Some Strange Advice

The  best thing about travelling is the idea of befriending other travellers who will give you their own versions of ‘strange.’ When you step out of your comfort zone, opportunities always present themselves – on a bus, in a guesthouse’s lobby, at an eatery, even while beating the scorching heat on an e-bike – it’s amazing how doors and windows pop open like a rabbit in a magic hat.

I have been travelling since 2005 and up until now (I should really stop knocking myself out about this), I still wish that someone taught me what I have learned only when I started backpacking with friends in 2010. I still wish that at age 23, someone told me that it was okay to not miss home for a while; that you can worry about work and money later because chances of discovering places come rarely; that stopping for a few minutes to have coffee with that storekeeper from Morocco is not going to be a scary experience (and because you know that his home-brewed coffee is good); and that having a chat with that bearded prince after dancing the Matadore piece is going to be worth your while, most especially since he actually made an effort to approach and congratulate you for the beautiful performance whilst holding your hand; that you should take it as an opportunity to visit neighboring countries if you can, while you are still there because it would be expensive to travel to those countries from home.

I know, I know. I should stop dwelling because no matter how many times I go back to those memories, I know I could never change them.

I can do something for you though. I can share what I know which you might find helpful one day. I hope you will remember them.

1. Talk to that stranger.

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He, she, she-man, he-woman, old guy who looks like Chuck Norris, eccentric boho, etc. It does not matter who, just talk. Talk with an objective – to get to know the person, to ask for travel advice, to share a cab with, or to get involved in a love affair with. Again it does not matter because when you strike a conversation with another person, it will lead you to a path much more exciting than the itinerary that you have obsessively prepared weeks (even months for some) before your trip.

2. Smile.

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I don’t know how I can emphasize this even more. A smile is like the sun on a clear, windy day, whilst a frown is like some low-pressure announcement on a sad, gloomy day. A smile wards off evil spirits, attracts people (especially yummy hunks), gets your passport stamped by immigration officers quicker, and immediately uplifts your disposition when things don’t turn out as planned in your trip. I know this for the obvious reasons.

3. Visit neighboring countries.

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If you found yourself in Thailand then by all means go to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, or Myanmar. In Singapore, don’t forget to drop by Malaysia or Indonesia. Mongolia and Russia are just a train ride away from China. Tanzania is near Kenya so why not tread there too?! Don’t just limit yourself to one country. There are others that you can also visit and at a minimal expense since you are already nearby. This is of course with the consideration that you have time in your hands. One of the things that I regretted a lot was not travelling outside Bahrain when I could have been able to afford trips to countries I dreamed of visiting like Turkey or Egypt. Instead, I opted to use my one month vacation going home which forced me to cough up more money than an actual vacation in the said countries. I am not saying that home was not a good option but looking back now, I wish I explored more rather than caving in to my homesickness after just six months of being away.

4. Don’t be afraid to try something utterly unlike home.

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What do I mean by “utterly unlike home?” Something that is not found at home, something you cannot experience at home, or something that you have not tried doing at home. Like enrolling in a muay thai class while in Thailand, puffing shisha in Bahrain with some Arab friends, hopping on a stranger’s motorcycle, rolling a joint, eating crazy food, or hopping on a train to travel to another state with no confirmed ticket and a certainty that you will be kicked off by the conductor for being bull headed. Try and I assure you, you will get something out from those crazy ideas. Whether you end up in a bar brawl, in jail for a night, or in the hospital for food poisoning – it will all be worth sharing with friends and family.

5. Make photocopies of important documents.

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Important documents include (but is not limited to):

6. Keep track of your finances.

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I know that I am somehow encouraging you to try all kinds of things but this does not mean that you throw responsible travel outside the window.

Travel within your budget, monitor your expenses, splurge in some but tighten your belt in other instances, and most importantly, do not copy what other travellers are doing. Remember that your circumstances are not the same, other than those currencies may be nowhere close, your interests may even be farther. You’re a grown-up, you know what to do and what to decide on.

7. Travel light.

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Yes, you will not need much. You will need some travel essentials to be rammed in your backpack which you can read here but other than those, you are good to go. One back pack, one small sling bag (maybe) will suffice so you can easily guard, hop on and off transportation modes, and squeeze in and out of confined spaces.

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