Before taking off on any journey to another country, I believe it’s important to learn a few courtesy phrases in the local language, to read up on local customs and do a little planning at the very least.
Today I’m about to break all of my personal rules for travel.
As I fly out to Budapest, Hungary tonight with a goal of visiting several countries in the coming weeks, I am flying into the unknown. It’s uncomfortable for me. I know where I’m staying for my first three nights abroad, and I know after Budapest, I’ll continue on to Romania. I have no idea how I’ll get there, how to find the train or bus station to purchase tickets, or what to explore once I get to Baia Mare in the region known as Maramures. I’ll be traveling alone, and I’ll have no one to lean on. And after three nights in Baia Mare, I have no idea where I’m going next…probably north to Slovakia, Slovenia, Austria and Czech Republic.
It’s an unfamiliar feeling, and a position which puts any U.S. traveler abroad at risk for coming across as an “ugly American.” I’m toting a ridiculously heavy Rick Steves book on this trip to help. I’ve downloaded a number of apps which can support communication and way finding, including Google Translate. Whenever something falls through the cracks, I am hopeful a smile and standard polite behavior in the U.S. will translate for me. Though what is standard here is certainly not standard worldwide.
I do, for example, know that leaving a tip on the table in Hungary is an insult, and one should hand it directly to the waitstaff instead. But even knowing what to tip is tricky; tipping standards are different in every country, for every service. Understanding such nuances is important, and on this particular trip more than any other, I run the risk of coming up woefully short on cultural sensitivity.
I’m breaking one more personal rule this time: instead of my rollerbag, I’m carrying a small backpack on this trip. BackpackMister assures me this is the way to travel. I know I need to be agile to cover several countries in the coming weeks, and a light backpack may help me do that. It holds a bare minimum of four outfits (I’ll wear a fifth en route): mostly light dresses, a single sweater, a scarf, a spare pair of shoes. I like traveling light, and doing laundry is a necessary part of longer-term travel which affords the weary a day of relative stillness and restoration. Not to mention, as the dryer spins, time to learn a few helpful, courteous phrases.
Here we go.
Have you ever traveled unprepared? How do you navigate local customs?
Charish Badzinski is an explorer, and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.