Be particularly kind to yourself the first few days when travelling in a foreign destination. ‘Arriving’ can be tough. The culture you’ll encounter may be shockingly different from your own and you’ll need time to adjust. If you’re suffering from jet lag the experience can be particularly stressful.
Take the time to find your bearings and cut your ‘must-dos’ in half. Acknowledge that on day #1 you’ll know nothing, day #2 you’ll start to feel in-the-know, and by day #3 you’ll be a know-it-all and ready to move on.
Get to the first point on your itinerary as quickly and as easily as possible and book the ‘right’ hotel for the first couple of nights. Make a simple list of what you’ll do the first two days, such as: 1) Find the internet café and send an e-mail home; 2) Buy a bottle of water on the way to the central square and watch the locals; 3) Find an interesting restaurant for dinner and start the meal with a cold beer; 4) Make plans for the next point on the itinerary.
The first local bus I took in India was the kind where the luggage goes on top, seats are just wide enough to hold two emaciated peasants, and people hitch a ride by clinging to the outer windows. The road was only a wide path and there were signs with such omens as “Hair pin curve. You may escape the police but you won’t escape death.” I had my first shocking beggar experience at an Indian train station where, it is said, all society meets. Everyone was looking at me like I was strange even though several of them were holy men with painted faces and wild hair. A regular looking man came up to me and asked for money to get to the hospital, then pulled up his pant leg to show me his calf that was bleeding and mangled to the bone. So give yourself enough time before you face such situations.
For many of us, walking down a street and being the constant centre of attention is very unnerving when all we want is to be unnoticed and part of the crowd. So if I’m feeling homesick I head to a place where foreign travellers gather and stay awhile. I do my laundry, exchange books, send an e-mail to my kids and in no time at all my spirits lift and I’m ready to move on.
Pat yourself on your back from time-to-time and remember that not-so-good days will be followed by good ones. And the unexpected will jump up and embrace you and you will smile.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2010