Friday, January 02, 2009

Rules for Travel

(written on the plane to Melbourne, amended after arriving.)

The first rule, the overarching rule, I suppose, would be ‘go native’. You’re here to see and do something different, not replicate your routine. This generates a whole subset of additional rules:
  1. Eat and drink like the locals. See what everyone else is having and try something you haven’t had before. I once heard someone at work mention a buyer that wouldn’t eat anything but McDonalds when abroad, which struck me as tragic. Sure, don’t do anything that risks your health or offends your moral sensitivities (eating dog in Shenzhen immediately springs to mind), but do come back with some new impressions.
  2. Be entertained by the local scene, not something you can see in your own backyard. Example: I didn’t see Bon Iver and the Black Lips in London, two acts I enjoy, because I could see other bands I would never see in the States. There are exceptions: I passed on seeing Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed in Melbourne in favor of another gig, but found out later I should’ve gone, given that Ash Naylor was filling in for his guitarist. This rendered it local, a show that couldn’t be replicated in the US, which saddened me since Ash is an ace and I missed it.
  3. Learn something new through experience. Attempt a few words of the local language, ask someone about their favorite place in their city and go there.
  4. Buy a locally made souvenir over the junk sold in tourist shops -- you’ll enjoy it more than that magnet or tea towel. In my case, it’s usually local music: music evokes place differently than anything else. It could also be clothing, artwork, etc.
  5. Use a variety of means of transport, including walking. Most industrialized countries aside from the US have good public transport. By using it, you see the neighborhoods, hear the cadence of people’s lives (this is a nice way of saying ‘eavesdrop’, I suppose), and do it on the cheap. Walking gives perspective: you’re at street level, and see detail you’d otherwise miss.
  6. Read the local paper, not USA Today. USA Today’ll rot your brain… don’t read it ever.
  7. See the big tourist sites you want to see, but also do some wandering that doesn’t involve a pre-packaged experience. Don’t go to Tokyo and just go to Disneyland.

Some other rules:
  1. Look up and down, not just straight ahead. If you’re somewhere where there is no urban light pollution, looking up at night is essential. Most Americans probably haven’t truly seen a night sky.
  2. Cleanliness is next to godliness but practically impossible on long flights and in many travel situations. Accept it.
  3. Be prepared, but not overprepared. Overpacking slows you down.
  4. Know your limits. There is nothing less fun than being hurt or ill while you’re someplace interesting.

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