I was reminded of what I felt the first time traveling outside my home country when my sister and brother-in-law visited earlier this month. I had
almost forgotten the feelings of awe, culture shock, and fear that international travel can cause. And so, after many conversations with our siblings, I decided to write this post. Not only to remind myself to be compassionate and understanding to those visiting us (or tourists in general in our area), but to also help new travelers accept their feelings and be prepared to deal with them. This is MOST DEFINITELY not to discourage anyone from traveling, but to help make your emotions less scary when they do happen.
1. Jet Lag Will Knock You on Your A$$
This is a topic that is well-known, but until one experiences the absolute and debilitating effects of jet lag, it is easy to scoff at a persons reaction to it. I found myself being annoyed at the fact that our visitors had such problems with jet lag for FOUR WHOLE DAYS! I was chagrined that they couldn’t power through like I do when we travel (wow, pride is truly an ugly and embarrassing thing). Then I read somewhere that for each hour you are displaced from your time zone, it takes a day to adjust. That meant that our visitors would have needed 15 days to become fully normal again. Oops! Humbleness smacked me right across the face and I felt really bad for being so unsympathetic to their continuing symptoms.
This article from WebMd.com has some easy tips on how to prevent and treat jet lag. Make sure to check it out BEFORE you leave for your trip! Jet lag will happen if you cross time zones (one of my worst experiences was just an hour difference), so prepare as much as possible!
2. You Will Feel Out of Place
Culture shock is a real thing. Regardless of how long I have stayed somewhere, whether a day or a month, there were moments where I felt completely out-of-place. I have felt like I was lost in a crowd just waving at anyone that I thought may be able to help me. It can be a suffocating feeling, a feeling of complete insecurity and lead to anger. Anger at oneself, at the place you are visiting, and at the locals. It happens, there is no reason to beat yourself up about it, but there are ways to make it a little easier to acclimate to a foreign culture.
One of the many examples of my experience with culture shock was right in the beginning of our trip. We had just arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, our bags had all gotten lost somewhere in the three layovers along the way and we had to buy all new hygiene products. I was used to grocery stores back in California that had wide open aisles and everything one could need as far as hygiene and food products went. Well, Lisbon was different. I could not buy diapers, wipes, or contact solution at the market. We searched other markets along the way trying to find what we needed before giving up and hoping that we could find what we needed the next day. We slept in our contacts, prayed that we had enough diapers for Z, and used wet toilet paper for wipes. The next day we went to a pharmacy and bought everything we were missing at exorbitant prices (15 Euros for contact solution!?). I was frustrated and angry. I couldn’t understand why no one seemed to know enough English to help me (culture shock does not make me very logical apparently, why should they know my language?). It was after some exploration on foot and on the internet over the next week or so that I became more comfortable with where and how to get what we needed. And thank goodness, our luggage arrived the next day.
The moral of my
much longer than anticipated story is that if I had done a bit of research before I arrived at our destination, I may have known where to find the things we needed a bit quicker and with less frustration. Or I could have had a translator app that helped us communicate with the locals effectively. Or maybe the moral to the story is you should try to get a direct flight to your destination so hopefully your luggage will not get lost…?
3. You Will Be Changed
When I first left America 8 years ago for a two-year stint in Taipei, Taiwan, I craved and needed to live back in America, only to realize when we returned there that it was not what I had imagined or remembered. Much to my parents chagrin, and Chad’s delight, I became discontent with the way life was “back home”. Home did not feel like home anymore. I wanted, no… needed to see more of the world.
When we finally left America again almost two years ago, I was a very different person than I am now. My political views, core values, faith, and parenting style have all changed in some very major ways. I won’t get into those sensitive subjects right now, but I feel like I am a more well-rounded person.
When you leave the safety net of your home country you will be changed. In some ways for the better, others maybe not so good. The outcome depends on you. Not everyone changes in the same way, whether it is a new food that you now love, a more understanding world view, or even the knowledge that traveling is not for you, you WILL be changed.
Now it’s your turn! Make that plan, take that trip! Prove me right (or wrong) in these 3 tips for international trips. Then come back and tell us about it!
What do you think about these tips? Would you add anything? Disagree with any of them? Leave a comment and join in the fun!