If you’re traveling someplace, I pray to the powers that be that you have at least a general interest in where you’re going. I simply cannot understand how someone can go someplace and not wonder how this place got there, what the history is, and for Americans, have we at some point funded a military coup where I’m traveling?*
I know I can get a bit carried away, researching what happened in a certain place in the 19th Century during this, that or the other thing. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask to get some basics down, no?
So in order to help you prepare for a new country, I’ve assembled some tips presented in listicle format, because — let’s face it — you saw a number at the top of the headline, thought it’d be an easy thing to skim, and that helps me when I try to convince people that I’m not too shabby at what I do.
Here I’m not talking about anything complicated. Just nailing your hello, goodbye, and thank you’s in whatever language you’ll be surrounding yourself in will go a long way. Plus it basically covers everything when you find yourself in a foreign language situation.
Local: “Excuse me, are you in line?”
You: “Uh, hello!”
Local: “Ah, you clearly don’t speak my language, so I’ll leave you alone.”
You: “Thank you!”
Local: “Yeah, uh huh.”
Oh, and smile. Body language can be just as important as the gibberish resembling language coming out of your mouth.
Read A Book
At this point, most countries in the world have produced a relevant author or two. Finding one, digestible book (under 200 pages) is definitely a do-able feat and will present your destination in an entirely different light than what you can concoct in your head. For example, after finding out I was heading to Chile, I found a book by celebrated Chilean author, Isabel Allende. I stuffed it into my brain and it was good conversation ammo when talking with locals, not to mention it impressed them. Or they pretended to be impressed for my benefit. Either way, I felt great and entirely validated.
Watch A Movie
This can admittedly be tough when you come across countries that haven’t developed much of a cinematic history quite yet. Still, most places have a documentary out there ready to give you basic background on a place. Now with the plethora of travel shows, you have any even better shot at finding something.
Listen To Music
Beginning to see a theme, are we? The arts are perhaps the best way to experience a place without or before visiting it for yourself. Plus now that we have computers and all this wild technology that allows us to find the answers to just about anything, it’s incredibly easy to find some good jams from just about any corner of the globe. Using the Chilean example again, my search led me to Violeta Parra and Ana Tijoux. I got to impress Chileans and now I have some new great music on my iPhone.
Read The News
Current events are another great way to get a feel for where you’re going in advance. We all need some sort of context when traveling and the news does just that. After all, that’s pretty much what news is there for. So use it to your advantage, grab a paper, and just devote a little time to getting a sense of where you’re going before showing up like a lost child in a department store.**
*This is, unfortunately, rather important research when traveling through Central and South America.
**That’s a thing right? I’m not the only one who felt perpetually lost as a kid in department stores, am I?