When it comes to traveling, and learning, most people say you don’t truly know someone until you travel with them. Now that I’ve been outside the U.S., I agree. You learn a lot (maybe too much) about your travel companions, but I didn’t expect to learn just as much about myself.
I didn’t travel as a kid; I took my first international trip at twenty-four. I was nervous; it was hard. I had all these fears about traveling abroad: Am I ready? What happens if this doesn’t go smoothly? What if they lose my bag? What if I get kidnapped like the movie Taken? What if…? What if…? My imagination ran wild and drove me crazy.
Well, I was ready, no bags were lost, and most importantly, no one got taken. The trip was incredible. I learned so much about the country I visited – Chile – and perhaps even more about myself.
I’m hoping these next four lessons will inspire any of you who are on the fence about traveling overseas to just do it; book your ticket and figure out the rest after.
Lesson #1: You are more capable than you think… and others will be there to help
Before my first trip I was nervous about being in an unfamiliar place with people who don’t speak English. How would I communicate and interact? How could I travel around the country? What if I offend someone unintentionally? What are their customs around tipping? Am I supposed to haggle with the local merchants? The questions never stopped coming…
Once outside the U.S. however, I quickly learned that my fears had gotten the better of me, and that navigating unfamiliar territory was easier than I thought. Communication with locals was a mix of English, Spanish, and hand gestures. I used Google Translate on my phone and taxi apps to get around the city. I observed people in the markets were not haggling, so I didn’t try, and I read about tipping customs before my trip. When I needed help, I approached people with a smile and even if we couldn’t communicate, they smiled back. Using simple words and speaking slowly helped a lot.
My advice: If you’re also nervous about communicating abroad, go somewhere that speaks a language you’re comfortable in. If English is your only language then you’re in luck because most Europeans learn English in school. Even if you only speak un petite-peu (little-little) French, go to France (!); you’ll be shocked to find how proficient your language skills quickly become. Especially in France, there are opportunities to work with American companies like Americanconcierge.com who will do everything to ensure you enjoy your trip!
Lesson #2: We are more alike than different
It’s easy for many of us to adopt a “them vs us” mentality. But by traveling outside the U.S. I quickly learned that when you make the effort to communicate with people you quickly realize you have much more in common than you may have thought. In fact, I learned we are more alike than we are different because we all want the same things: a home for our family with food on our table, the ability to work and the opportunity to educate our children so they have opportunities. Just like here in the U.S., most people want to have a positive impact on the lives around them, which makes me hopeful about the future and reminds me of this Maya Angelou quote”
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
Lesson #3: They know a lot more about us than we do about them
People in the U.S. often refer to our country as a global superpower and while I associated these notions with the size of our economy and the strength of our military, I never really knew what that meant for people living outside the U.S. After a couple trips, I started realizing how little I know about other countries’ political, economic, and military situations and how much they know about ours. Some examples of this are in your face as you walk down the street past a McDonalds or a Starbucks …and there’s mostly American music on the radio.
You’ll find American influences in lots of other places too. For example, English is often taught in schools and American politics are followed by their local news. When was the last time you saw a President or Prime Minister address their country? It’s hard to imagine CNBC airing a speech from a foreign leader, unless it was directly addressed to the U.S. In other parts of the world, American Presidential speeches are just as televised as speeches given by their own leaders.
My Advice: I’m amazed at how much people outside the U.S. know about our country; don’t be surprised if they ask you questions about politics. Before traveling, research their population, political system and main exports so you have a few talking points. A little research will go a long way towards an engaging discussion.
Lesson #4: Other countries do some things better…and that’s alright!
Growing up in the South it was commonly taught that America is the greatest country in the world, which begs the question, “if I live in the best place on earth, why go anywhere else?”
Once I started traveling though, I saw things in other countries that I liked better than in the U.S. For instance, I like Iceland’s lack of wage gap and two extra years of primary education. In other countries, students are required to learn second and third languages, which I think helps them better understand the people who speak those languages. In Chile I appreciated their artisanal culture, which permeated their parks, shopping malls, and historic sites.
Social programs are important to me and it was interesting to see how other countries deal with healthcare, poverty, and their prison systems. I honestly believe this added perspective makes me a better American because I’m better equipped to make informed decisions.
My Final Piece of Advice: Travel outside the U.S. Expose your family, children and friends to international travel whenever you can. Once abroad, keep your eyes, ears, and mind open so you can truly learn about another culture. In most instances, I’m confident you will learn more about yourself as an individual, as an American, and as a citizen of the world.
For more information on guided tours of Paris, visit Americanconcierge.com
Written by: Hallie Snow, friend of AmericanConcierge.com