Do you get excited about abroad traveling abroad or does it scare you? If you're the former, I'm here to help! Let's Talk about Trip Preparation for the Adventurous Traveler.
I'm an adventurous traveler. I like to really dive into foreign cultures. As I write this post, I am on a train bound for Newark, NJ. I fly to Tokyo, Japan tomorrow morning and will be in Japan for 4 weeks with my show. This will be my first time traveling East and as Tokyo has been high on my list of places I’ve wanted to go to since I was a teenager, I am beyond excited for my trip. So much so, that I have been preparing for this trip for 8 long months.
I have been learning Japanese and watching every video I could find on Youtube about Tokyo, Osaka and Japanese culture in general.
As I approach this trip, I have to say that I have many, diverse groups of friends and that their levels of enthusiasm for traveling vary greatly. I have friends that are trepidatious travelers, meaning not really interested in foreign travel or culture and would prefer to stay stateside.
I have some that are of the "I'll have fun anywhere" crowd. Meaning that they're not necessarily dying to travel, l but will make the best of it and go out aiming for a good time. Then, there are those that would like to be more prepared for a trip abroad but are not quite sure of how to prepare themselves.
Although open to the idea of traveling, they get overwhelmed with the process and hence end up doing nothing.This post is for the latter. Not to toot my own horn, but I have prepared for this trip so much that my friends have been asking me for tips and insight, which I have been happy to provide. It the low, low price of my side-eye. I kid of course. Really I do.
So in the spirit or sharing travel tips, here is my guide for to preparing for a big trip abroad.
Not everyone enjoys learning languages or is able to pick a new language up easily. Or cares if English is widely spoken at that destination or not. I understand that, and this is not designed to put those down who fall into that category. However, for me, I feel it important to at least be able to say “please” and “thank you” wherever I travel to.
I believe that being able to be polite to the citizens, whose country you are visiting, goes a long way and speaks to an adventurous spirit. It also shows them that you are at least TRYING. This may lead to making for friends for the time that you are there.
Watch tutorial videos on Youtube: Youtube is now an invaluable resource to learn ANYTHING. Guaranteed, if there is something you want to learn, there are people who are already experts out there and it is possible for you to learn from someone halfway around the world FOR FREE. It's a great resource. To kick it up a notch, I use a Firefox plugin called Downloader Helper, which allows me to download youtube videos that I save to my computer, add to my iTunes Library, and put on my iPhone. (Oh crap, is this legal??!! This post will self-destruct in 3,2,…..). This allows me to study anytime, anywhere without needing to use my data.
Google is your friend
A simple search of your chosen language and the word “phrases” or “grammar” will give you a lot of information. This is the internet, and there's A LOT of great content and some content that I wish I had never seen (My therapy bills are getting so high). That being said, I go to every site whose layout that I like and bookmark everything that I want to check out later. I use a program called EVERNOTE. As it deserves its own section, I will now outline all of the cool things you can do with Evernote. I wouldn’t have been able to get as familiar with all things Japan without it.
Use EVERNOTE DAMMIT!
Yeah, it’ll make you a total nerd, but who cares! You gon’ be organized as hell and all your friends will be like “girl, how’d you get all organized like that” and you’ll just laugh to yourself, maniacally, as if only YOU had access to all the Ancient Chinese Secrets. Or in this case, Japanese, as it were.
Anyhow, Evernote is a program that's available for computer, cell phone, and the web that allows you to clip, bookmark and save content from the web. You can organize any notes that you take and organize the projects that you may be working on separately.
As I speak, I am using it to wrote this post, as I keep all of my blog posts and ideas in a virtual “Notebook” called “My Blog”. It's essentially like having several different spiral-bound notebooks that are separated by subject.
You also have the ability to create tags. For example, in my Japanese notebook, I have tags for “foodie”, “culture”, “phrases” Programs :and the like. Using tags allows me to find all of my notes on a particular subject very easily and customize my learning by topic.
Just to show you how organized Evernote is, and also get my humble-brag on, here is a screenshot of some clippings in my Japanese folder. I have roughly 100 more. You may say, “obsess much”, to that I reply “わた龍”!
First off, I’d like to say that I am NOT a fan of Rosetta Stone. What's the good of being able to see a picture of a cat and say cat in whatever language but NOT be able to say “hello” or “thank you” or “where are all of the sexy pirates?”. You will make NO friends this way.
If you are going to be somewhere for a short trip, I believe it's better to learn basic conversation than to start learning a lot of random, unconnected, vocabulary. That's just me, and that may be because I have NO patience, whatsoever. I say "let's just get to it, man!” “One beer please”! That being said, Pimsleur can be helpful, but I find it annoyingly formal and archaic. However, the idea of repetition and comprehension does help.
My preferred method is a mix of MANY programs and sites and compiling that info into Evernote and designing my OWN curriculum. There are plenty of websites to choose from. For Japanese, I used www.Japanesepod101.com quite a bit. It does require a subscription of around $20/month, but It has tons of useful audio and video lessons as well as downloadable PDFs. The iPhone app allows you to download all lesson directly to your phone is you prefer a data-free learning experience. I found this great for plane trips.
I also found https://www.tofugu.com/japan/ to be very helpful, as it also has articles on Japanese culture. Since we are on the subject of culture lets move on to that discussion.
Learn About the Culture
Before I begin, I need to say this. I know that some enjoy traveling this way and some don't. This is NOT Judgement, so please do not interpret my comments as a put-down. This is simply what I enjoy and it works for me. That being said, I cannot fathom going to a country that I have never been and not learning a bit about my destination's culture. Maybe it's my natural curiosity and desire to move toward the unfamiliar. Or I'm just a weirdo that jumps into volcanos and later asks if I shoulda have done that.
Either way, one of the most important things and reasons WHY I travel Is to learn more about the world. How can I learn more about how other cultures live if I do not put myself in a situation to be able to communicate with them? How can I go there seeing how they live as "foreign", and, think them as less-than, while seeing my American culture as the WORLD-standard and anything else "strange".
The way I see it, things are only strange if you close yourself off to anything different. I thrive off of the different. The strange. I get bored when things are too consistent and easily recognized. I'd prefer to throw myself in a situation where I'm forced to communicate with those around me even if our mother tongues do not match.
Everyone speaks the language or food, booze, art, love, and music, so no reason why you can't drink with a local and listen to music. Or point to a cool painting and say the word for "cool" in that tongue. Or hold hands with an attractive local, if that's your heart's desire? It's not too hard, or as scary as it may seem, but you have to be willing.
Again, Google is your friend
A “Japanese Culture” or “Japanese etiquette” (of course with your destination country in place of “Japanese”) search is all that you need. Especially with a country like Japan that is culturally SO different from America, I find it important to try to understand them.
I basically want to avoid looking like a big-mouth American jackass. I may even be overly self-conscious about it. I just don't want to fill the stereotype of the loud, disrespectful foreigner, in what seems to be a more quiet and reserved culture.
Just to give some perspective, I also speak Brazilian Portuguese and am in love with all things Brazil. Their culture is more gregarious and playful and loud. I love that about them and find it easy to assimilate with them.
However, since Japan is much more reserved, I want to respect THAT culture and not impose my own standards upon theirs. It's not MY homeland. It's theirs. I'm am merely a stranger.
- Get Your App On: Whether you are on iPhone or Android or some other bootleg-brand phone, there are tons of apps. GPS-based apps that are useful for restaurants and landmarks.There are great foodie apps. Additionally, there are downloadable map apps for that provide great walking tour guides etc. These are great for the Do-It-Yourself traveler. Many of these apps are free or only a couple or bucks. Don’t be cheap! If you can afford to leave the country you can afford $2 for a good walking tour map app. This may be a once in a lifetime trip. Don't waste it sitting in your hotel because you think it's "scary" out there. If you prepare yourself, your destination won't be scary. Just new!
- Reach out to your friends: Chances are you know someone who knows someone that lives where you are going. Or even better, is from that country. Don’t be afraid to contact your friends. Don’t be a nuisance, but just let them know that you are traveling and ask them for tips on places to go or people they may be able to hook you up with. You will get no better perspective than if you’re able to meet someone that lives there. They will be able to show you things that no Google search can find.
So, there you have it. My tips for preparing for a big trip abroad. I encourage all travelers to adopt an attitude of curiosity. Go there wanting to learn from THEM, and not wanting to tell them what's wrong with how they live.Trust me, people don’t like that.
Try not to only subject yourself to the things you already have where you live. You could have just stayed home if that's your approach. Right?! You can make friends that could last a lifetime.
So do yourself a favor and learn how to say “Hello, what's your name? Are you from here? Let's have a beer!” in whatever language you need to. You won’t be sorry. Don’t be scared! Be brave! The world is waiting for another global citizen.