How To Enjoy Travel + Be A Happy, Laid Back Traveler

International travel can be stressful + overwhelming. Here's how to relax and really, really enjoy it! // yesandyes.orgOh, travel.  You slippery minx.  Even though I’ve spent years of my life living out of one backpack, working in refugee camps, washing my clothes in buckets, eating with my hands, any time I leave home there’s a 2-3 day adjustment period.

How To Enjoy Travel + Be A Happy, Laid Back Traveler

Travel outside of our home countries can feel like an endless exercise in embarrassment.
Fumbling awkwardly through the language you don’t speak, blushing while you mime the universal sign for ‘chicken.’
Haggling for a lower price, only to later realize that what they originally quoted you was totally normal.
Seeing something colorful and exciting and digging through your bag to pull out a giant camera, while locals look on, non-plussed.
Driving hesitantly through an unknown city, while everyone behind you honks and merges and you creep along, 10 miles under the speed limit, sweating through your dress.
Eating with your hands when you shouldn’t. Pointing at things with your foot. Failing to tip. Going in for the second cheek kiss when they only want one.
It makes me blush just typing it out.
So what do you do?
How do you make space to actually enjoy yourself when everything seems difficult and different and never-endingly intimidating?
How do you become that happy, laidback traveler that you wish you were?You make an active choice not to be embarrassed.

If you’re visibly, obviously not from the place that you’re visiting (and regardless of how well you dress, you’re still probably obviously a tourist) no one expects you to know everything.

If someone’s never swam before, you wouldn’t throw them into a pool and expect an Olympic-caliber butterfly stroke from them.  You don’t expect native-level English from your Tibetan guide or Michelin-star food from a roadside stand in China.

99% of the people you interact with while traveling

a) are kind, good-hearted people
b) appreciate your attempts at their language
c) realize you’re not a native and have adjusted their expectations accordingly

It’s also worth remember that (in the best possible way) nobody is paying as much attention to you as you think.  Those taxi drivers?  All day long they ferry people around who can’t speak their language. Those 22-year-old topless hotties on the beach?

They’re totally not looking at you in your swimsuit.  And I’m sure you’re not the first person who held out her hand and asked the bartender to take the correct change because you can’t understand him.

So take a deep breath, lean into the awkward, and realize that in the best possible way – nobody cares.

How do you get over culture shock and those weird first few days of international travel?

P.S. 7 skills you should master before you travel

Photo by Syd Sujuaan on Unsplash

18 Comments

Ben Simon

""Travel outside of our home countries can feel like an endless exercise in embarrassment.""

So true!

My solution: Bill Bryson!

Years ago I realized that what makes Bill Bryson's writing so laugh-out-loud-till-you-cry-funny isn't that his travel adventures go smoothly, it's that they are often quite the opposite. By turning these awkward situations into stories, they suddenly become precious. (Of course, Sarah, you do the same thing, which is why I love your blog.).

If I misread a bus-station schedule and missed the bus I'd kick myself for not being more attentive. When Bill Bryson did it, it was comedy gold, and he'd turn his attention to making the best use of his time.

It's just a change in perspective from striving for perfection (and being frustrated and annoyed when you don't achieve it) to embracing the absurd. But it's a hugely valuable one.

Thanks to the Internet and blogging, you can actually be that hilarious-travel-writer that's recording his adventures, rather than a tourist bent on making their vacation 7 days of perfection.

So be like Bryson. Make it a story.

Reply
Sarah Von Bargen

1) Thank you so much! Bill Bryson is truly one of my writing idols so you just made my day!

2) I literally have a draft of a blog post that I've been working on for ages entitled something like "Right now it's a headache and a hardship, in a year it's an 'adventure' 😀

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Ben Simon

""Right now it's a headache and a hardship, in a year it's an 'adventure'"

Exactly! One day, these will be our good old days 😉

Thanks Fiona.

Reply
roisinmulligan

I love this post!
I just returned back to the UK after a long trip in Asia and I can totally relate! I got to a point where I decided not to get embarrassed and it meant I could focus on the more important things whilst exploring a new city/ country!
It's also something I'm trying to bring home.
You know that moment when you realise you're walking in the wrong direction and you have to turn around in the middle of a busy street or city centre? Well I used to always check my phone, pretend to have just received a message etc, as some kind of excuse to the people I was sure were watching! (A few of my friends admit to this as well – anyone else?!)
Since travelling I've tried to remember, as you say, 'nobody is paying as much attention to you as you think' and it makes me feel a lot more comfortable and confident just walking around my home town!
Crazy the things that travelling opens your eyes to eh?!

Reply
Alison Chino

I love this! Such great reminders! I travel a loooot and I too find myself getting all nervous in those first few days! I'm so glad to hear you experience it too. 🙂 LOVE it.

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Kaisa M.

Lovely post. However, it had never occurred to me that being a "dumb foreigner" could be embarrassing. Haha. I get more embarrassed in my own country when I act… well, dumb. It happens. But when I am abroad I feel a certain freedom and worry a lot less what others might think etc.

Reply
Fiona

Hi Sarah.
Oh YES, I agree so much. As an experienced traveller of the developing world I thought I *was* prepared for many embarrassing things and social fuck ups – they happened but I got over them and everyone was kind about it. But now I'm an expat in a non English speaking country where the locals DO look the same as me so I feel this weird awkward social pressure NOT to fuck up. It might be something simple as packing my bags at the groceries or not jaywalking or hoping they won't engage in conversation with me outside the scope of the language I have picked up. I must say, I thought I was well-prepared for homesickness and the 'cute' cultural differences but as a bit of a sensitive/introverty type I must say this constant worry about what people are thinking can really be overwhelming. It's a side of culture shock you can't really prepare for. And the adventure always outweighs negative side. Must remember to lean in to the awkward and practise my "not giving a fucks". Thank you for a sweet and timely post. Fiona x

Reply
j

I love this reminder! A very wise and wonderful professor of mine was prepping a group of us she was taking to India and said "embrace the awkward." It is a phrase that is now my go-to and I love that you touched on the same idea! If we can get over ourselves, we can connect with others so, so much better!

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New Wave Domesticity

I love this post! Thank you so much for the inspiration! I am working really hard on being more laidback…I can be such a freak about control, so this is an excellent reminder to let go and enjoy!

Is that a manatee? Eeep! I am so excited to take a trip in the next few months to Florida to snorkel with them again! <3

Reply
Ashley

My social anxiety has always made travel quite a bit difficult. I'm really glad to see that I'm not alone in feeling embarrassed at times. Becoming a laidback traveler takes a lot of work but I think it's well worth it.

Reply

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