Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Code I Travel By

In my travels I have developed a sort of code of conduct that I live by. This code applies to most non travel situations but I tend to think of it and act on it more often while I travel. I think that this is because there are many more unknowns while traveling that trigger the situations that are covered in my code.

1. Don't Panic
Douglas Adams got it right, panicking only makes things worse. It takes away your ability to think clearly and generally makes a mess of things. When you panic you give up control and that's never a good thing, especially when you are in a strange environment. When you travel there are some events you just can't do a thing about such as planes being late or having to sit next to someone that hasn't showered in days. You can however always do your best to stay calm and think things through logically before acting.

Take a breath, stop what you are doing and think. It can keep a bad situation from turning worse even though it probably won't get you home any quicker.

2. Respect People and Cultures
I would imagine this could also fall under "Don't be an Ugly American". Yes we can be loud and obnoxious at times but we all need to respect everyone else's right to not be loud and obnoxious if that is what they choose. I'm sure I've accidentally insulted plenty of people without knowing it but I always try to be pleasant with people and I avoid insulting them in any of the ways that I'm familiar with.

Just because people are different doesn't mean they should be disrespected. I try my best to download learn-a-language podcasts or carry a language phrasebook with me. Catching a few words here and there really helps and the effort is always well recieved. Try to learn about local customs from the people that you meet, they will help you out and be pleased that you are taking an interest in their culture.

3. Don't be That Guy
I've discussed him at length so I won't repeat it here, follow the link above for more information.

4. Don't fly halfway around the world to eat a hamburger.
I do enjoy a good burger (and I make quite a mean one myself) but unless you really love hamburgers and are traveling the world to find the best out there then you are probably better served by trying local food. It may not always sit well with me but I almost always find local food to my liking and it really makes me feel like I've arrived someplace new. As an added bonus you can say you tried it and that earns points in my book.

The little hole in the wall places that people tell you about are generally the best. I have had poor luck hotel staff though, they they tend to either point me to some sort of chain or someplace really fancy. You really do need to talk to locals, fellow travelers or get really lucky and stumble into a great place (I've done all of these). Occasionally I've had the foresight to do a bit of research on the internet before I get to a location but mostly I just wing it. Usually the people I'm working with are more than happy to tell me about their favorite places to eat, even if some of the recommendations have made me sick.

I will admit that I have eaten steak all over the world. I don't do this every trip but if it seems like one of the local things to do or I've exhausted most of the hotel restaurant local flavor (and it's well below freezing out and it's more than a mile to the next restaurant) then I'll go with a steak. My top 3 steaks of all time have all been enjoyed outside the USA (Finland, Australia, Chile).

5. Help people when you can.
Now I don't believe in karma but helping out travelers in distress is something that I try to do whenever I can. Traveling is stressful and people can get frustrated with language and navigation issues or worse yet they can forget to not panic.

I've translated English to English for a person with a heavy accent trying to talk to an airline agent with a similarly heavy (yet very different) accent. Both spoke decent English but they just couldn't connect so I translated for them. It was quite funny and they were both very grateful for the help.

On my last flight home the person sitting next to me was having a panic attack because their luggage wasn't going to make the flight, additionally she fell down on the tarmac on the way to the plane, destroyed her pizza and scraped up her hands pretty good. This lady was hungry and panicking but the people around her (myself included) calmed her down and offered her some food. After that she was fine and very felt lucky for having such understanding travelers around her.

I've also been the recipient to help many times and I'm always thankful for it. Recently a nice old man helped me read a posting at a Norwegian bus stop which noted that there was a bus strike going on for most of my trip. This was very handy information as I was planning on taking the bus to work the next day. He just saw me staring at the bus schedule and offered to help, people are nice like that.

6. It's better to be 1 hour early than 1 minute late.
When I travel I want to make sure that people aren't waiting on me, that would just be rude and probably insulting. Now, exactly what punctual means will vary from country to country but I always do my best to be at the agreed upon spot before the agreed upon time. Sometimes I'll overestimate and have a half hour that I could have used to sleep but that's OK as I'd rather wait a few minutes than have people waiting on me. You can never be sure how long that bus ride is going to take that first time you take it or how late the taxi will be so I'll stick to being early.

This also applies to days that I'm flying as I never want to miss the first flight of the day, that always gets the day started off wrong. I don't want to be the person running to the ticket counter frantically trying to make a flight in 30 minutes. My nerves can't handle that. I do routinely let that person pass me in line though but most of the time they are too late. There are enough stresses while traveling and that one is easily avoidable so I avoid it. Coincidentally I spend a lot of time drinking coffee in airports waiting for my flight to board.

I think that's about it as far as my main travel code goes. Don't panic, be respectful, don't be that guy, eat new foods, be helpful and be early. They are simple rules to live by but they make my travels go a lot smoother and I wouldn't go anywhere without them.

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  1. "I've translated English to English"

    Awesome. You win at helping.

  2. That reminds me of translating English to another language and then translating the translation back to English. Fun times on the internet