As someone who has wanderlust I hope to instill a worldview in my son’s young consciousness. He is only five years old but he has already developed a taste for travel. He especially likes staying in hotels; due in part to the fact that he is very well treated therein. When we were in Curacao, the hotel staff liked him so much that they would call him up at our hotel room to chat with him. Mind you, he was four years old at the time. He is officially a chatterer talking to anyone anywhere. In taking my son abroad at a very early age, I am hoping to instill not only a love of travel but also a respect for different cultures as well as an understanding of how to travel “smart.”
When I was five years old, I had not yet been abroad. When I first went abroad it was to spend my senior year of high school in Spain. I may have been to Canada before then, but many Americans seem to not consider that as foreign. That’s where Justin Bieber is from, right? Yes, then it’s definitely foreign. Back to me. I was seventeen years old when I lived in Spain. I could go to clubs and drink legally. I would start partying at 11pm. That was the Spanish way of life. However, I was not the savviest traveler at that point in time as I was learning while experiencing.
I have done a lot of silly things in my life; including several travel faux pas. Many of those occurring in my youth. Those so-called silly errors, because they were done in ignorance, have stayed with me and I hope to pay those lessons forward.
1. Being unaware of cultural customs. When I was seventeen I went to Egypt. I had no idea what to expect. I did not bother to look up a travel guidebook beforehand. As a matter of fact, I may not have even known that such books existed. What I knew of Egypt I had learned in seventh grade History class. I was abysmally unaware of what I was getting myself into. It was April and it was hot there. Mistake number one was the fact that I packed a suitcase full of short skirts, tank tops and shorts. Second, I would walk around snacking on foods wearing shorts not realizing at first that it was the middle of Ramadan. I was beyond mortified once I became aware of what was going on. Third, I did not try all the foods that I should have. I was totally self-involved. Ever since that trip, I never avoid local food. I lovingly and purposefully seek it out. Anthony Bourdain , in my eyes, has the perfect job. When we were in Japan, my three year old son, while skeptical at first, readily tried the food if he was allowed to use chopsticks. Yes, my job is done!
2. Not realizing that bus schedules may not run on time everywhere. I have a firm belief in the public transportation system as a New Yorker. I dislike taking taxis and would rather take the train or walk. In the Bronx as a kid, I used to take the public bus to school every day. I don’t understand why cities do not invest more in the public transportation infrastructure. Even in the home of extreme liberalism, I met people in Berkeley, California that didn’t care for public transportation because they relished the idea of being in their car alone. Eek, car fumes while sitting hours on end on the highway, just is not for me. One summer when I was sixteen I went to Puerto Rico to get in touch with my roots before I was to head out to Spain. Then, like now, I didn’t have a driver’s license. I had to find my way to the Spanish Consulate which was in Hato Rey (near San Juan the capital) to get some paperwork for my trip finalized. I also had to pick up my much-younger sister at a set time later that day from daycare (or something like that-my memory is a little fuzzy on that point). I figured I could readily take public transportation, go and come and pick up my sister with no problem. First off, the bus route to Hato Rey were treated like the secret route to finding the ark of the covenant. Second, there were about three buses I had to take and the bus stops were not readily identifiable. At times, I was told the bus stops where the horse is at. Huh? Third, there really was no set timetable. I arrived very late to picking up my sister that had been left on the curb crying. That’s a story for another time. If there are no trains to where I want to go (which I find somewhat more reliable than busses) then I hire a local to drive me. Sounds somewhat snooty on my part but with a five year old kid, getting lost can be bit scary if I have to wait hours on end in the dark for a bus. I’m not going to do it.
3. Forgetting that I was a streetsmart female. I am an empowered, hear-me-roar woman. I can carry my own bags, I can open my own doors (although it is nice when people in general open the doors for one), and I can read a map. However, I should never forget that I am a woman when traveling. I have to state it that simply. It may not be politically correct to state, but it is what it is. When I was younger, living in Spain, I loved the nightlife. How invigorating it was. My other American friends could not get enough of just hanging with the local teens and learning of a totally different way of seeing and experiencing the world. One night, my female friend and I went to a local club we had not been to before in a neighborhood we did not know and with no local friends in tow. That was three bad ideas in one. We then met these two older guys and danced up a storm. We might have even had a kiss or two. Then these guys wanted to go to another club and they so happen to have a car with them. My friend and I are hard-core skeptical New Yorkers. Somehow we didn’t act very New York that night. We went along with the plan and got into the car. Fourth bad idea that night. Then we started noticing that the streets were getting less crowded and were getting darker and darker. Our New York sensibilities finally kicked in. We glanced at each other, counted to three and threw open the door and rolled out and ran and ran. We could hear the men laughing in the background and for a bit they kept following us in the car. We escaped but we were ashamed of our actions. We were smarter than that. Or at least we were supposed to be. I can assure you I never did that again. Always be aware of your surroundings and keep your streetsmarts on!
I like to think I went through those and countless other silly moments in my youthful travels so that I can readily enjoy future travels with my son and that I could pass on those lessons. I know he will make his own silly mistakes. Hopefully he will pass those on to his own children thereafter.