Break The Travel “Rules”

Istanbul, Turkey.

Lately, the years seem to just be flying by.  Every year I expect that I’ll do more traveling than the previous one, but that doesn’t always happen.  But, I suppose a lot of people set yearly goals of reducing things (such as body weight), so I’m really pretty awesome that I can decrease something.

In some ways, 2013 was a letdown of a travel year.  When I look at the list of countries I visited, it’s unsettlingly small:  Hungary, Turkey, Serbia, and Austria (I don’t find it necessary to throw the USA on that list).  However, I broke that down to cities and events visited, and I feel a little better about myself (but, I’m too lazy to list all that here).  Let’s just say I looked at other continents, saw furry monsters, had free tickets to see a famous rock band, drank coffee in palaces, walked by bombed buildings, saw a major river flood a city, saw protests from my window, watched a marathon finish line, and rode in a terrifying cable car up an Alpine peak.  That’s not all, of course, but I’m tired of listing things.

But, instead of listing places visited, what about a different strategy of measuring my travel?  I may not have gone as many places, but in 2013 I continued to make a lot more friends from different countries.  This, in my opinion, is an overlooked form of “travel.”

Belgrade, Serbia.

Budapest is becoming quite a touristy city.  That isn’t surprising given how beautiful it is, but parts of it baffle me. 

There are two major types of tourist that I often see:

1. Tour Groups

They file off of their buses or river cruise ships like a pack of trained animals.  Their cameras start rocketing off pictures, and they follow guides who speak to them in their language of choice.  They head to (usually) beautiful restaurants where they eat a “traditional” Hungarian meal.  Then, they head back to their hotel or ship, and prepare to see somewhere else the next day.  It’s unlikely that they ever actually speak to a Hungarian person.

Now, I do think this is a much better way to travel than staying home and watching TV, but it does leave out some important aspects.  For example, it takes away the satisfactory feeling of discovering something on your own.  Also, all of your experiences were designed by someone else, so you end up seeing a place in the way that they do.  But, most of them are old, so more power to them!

2. Party People

Budapest is starting to get a reputation as a cheaper alternative to Western European cities, and nightlife is one of its specialties.  I see a lot of people (particularly from a certain island nation which shall not be named) who come to the city and stumble over as many streets as possible.  They appear to have a great time, but I hope they take a lot of photos because someone at home may ask what Budapest was like.  I don’t think they can depend on their memories…

I’m rambling on again.

The flooding Danube River in Budapest, Hungary.

My point is that I could easily travel by following one of those methods (or something similar).  But, is that really getting the full experience?

On the other hand, I spend most of my days hanging out with people from a multitude of different countries.  In doing this, I’m accidentally having the cross-cultural experiences that other travelers tend to miss when they have their nose stuffed in a guide book.

I’ve been taught many little tidbits of language that phrasebooks don’t include.  I’ve had home-cooked, traditional foods from countries (and continents) I’ve never even been to (keep in mind, it’s not always good, but it’s diplomatic to say you enjoy it).  I’ve become caught up in elections, natural disasters, and other national events that involve people I’ve never met (and I often have to ask people to translate news stories because they aren’t covered in international media).

I could keep listing ways that I accidentally get involved in other cultures, but the point is to focus on the basis of culture.  If a goal of travel is to see culture, it’s important to remember that this is a phenomenon that surrounds people much more than places.

My advice is simple:  Be a little racist.  Go find someone who is from somewhere different than you and start being friends with them.  There’s a good chance that you can have a much deeper “travel” experience than someone who rides a boat through six countries in a week.

But, seriously, I also want to go more places this year.  Where should I go?

A cable car up the Untersberg near Salzburg, Austria.