So you are planning some sort of backpacking/volunteering/vacationing adventure somewhere in Central America, and you would like to know a few ways to act like less of a fool while you’re there. Good news–there is still hope for you, amigo! After spending time (shortest: a weekend; longest: eight months) in all of the Spanish-speaking countries in Central America and the Caribbean*, I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two, and I’m willing to share! Take out your notebooks, kids, it’s learnin’ time.
(*This includes: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.)
NOTE: I have a lot to say here. If you’re not in for the long haul, I’d recommend you skip to the bottom section where I sum up three main takeaways.
Now, before we begin, a couple quick disclaimers:
I am a white American woman and thus all my experiences have been through that lens. Some of the things I will talk about are more relevant to women, but most of my travel tips will be relevant to both genders. Additionally, even if you are not white OR American, the majority of my suggestions will probably be useful for just about anyone who presents as an “outsider” (we’ll talk about several dead giveaways that you are an extranjero).
What I’m going to talk about is the way *I* travel. What you need to know about the way I travel is this:
1) I believe in being a humble and respectful traveler;
2) My main goal 99% of the time is to stand out as little as possible;
3) I speak fluent Spanish.
If you can get down with all three of those (or if your Spanish is at least solidly intermediate), this advice is all for you. On the other hand, if you find my travel advice too strict, or cramping your loud American Bro On Vacation style, some of my advice might not apply to you, simply because we won’t be doing the same kind of travel. Go back to Cancun, bro.
Although I would suggest that you might still find many of my general safety tips pretty useful regardless, it’s just up to you to decide what kind of trip you want to take.
Also: although a lot of my tips revolve around safety and avoiding what seems to be malicious thieves around every corner, I would like to note that the people of Central America are some of the warmest and friendliest people I have ever met! The idea with being very cautious is so that if you DO run into that 0.01% of people who might consider robbing you, you are reducing your risk of tempting them to do so.
If you’re still with me, great! Let’s go get you some edumacation.
Through a combination of street smarts, common sense, and of course 100% good luck, I have never been robbed/pickpocketed/put in any other dangerous/deleterious situation, after several years of being in, out, and around Central America, the Caribbean, and, of course, Boston (don’t laugh–you’re actually more likely to get shot in Boston than in Nicaragua). While I acknowledge the luck aspect of this, I like to think that there must be something I’m doing at least sort of right.
This has led me to develop a strongly opinionated theory on safe travel:
In my experience, there are two main factors that can keep you safe when you travel. One you can control; one you cannot.
– Luck. This is the one you have no power over. Call it fate, destiny, an act of God, or karma, but sometimes even the most seasoned traveler runs into the wrong guy and there’s not a whole lot you can do about that. Sometimes the universe just does these things. Trust me, just give him your wallet.
– Street smarts and common sense. Now this you can have some say over. These are earned with experience and sometimes mistakes, but if you are a diligent observer and learn to use your eyes and ears to your fullest potential, you’ll be able to learn a whole lot along the way without having to hand over your wallet too many times. If I could sum up “street smarts and common sense” in less than ten words, they would be: Don’t be an idiot and don’t be an asshole. If you don’t understand what that entails, well, you have much bigger problems, as well as an answer to the question “why don’t people like me”.
But what if I don’t speak Spanish????????
Language skills are also a part of street smarts. If you don’t speak a pretty high level of Spanish, my tips are going to be less effective for you, since most of my travel theory revolves around trying to blend in. If you can’t express something without making a giant language-barrier scene, other tips for not standing out are not going to be quite as effective when everyone in line has already heard you take 15 awkward minutes to buy one bus ticket (to the wrong place, you’ll find out later).
Now, this doesn’t mean that people with basic Spanish can’t travel in Central America–in fact, it can be a great place to learn! And contrary to the gentleman portrayed about, it’s even quite possible to act respectfully even if you don’t have advanced language skills (as we discussed, just don’t act like an asshole). However, if you do only have basic Spanish, your sore-thumb-ness will just be extra obvious, which means that your potential as a “target” is greater. However, if you become a good observer as I’ll teach you, you might be able to reduce your risk by using your eyes and ears to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
I believe in only worrying about things you can control, so let’s talk about a few ways you can reduce your risks while traveling in Central America. In no particular order, here are a few tricks I’ve used at one point or another.
– Pay attention. All the time. If your head is in the clouds, you’re going to make mistakes or be taken advantage of. One time on a bus in Honduras, the bus attendant came around to collect fares, and asked the woman next to me where she was going. Though I was staring out the window, I was listening intently to their conversation, and noted that she was going to the same city as me.
“80 lempiras,” he told her, and collected her fare.
My turn. “Santa Rosa.”
“100 lempiras.” His outstretched hand awaited my coins.
“But you only charged her 80 and she’s going to the same place,” I protested. He hesitated for a moment, glancing sideways, before he met my gaze again and mumbled, “Oh yes, yes, 80 lempiras, that’s what I meant.” If I had been listening to my iPod, or thinking about something else, I would have paid 25% more for my bus ticket. Granted, in this case, that difference was only about USD $1, so not the most serious example–but my point remains illustrated (and besides, $1 goes a lot farther in Honduras than in the US!)
– In general, don’t display any electronics anywhere besides your own bedroom or other private places (besides your cheap ass brick of a cell phone, which sometimes you’ll have to take out in public, but pretty much everyone has one anyway).
This includes your iPod, people. Don’t listen to your iPod in public. I hope I don’t have to tell you not to use it on the street, but in case I do, this is me telling you that if you do that, you are basically wearing a sign that says “FREE IPOD”.
Now if we’re talking about on the bus, this one is your call, because on certain long journeys on nicer bus lines, it could be fine. But if you’re on any kind of chicken bus, or one of the mid- to low-range, old-as-hell coach buses that traverse most long distances in Central America, you might want to check to see who’s around you before whipping out your iPod touch. Even if you feel like no one ON the bus is likely to jump up and rob you in front of all the other passengers, what I am usually concerned about is the guy who silently notices your expensive electronics, quietly follows you around the corner when you gets off the bus, and robs you there. Trust me, take a few hours off from your iPod, you’ll survive.
– On that note: Suggestions for what to do with yourself when not listening to your iPod (trust me, it’s possible!!!!). Before you come whining to me saying “but this bus ride is so LONG and I’m so BORED”, why don’t you take a look around. Listen in (stealthily, obviously) on people’s conversations on the bus and get accustomed to the local accent. Look out the window and treat your eyes to some of the richest landscapes you’ve ever seen. Make mental notes of place names so you can track your journey later on Google Maps and get a better idea of where you are going geographically. Make up stories about people you see on the road. Get a sense of how the people are living in each town you pass. What does it appear the local economic activities are? Do they have electricity? Are there kids playing outside on a school day?
You are in a BRAND NEW COUNTRY you know NOTHING about! LOSE YO EARBUDS AND LEARN SUTTIN’ SON!
PACKING AND CARRYING STUFF
– Pack light. Remember, if you pack it, you carry it. Here’ s a good strategy for packing:
1) Lay everything out on your bed that you’ll “need”.
2) Put away 50% of it.
Then reevaluate what’s left. Put back anything that you can only wear/use in ONE specific situation. In backpacking, you are super-uber-mega-ultra-economizing, and everything you bring should have AT LEAST two potential uses. If you find yourself looking at a certain object and thinking anything similar to “well I COULD need that”…trust me, you won’t. And your back will thank you for not bringing it.
– But DO bring a small but useful first aid kit. I bring: Bandaids, blister treatment (Second Skin, etc), antibacterial hand gel, Bacitracin, anti-diarrhea pills, antihistamines (never had to use them, but with allergic reactions you often don’t have much time to lose), athletic tape, a few large pieces of gauze, and anti-itch insect bite gel.
– Roll your clothes. Don’t fold ’em, don’t stuff ’em–ROLL ‘EM. It is the most space-efficient method of packing, CAN keep your clothes semi-less-wrinkled, and is fast.
– LADIES — Bring tampons. They’re extremely difficult to find in most developing countries in general, let alone if you have a preferred brand/type. This is one of the few things you would rather pack a few extra than not enough–trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.
– Other random shit that comes in handy extremely often: Extra hair ties (not just for hair–hold broken things together, etc!), rubber bands (hold smaller things together), duct tape (are you seeing a theme here), a length of twine (again), and plastic grocery bags (Two main purposes: smelly clothes/stuff you don’t want to stink up your backpack, and extra stuff you buy that will not fit in your backpack), and a couple plastic Ziploc bags (large and small. When you’re walking in the pouring rain, you’ll want to know that your phone/passport/wallet are safe and dry).
– Don’t dangle your stuff off of your backpack. If you have something cheap, like a towel or water bottle, that’s fine. And I know it can be tempting, especially when your stuff somehow seems to expand every time you unpack and pack. But if you’re dangling your $150 hiking boots off the side of your bag, looking for all the world like ripe fruit on a tree, know that you are probably attracting some extra pairs of eyes your way, and not all of them are innocent curiosity.
– Split up your money. Ladies, your bra counts as two extra hidden pockets. Utilize ’em! I usually keep a few bucks in my obvious pants pocket (if someone tries to rob you, it’s not very believable to tell them that you have $0 on you), and keep the rest of my stash in my bra. I also typically keep my phone in my bra.
– Carry copies of your passport (and other important documents). In much of Latin America, a copy of your passport will serve as a general ID (and in the case that you get your passport stolen, can make it much easier to get a new one). Put them in different bags so that if you lose any, you don’t lose all your copies. If you pass through a police/military checkpoint, whether on a bus, in a taxi, or in a friend’s car, most likely the officer carrying a semi-automatic weapon is going to ask for your ID, and due to aforementioned weapon, you’re going to feel compelled to comply.
– Ask the price before you get in. Flag him down, say where you’re going, and ask how much. If you’ve just recently arrived in-country, you’re likely to not have such an accurate idea of how much things should cost, but after a little while you’ll learn to connect a certain “sparkle” in the taxista’s eye as he eyes your giant backpack and offers an outrageous first price. Suggest a lower price with an attitude that suggests that you know exactly how much he’s trying to rip you off, and move on if he refuses to lower it. What you don’t want to do is to NOT ask, and later arrive at your location and find out he’s demanding an arm and a leg.
– …Unless the taxi has a meter. In which case, you might still ask how much to get an idea, but just make sure he turns the meter on. In some places, there are sneaky drivers that won’t turn on the meter when you get in, so that when you arrive at your destination he can charge you a higher amount than would have registered on the meter.
**LOCAL TIP: In Costa Rica, the meter is called la maría.
**LOCAL TIP: In Panama City, taxi fares are pre-arranged by “zones”, so technically your fare should be a set price depending on where you’re going/coming from, but don’t think they still won’t rip your gringo ass off.
– When taking a taxi alone, sit behind the driver. If the driver were to decide to physically assault you, it’s the most difficult place for him to reach you. That being said, I have personally never encountered a taxi driver who wanted to do anything worse than drastically overcharge me, but I’ve heard stories, and always take this precaution when possible.
– *IF* you find yourself taking a taxi in a sketchy location where you shouldn’t be taking a taxi (not that you ever would do that, since you’re a safe traveler…), get creative to make the taxista think that someone is expecting you in that specific taxi.
One of the first times I was in Tegucigalpa, I arrived at the bus station but could not find anyone working to help me call a trustworthy cab. So I gulped and went out to the street to flag down a taxi.
If you know anything about Tegus, you know this is a pretttyyyy bad idea. The carros públicos there are infamous for being in cahoots with thieves and gangs. But at the time I was rather ignorant of the seriousness of the violence in Tegus, and I had to get to my friend’s house somehow, so I hopped in a cab. I wasn’t a complete idiot, though; I knew that I had to do something to make this guy think I wasn’t such an easy target. My phone was dead, but I had an idea.
I took the phone out and pretended to call my friend. “Hey!” I loudly spoke into the phone in Spanish. “Yeah I’m on my way now….yup I’m in a cab, the taxi number is 2387…yes, the bus ride was fine…right now we’re passing Avenida X so I’ll see you in about 10 minutes! Yes, 2, 3, 8, 7. Okay great, see you soon, chao!”
The key here was noting the unique taxi number (usually visible to the passenger on the windshield or back window). The taxi driver now knew that if I didn’t show up at my destination within 10 minutes, my friends would know exactly who was responsible. And in Tegus, pretty much the only justice that occurs is of a vigilante nature, so you don’t want to mess with people’s friends. I arrived safe and sound.
– What’s a chicken bus? Chicken buses are the repurposed American school buses that now serve as the primary form of transportation for millions of Central Americans. They range in decor from “Classic Schoolbus Yellow with Chipping Paint” to “Tricked the F*ck Out with a Badass Soundsystem with Hella Bass, Bumping Cumbia So Loud You Can Feel It in Your Kidneys.”
– How do they work? First, you will need to know two things: your actual destination, and the final destination city of the bus. It will probably have the destination city painted on the front, or a guy will be standing by the door yodeling it (or both). Always confirm that the bus will be stopping at your destination city by asking the bus driver as you get on the bus. He will be standing outside or sitting in the driver’s seat already.
Next, go find a seat. You will pay in a couple minutes when the bus gets on the road, and the cobrador (fare collector) will come around asking everyone where they’re going and charge them accordingly. I find that these guys tend to be some of the people least likely to overcharge you, especially if there are a lot of folks on the bus who would hear him lie to your face about the price. Dishonesty certainly happens, but it’s also still considered shameful, so you run less risk in a very public situation. However, like I said, just be paying attention.
Oh, also, you’ll need to check any reservations you have about personal space…both in relation to humans and livestock. They don’t call ’em chicken buses for nothing. One time I rode for 30 minutes next to a pig tied up in a net. He was actually much better behaved than some men I’ve sat next to, leading me to believe it would actually be doing him a disservice to call those men pigs.
– When taking buses where you have to stow your large bags under the bus, it may ease your anxiety to sit on the side of the bus where they’ll be opening the hatch every stop. Now, I have to say, I’ve NEVER seen the honor system fail when people are claiming their bags, but it can make you feel a bit better to visually confirm that no strangers have removed your bag yet.
– When taking buses where you have to stow your large bags ON TOP of the bus, don’t worry it’s totally fine. There may or may not be a large bag of live chickens up there too. No one is trying to let anything fall off.
– Regular chicken buses are not to be confused with Panamanian chivas–party buses.
– Panamanian chivas are not to be confused with regular chivas.
– Regular chivas are not to be confused with the Costa Rican expression “que chiva!” which means “cool!”
– Dress like the locals. Seriously? No one else around here is wearing $60 zip off cargo shorts from REI, and you wouldn’t wear them in your real life either. Wear jeans, a tshirt, and street shoes. Yes, you’re going to sweat, but you could have stayed in your air conditioned office at home if you wanted to stay cool. Also, ladies, don’t wear shorts. ESPECIALLY short shorts (big no-no). You could get away with wearing Bermuda-style khaki or jean shorts (just above the knee), but don’t go much shorter or you’ll be attracting more attention than you want. I usually just wear jeans anyway.
Also, I hope I don’t have to tell you not to wear miniskirts or short dresses. If you’re currently wandering around Forever 21 fantasizing about wearing that flowery sundress in the warm weather of the tropics…please…just…no. (MAYBE if you’re going to a touristy beach but otherwise…if that is what you want out of this trip…have you heard of this great place called Cancun?)
– That goes for those backpacker sandals, too. I’m sorry, I know they’re very comfortable and probably life savers for people who walk a lot when traveling, but in line with my goal of standing out as little as possible, I’ve gotta shoot down the Chacos. Nothing screams extranjero like “those weird chunky sandals that all the white people wear”. Get some dark colored Keds and wear ’em into the ground.
– Keep jewelry on the extremely minimal side. A simple necklace or earrings is fine but a) who are you trying to impress, and b) you are probably already pretty rich compared to many people around you (Even if you’re traveling “on a budget”, don’t protest this. You bought a plane ticket here and back and can afford to not work for X number of weeks. Compared to 2/3 of the world’s population, you’re wealthy as shit).
Even if you bought those fake rhinestone studs at Claires and YOU know they’re made of plastic, they are still a sign of your significant relative wealth. I’m saying this NOT because the chances of someone ripping your earrings out of your ears is high (Central Americans are not that crazy, though I’ve heard of this in other parts of the world)–I’m saying this because PLEASE DON’T BE A DOUCHEBAG.
– Take a damn shower. Every day. Some foreigners have this idea that since they are taking a break from their “real life” they can take a break from other things like “personal hygiene”. Unfortunately no one else here is taking a break from real life, but they would like a break from your stench. This phenomenon also leads to the “dirty American” stereotype, which the rest of us “clean Americans” do not appreciate being associated with. Latin Americans place a lot of importance on cleanliness and personal presentation, and since you’re trying to be as culturally respectful as possible, you should too. You seriously don’t even look good with dreadlocks.
– Lower your voice. If you are American, on the world scale of average voice volume, you’re probably somewhere around the middle. I’m from the Northeast, where New Yorkers and Bostonians are probably worse than a lot of the rest of the country, but regardless you’re most likely going to need to take it down a notch. If you shut your mouth for a minute and use your ears instead, you’ll notice that the other people around you engaged in normal conversations are doing so a rather softer pitch than you’re used to. Adjust accordingly.
If you’re saying to yourself right now “what is she talking about? I totally don’t sound loud”, let me put it in perspective for you. Imagine you are taking public transportation in your city around 8 or 9 in the morning on a weekday. You’ll notice that it’s a lot quieter than in the evening or night. Everyone is on their way to work–listening to their iPod, reading a book, sipping a caffeinated beverage, or just thanking their Higher Power that they managed to get a seat. There is a sort of unspoken rule that we are all going to keep it quiet: we’re not at work yet, so we do not yet have to hear the irritating sound of other humans’ voices.
But there’s That Guy.
There’s always That Guy. As everyone else is quietly savoring the last few minutes of calm before their day really starts, That Guy is gabbing on his BlackBerry (yes, That Guy always has a BlackBerry) for everyone to hear. “YEAH–GREAT, BILL, YUP, I SHOULD HAVE THE HENDERSON ACCOUNT WRAPPED UP BY THE END OF THE DAY–YEAH, LINDA’S GOING TO STOP BY TODAY WITH THE REPORTS–GREAT! HEY MAN, YOU CATCH THE GAME LAST NIGHT? HOW ‘BOUT THAT CATCH, EH? HOW ‘BOUT THEM SOX, EH? OHHH MAN. YEAH. SUSAN AND THE KIDS ARE DOING GREAT, JOEY’S GOT A SOCCER GAME TONIGHT SO I’M NOT GONNA BE ABLE TO MAKE HAPPY HOUR WITH THE GUYS, HAHAAAA, DAMN LITTLE TYKES, AM I RIGHT?”
The lesson here: don’t be That Guy. Try to use your ears at the same time you’re using your mouth hole, figure out what volume everyone else is speaking at, and take yourself down a notch. Or seven.
(Though I will say that if you’re in the Dominican Republic, you’re almost guaranteed to be quieter than Dominicans. They are…enthusiastic people.)
– Walk slower. Generally speaking, Latin Americans are in much less of a hurry than USA Americans. You’re not in NYC anymore, Dorothy. Slow it down.
There are two reasons you need to slow TF down. The first one is simply because that’s what everyone else does. As our goal is to stand out as little as possible, this is an easy one to check off the list! Once you get over the initial confusion of not attempting to get to every destination IN AS LITTLE TIME AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE, you will find that this practice is actually quite liberating and relaxing! Take time to smell the roses / Life is a journey, not a destination / etc.
The second reason that you should walk slower, coming back to safety, is that walking fast implies urgency, which implies nervousness, which implies vulnerability. Walking slow, on the other hand, says “I know where I’m going and I’m not nervous at all about getting there.” I can’t emphasize this enough. Walking speed may seem like a tiny factor, but this important aspect of body language means the difference between looking like a gringo who has no idea what’s going on, or looking like a gringo who knows how things work and feels comfortable (and probably knows enough to call someone on any bullshit they try to pull).
– As someone who works with college students going abroad, I have to say this one a lot, but unfortunately I know there are some adults who need to hear it too: Please don’t be an obnoxious drunk. Look, if you came to party, more power to you, but please don’t contribute to the stereotype of belligerent drunk Americans getting so shitfaced they can’t stand. And not only do you look like a fool, you are putting yourself in an extremely unsafe situation where you are even more vulnerable than usual. Yo ass gettin’ robbed TONIGHT!
– Don’t refer to the United States of America as “America“. Refer to it as Los Estados Unidos. You may recall that you are in Central AMERICA located just above South AMERICA inside the larger region of Latin AMERICA which can be found in the hemisphere of THE AMERICAS. From what I’ve heard, many Europeans and people from other hemispheres tend to refer to the US as “America” and that’s totally cool, but the colonialist implication is quite a bit stronger over on this side. Very few people will actually get indignantly offended if you do refer to it as “America”, but you may win some brownie points if you acknowledge the fact that all of us, from Canada to the tip of Chile, all actually live in America.
– Ask permission to take photos of people or their possessions. These are not statues. They are real, live humans who also have conceptions of personal space and privacy, and it is extremely disrespectful to treat them like just another part of the landscape. Is your Facebook album really more important than another person’s human dignity? Take a seat, amigo.
Instead, treat your fellow human beings with respect and say “Hello, I think the pattern on your dress is extraordinarily beautiful, do you mind if I take a picture?” If they say no, you may not, then smile, say “okay” and walk away. Congratulations, you just had a respectful interaction!
– When photographing people, you “have an ethical responsibility to preserve the dignity of [your] subjects and provide a faithful, comprehensive visual depiction of their surroundings so as to avoid causing public misperceptions.” What does this mean in practice? Awesome global public health org Unite for Sight offers a free and awesome resource to help educate photographers–amateur and professional–learn how to respectfully portray their subjects.
– Street food is dangerous. I speak from way, WAY too much experience on this one. I have empirically tested all kinds of street food for your exclusive benefit and have come to the conclusion that the most dangerous culprits are the following: meat (you don’t know where it’s been or what bacteria it’s been collecting); fresh fruits and vegetables, especially cabbage (if they haven’t been washed, or even if they’ve been washed but in dirty water, there’s a pretty good chance there’s something in there that will make you sick. Cabbage is especially dangerous because of way the leaves grow makes it very easy for all kinds of nasty, digestively disruptive stuff to get trapped in there); and fried food (that oil you see? It’s probably been used for a couple days now, collecting all kinds of “souvenirs” that are floating around the air of the street!).
– When you get food poisoning (let me emphasize, that’s “when”, not “if”), and are laying dazed, confused, weak, and violently ill in your bed, here’s a few things to remember:
– It doesn’t last TOO long. If it’s really just regular food poisoning, it will be 24 hours max. For me it’s typically more like 18ish hours. Granted those are 18 pretty excruciating hours, but just try to remember that it will be over soon. If it lasts more than two or three days, you might want to consider going to a clinic, as it might have developed into some sort of gastrointestinal infection. (I am NOT, I repeat NOT a doctor so please do not take this as official medical advice–this is just from my own experience!) The good news is that if you have to go to the doctor, the clinic visit and the meds will most likely be extremely inexpensive compared to what you’re used to in the US. If you’re Canadian or European, I hear you people have like functional and affordable health care systems or whatever so I have no idea how it will compare for you.
– Gatorade and salty crackers will be your best friends. When you are absolutely miserable in some foreign bathroom with your body producing things you never thought possible, just try to stay hydrated. Gatorade (or other sports drinks) are better than plain juice or soda (which are basically pure sugar) because it contains salts and electrolytes, of which you lose a lot when your body is…umm…”reacting” to the food poisoning. Even if you can’t keep food down, just try to keep sipping on Gatorade. Trust me, I know you can’t even fathom it now, but you’ll feel even WORSE if you get dehydrated.
– So about your vegetarianism….it’s obviously your choice, and everyone has different reasons for why they eat vegetarian, but please just make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need. If you are eating nothing but rice, and you spend an extended period of time without getting proper nutrients, you could actually do serious damage to your body. Please be responsible and put your health first. This could potentially mean straying from your vegetarianism.
Also, if you’re staying at someone’s house, please consider what kind of guest you’re being. Hospitality is very important to Latin Americans, and if you’re invited into someone’s home, you better believe you’re getting at least one meal. Some local folks will have some understanding of vegetarianism and some won’t get it at all, but pretty much all of them will think it’s slightly odd. It’s your call whether you want to be That Guy/Girl who says [cue *Valley Girl voice*] “OHH ACTUALLYYYY I, LIKE, DON’T REALLY EAT MEAT”, and pushes away the plate in front of them. Once again, your call, but if you’re traveling the way I travel, I ended a year and a half of vegetarianism right before I went abroad, because 1) I wanted to try new foods (and I’ll be damned if it all isn’t freaking delicious), and 2) I didn’t want to be an asshole.
If that was all just far too much for your tiny brain to comprehend, or you were hoping this would be more like a Buzzfeed list and were disappointed that there was only one Kanye GIF, or if you read the whole thing but are only going to remember three things from it, PLEASE REMEMBER THESE:
1) Be respectful. This means having humility and self-awareness, and it means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. When in doubt, ask yourself what it would feel like if someone came to YOUR country and interacted with you in that way.
2) Be Observant. Much of what you don’t know can actually be learned quite easily by using your eyes and ears. When in doubt, shut your mouth hole, sit back, and observe how other people are doing things. Most questions can be answered and many problems avoided by just doing as the locals do.
3) Be Flexible. Things don’t work the same way in other countries. Certain things are not going to go the way you expected, and most of the time you can’t control that. The best way to deal with this is to reassess the situation, and adapt your plan accordingly. You’ll find that once you have decided that unforeseen circumstances do not mean the end of the world, you are quite capable of handling just about anything!
If you have further questions about anything I’ve talked about, please feel free to leave it in the comments.
WISHING YOU GRING@S HAPPY AND RESPECTFUL TRAVELS!