) and, when you get back home, you find the little things that once drove you crazy no longer have such a powerful effect on you.
5.) Be Afraid… Be Very Afraid. It’s okay to be afraid before you travel. It’s okay to wonder what the heck you’re doing as you book a flight to a country you know little about. It’s okay to arrive in a new place and be completely overwhelmed by the chaos. More frequently than not, as I head to the airport and as I board the plane, there is a voice in my head demanding to know what exactly I think I’m doing. I’m usually terrified. There are so many unknowns ahead and no way of telling how it’s going to go. This feeling never goes away, but it does evolve into a curiosity, an exhilaration, an electrifying excitement as you land and leave the airport to explore a new city. And you realize, the fear was worth it because you feel alive.
Kathi Hannon is a Mental Health grad student most of the time, an English teacher some of the time and a wannabe travel writer all of the time. She just returned from Nicaragua and hopes to backpack through Central & South America before she turns 26. She has a travel blog: MeKyaKardiya. Follow her on Twitter at @wanderlustqueen
EDITORS NOTE: Whoa, there are some things in this post we strongly disagree with, but then again one of our family members was in the insurance business, so we’re all about doing due diligence (prior to any trip) and AVOIDING danger, filth, illness and other personal safety issues, especially when traveling (as a woman) solo abroad! Knowledge is power and being forewarned is forearmed … as much as is possible. We hope you embrace some, not all of the mindset Kathi advocates, and that you have awesome, safe (and mostly clean) adventures wherever you travel!