“Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, ‘I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you.'”
“A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
Although I’ve been telling you about what I’ve been doing when I travel, I think it might also help for me to describe how I travel and what each day is like.
For starters, what I try to do when I’m abroad is experience how other people live. I’m more about doing and less about seeing. My goal isn’t to visit as many cheesy tourist traps as possible, especially if I’m not interested in the subject matter. I’d trade an hour chatting with a local any day over an hour in a museum. In every country I try to stop at a grocery store and take the public transit as if I was a native. A lot of times this also means that I’ll just take a walk around the city to get a feel for the vibe the people throw off.
When I fill my backpack, I try to bring as few things with me as possible. I took fewer things on this second trip than my first one, and if I go on another one, I’m going to take even less. The less stuff you have, the easier things are in general. Your bag is lighter, it’s easier to fit it in lockers, there are fewer things to get lost or stolen, and you can always buy something that you don’t have. The only exception to this rule is if you have a strong preference for personal products such as shampoo or toothpaste, then it’s best to bring enough for the duration of the trip.
My first trip I didn’t bring a laptop, and I think that was a big mistake. With how common wi-fi is everywhere, it just makes sense to have one with you. However, I sold my old one because it was too big and heavy, and I’m really happy with the small one I bought right before the trip. Sometimes it’s easier to do things on your computer compared to your phone too. It also makes those long train rides seem brief when you can relax to a movie or two.
I had to plan a bit more for this trip than my last, but not by much. I still like the aspect of being random and having a lot of flexibility. There are some times when I don’t read more than five minutes about my destination in my guide book, and then I ask the people who work at the hostel what are the best things to do when I get there. This is a lot more efficient, and occasionally they tell you something that your guidebook can’t.
I’ll generally wake up each day between 8 and 10 depending on how many people snored the night before, how much light is in the room, and how noisy the area is. Yes, I’ve mainly been sleeping in bunked rooms with 4-8 people, and the hostels have cost me from $30 to $50 per night. I generally haven’t been making reservations more than three days ahead of time, and that has worked fine in almost every instance.
I would highly recommend staying in hostels for those of you who are young, want an inexpensive place to stay, and want to meet new people. The hostel where you stay totally sets the tone for your trip. Need some time to yourself? Rent a private room in a small hostel. Want a crazy party night? Rent a bed in a 20-person dorm at a party hostel. And there is everything else in between. Most of the time I stay at a relatively big hostel, but I’ve been trending toward the medium-sized ones because they have better internet and they’re better quality, though still plenty social.
After waking up, if there’s a walking tour of a city, I’ll do that first thing to get a feel for the sights. It also serves as a good way to meet other travelers to hang out with. The tours typically last two or three hours, and you get a solid snapshot of most of the main sights in the city. Afterward you can revisit those areas that piqued your interest.
I’ve been doing my best to keep up with my fitness, but it’s actually really tough here in Europe. There aren’t many gyms, and not all of them will let you use their club for just one day. Or you can get a day pass, but it’s insanely expensive. I’m talking up to $35 expensive, and again, that’s for a single day. The alternative is to exercise outside, and I’ve been doing that a decent amount too. But that’s tough when it’s over 90 degrees and you can’t cool down afterward because there’s no air conditioning anywhere.
That brings me to the next subject and the reason for my title…staying cool. There have been stretches of weeks where I felt as though I was hot and sticky the entire time. It doesn’t matter if you take a cold shower if you immediately start sweating after you turn off the water. My hostel in Warsaw was over 85 degrees all the time, even at night. And for some reason they aren’t fan lovers here in Europe like they are in Central America. I would say this is probably the thing I hate most about traveling.
I’ve eaten Burger King in every country that I’ve visited so far. What?!? Rob is in Europe with all these amazing cuisines and he’s eating Burger King all the time? Let me explain. As you can see in past posts, it’s not like I’m skipping the local dishes, on the contrary. But sometimes you just want to know exactly what you’re eating, and Burger King provides that. A grilled chicken sandwich is the same in every country, and that’s what I always get. I also get Subway, but not as often as BK since there aren’t as many of them. It makes me at ease to know what I’m eating is actually healthy for me at these two chains, even if they are American fare.
How do I communicate with other travelers? Easy, Facebook. Almost everyone is on it, and all you need is someone’s e-mail address to look them up. The ironic part is that even though it’s pretty easy to connect with people online, travelers are very non-committal and flaky. Unless I’ve known someone for a couple of days, I always have a plan B because people will just not show up or change their mind at the last minute. It actually doesn’t bother me much because everyone does it, and I’m used to it by now.
Read the quotes at the beginning of the post again. I recently finished the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, and I think these were the most salient points. When I travel I try to genuinely smile at anyone I interact with, and I chat with them for more than a few minutes, I also ask them their name. Notice how I use a lot of names in the blog posts?
You would be amazed how these two simple things can completely change the look on people’s faces. Even just asking for someone’s name can make their face light up. I’ve gotten a lot of free products and concessions from workers just for being pleasant with them. What’s the best part? This can work with anyone anywhere in the world since smiling is a universal language. And when you ask someone their name, it shows that you care about them and who they are.
After learning someone’s name, I try to use it at least three times in the next ten minutes. I used to be absolutely horrible with names, and just changing this small thing has helped me immensely. I continue to use their name a lot throughout the conversation to ensure that I remember it. If the name is tough to pronounce, I might even ask them to spell it. That might seem weird, but I haven’t gotten an odd look after asking it yet.
I find that these two simple actions can make life so much more enjoyable. When you approach someone with a smile and use their name, it’s hard for them not to like you, even if they are in a bad mood. Another fringe benefit of making others happier is that you probably will be too.
I just spent some time in Venice and Rome, and today I’m off to France. I’ll fill you in on Italy soon!