It’s been almost two months since I left Calgary and yet that part of my life already seems like an age ago. I’ve travelled so much recently that I currently feel very far away from what I’ve come to view as my second home. Especially now that I’ve finally ended up in Belize, somewhere which is miles apart from Canada, both quite literally (6,239km to be exact) and in other senses; the climate, the culture, the languages, the food. You name it, it couldn’t be more different. Whilst adapting to this new Belizean lifestyle, which I currently find myself indulging in, I’ve had some time to reflect on my experiences since leaving Heathrow last August. This year has broadened my perspectives and changed my attitude towards others; it’s taught me how to respond to new people and unfamiliar ways of life. In that sense I’ve learnt considerably more than I could have ever done at home – not just in the academic sense. I have thought long and hard about the things I’ve learnt whilst being abroad and, as this is my last post, I would like to share them with you. I hope this proves to be good advice, wherever you travel in the world.
- Talk to as many people as possible – Don’t just orientate to those familiar to you. Even if this means trying to break through language barriers and learn local slang and idioms. By far the best thing you can do is get to know the locals, ask for their advice and be curious. Don’t just rely on tour and travel guides. The only way to really make the most of any place you stay is to create a social network and make new contacts. I have made so many friends from across the globe; it’s nice to know I’ll always have an excuse to go visit!
- Embrace the climate – I’ve experienced my fair share of weather this year. I practically moved from one extreme to another. From below -30oC to above 30oC, I’ve felt the pain of dry, icy wind freezing on your face to the perpetual all-over stickiness caused by unpleasant humidity. Even though your body does eventually acclimatise, the best thing you can do is wear the right attire so that you can get on with life. This is something I’ve learnt the hard way. Sometimes it’s less about dressing to impress and more about being prepared and comfortable, even if it’s not your finest photo moment.
- Explore wherever you can – Whether it’s just down the road or requires a long trek on a bus, boat, or train, if there’s somewhere you want to go, don’t be scared of getting out there and experiencing it. Foreign infrastructure can be daunting at first but if in doubt, just ask. Don’t let the journey get in the way of your destination and instead make it part of your adventure. Be prepared for delays, cancellations and getting lost. Accept that these are all part of the experience. Just remember to stay safe and have a backup plan if you get stranded. Additionally it is always possible to travel cheaply but if you do, don’t expect the height of luxury, instead make the most of everything provided for you and be grateful for what you have.
- Explore whenever you can – So you’ve made it abroad. Well now’s the time to make the most of this opportunity. Don’t just laze there or hideaway. Get up and go. Act like an inquisitive child and embarrass yourself in front of the locals. Discover things. Taste different foods and drinks. Go out and party. Take an active interest in other cultures, get involved and learn from them in a respectful manner. It’s okay to be a tourist. But remember. Be considerate of your actions, know where your boundaries lie, what could be considered disrespectful or offensive and be aware of cultural appropriation.
- Don’t be afraid of the unfamiliar and always expect the unexpected – You’re in a new place (whether it’s completely strange or just like where you’re from) and people may have different ways of living and doing things. Concepts of time, etiquette, manners and personal space may seem strange to you. Perhaps people look or dress nothing like you. You may feel like the odd one out. But try not to compare everything too much to yourself or your home. Respect people whose culture you may not understand, even if things might upset you. Instead try and view things from their point of view. Your way of doing things is not the only or right way.
- Be safe – So it’s the boring and often most stressful part about organising any journey but still it’s crucial to get this stuff right. Research your destination in regards to health, weather and crime. Be street-wise. Get to know your surroundings. Make sure you have enough money in your bank account and the correct currency in your wallet. Have travel insurance, credit on a phone, contact numbers, personal identification and visas at the ready. Be aware of local customs and laws.
- Stay in contact with home – Make sure your family and friends know you’re safe and keep them updated on your travels. There’s certainly nothing better than a Skype call if you’re feeling homesick. On the other hand, try to get away from your phone. Don’t spend so long documenting your trip or raving about it on social media that you become too preoccupied by notifications to experience your surroundings. For sure, take a little time out to get back in touch but don’t spend your whole day looking for the next WiFi signal, pleeeeaaaasee.
- Essentials – Everyone has certain things they like to bring to help out in those unexpected moments. I always carry ear plugs, gum and pain relief, for example. But other things might be a mini sewing kit, baby wipes and a hip flask. Pack light but whatever makes you comfortable, bring it.
And lastly, it’s okay to make mistakes. I’d like to think that everything happens for a reason (even the bad stuff). So it’s only through experience, messing up a couple of times and doing some really stupid things that I’ve managed to learn all the above. For that reason I hope this will be of some use to you as well. I’d like to think that overall things have run smoothly (and I hope it continues to do so until I get back to England in July!). I won’t say that travelling independently for this long is easy because it’s not. It’s taken some courage, will power and far too much time and stress to organise. However what keeps me optimistic when everything around me seems to be failing is to remind myself that, ‘it all works out well in the end’. And this year, it really has.
It’s been a pleasure writing for you.
Until next time…