Part of the appeal of travelling is breaking outside your daily routine and comfort zone. Meeting new people, trying new food, seeing new sights are all part of the journey — but with all this newness you’re bound to get a bit confused. It isn’t an “if”, it’s a “when.”
Don’t shy away from these confounding experiences. Instead find and learn from the lessons within them. There are many learnings you can receive from travel and the short-lived confusion it can create.
Here are 4 times travel dumbfounded me and created a learning opportunity:
1.) Learned Basic Expressions
Language barriers can definitely appear when travelling. Sure lots of people speak English across the globe, but it isn’t a given. Expecting people in a foreign country to know how to speak in English is a bit entitled and not very culturally sensitive.
When I travelled to the African country of Zambia there were countless dialectics. I was often lost and confused with the confluence of languages spoken in public places. I realized I wasn’t going to learn the languages outright but I could learn basic expressions to show good will and a desire to be a part of the community.
I made sure to learn greetings and salutations as well as simple questions. It went a long way in my interactions with people in shops, restaurants and on public transit.
2.) Learned to Ask for Help
Problem-solving is a big part of travel. You have to familiarize yourself with brand new places that are totally foreign to you. A blank slate. That means navigating public transit or train station, finding your hotel or that famous landmark are all puzzles to be solved but you don’t need to do it alone.
You can ask for help.
I remember when I arrived in Barcelona, Spain, it had been a long day of travel just getting there. By the time I arrived I was exhausted but the problem solving wasn’t over. I got really turned around in the train station, not knowing which direction was which.
I finally put my pride aside and asked a person on the platform for help. They helped me make sense of the map and I was able to find my accommodations.
I learned that I wasn’t alone and there is strength and power in asking for help, and admitting I don’t know.
3.) Learned to have Extra Cash
Using credit and bank cards while travelling can seem like the easier way to go as it calculates the exchange rate for you and you don’t need to worry about having money on you. Plus it prevents confusion when needing to figure out which coin or bill is for what.
However having a little bit of spending money on hand is helpful. You don’t need a wad of it — just a little.
This little bit of cash will allow you to pay for many small purchases, such as transit or cab fare or road tolls along highways.
When I was in New York City I had been walking all day long. I didn’t want to navigate the subway again that day plus my feet were in a heck of a lot of pain. I just wanted to get back to my hotel. I was able to flag a cab, pay with the change I had in my change purse and put my feet up as soon as I got into my room.
4.) Learned to Pack Lightly
It’s important to have what you need when you’re travelling but if you over pack you won’t be able to find what you need when you need it and it will be hard to keep track of what you have.
You can cut down on this confusion by bringing only the essentials. When I backpacked in Europe, I ended up being so frustrated with myself because I brought so many clothing options.
Who was going to see me from one day to the next?! No one else other than me. I couldn’t keep all of my belongings organized in my pack and I hardly wore any of it, despite hauling it across Spain, France, Germany, Czech Republic and Italy.
I regretted it the whole way but I learned to pack light. I now only take a few favorite things that are versatile and can be washed in the sink at the hotel and dried overnight.
Travelling is a great way to learn about yourself. The surprises and problem solving it provides are truly priceless. You can become turned around and outright confused but it is a learning opportunity that if you choose to glean something from.