First Time Travel – Tips and Advice
Bree Allen, Travel Writer | January 21, 2016
Traveling to experience unfamiliar cultures allows for a huge amount of personal growth and a deeper understanding of the true SELF. Foreign cultures widen our perspective, allowing us to gain a new level of understanding and desire to pursue the unknown.
However, the journey through this transformative process isn’t always an easy one. We’re faced with culture shock, personal insecurities, and uncomfortable situations among other obstacles that oftentimes make the road a bumpy one that fuels lifelong lessons and future inspiration.
My Journey to Yours
Visiting a foreign country is exciting, intimidating, and it can be downright frightening to pursue the adventure alone. Last summer I decided to face this fear and signed up to volunteer for six weeks in Jamaica while living with a local host family. I gained a lot of knowledge about myself and traveling in general that I’m excited to share with those of you out there looking into world travel!
First, Expect Culture Shock
Jamaica was my first trip outside the United States, so I went through a good bout of culture shock shortly after arriving. Everyone experiences this to different extremes; it just depends on where you’re at mentally and how you handle major changes in your surroundings. It’s common to feel angry or frustrated with yourself or the unfamiliar culture. Unfortunately some people cope by overeating, sleeping, or spending a lot of time alone.
Working through It
My culture shock hit hard when I was volunteering in a hospital and saw the negative state of people’s health and the hospital itself. The supplies were so limited that doctors couldn’t wear gloves, everything was extremely dirty, and patients were crammed into a hot room waiting to see a professional. Initially I felt very out of place and had a difficult time comprehending how the government let the healthcare system get so bad.
However, after a week of settling in I slowly felt more comfortable and realized I was making a difference by bonding with the patients and doing anything to help. It became clear to me that culture shock shouldn’t be perceived as a negative experience. While it was tough to work through, I learned more about my personal limits and how to persevere in difficult circumstances.
Some Helpful Advice
I really had no idea what to expect from Jamaica, and I neglected to research cultural practices and traditions simply because I knew that my host family would fill me in. Even though they gave me extremely helpful advice, I quickly realized how lost I would’ve been with only their guidance.
Even if you stay with a local host, it’s still a good idea to read about the culture so you can respect their customs and learn about country safety. On top of that, all around the world you will find that tourists are prime targets for robbery. Use common sense and stay away from dangerous areas, avoid walking at night alone, and stay sober enough to make logical decisions.
Practicality: Less is Best
Living in a developing country altered my perspective on many things in life, but what resonated with me most was the unreasonable value I put on material goods. I was aligning my happiness with materialistic things like clothes or electronics without actually realizing it.
This became very apparent to me when I realized how much I overpacked. The three suitcases full of stuff in my room soon became a huge annoyance, so I started giving away a lot of my belongings. This might be a lesson you have to learn on your own, but when you’re packing set the intention to only bring a carry-on. It’s easier to keep track of less things and having only one bag makes it easier to pack up and travel wherever the wind takes you.
It’s been over a year since my Jamaica trip and I’m continually inspired as I reflect on the mental breakthroughs, unforgettable memories, and practical lessons learned. Travel is without a doubt something I’ll continue to pursue in life, and I hope my story and advice fuels your inspiration to do the same!
Bree is an aspiring travel blogger with a passion for exploring music festivals across the United States. Eventually she wants to study herbalism and incorporate that into nutritional counseling after traveling the world.
Follow Bree on twitter @BreeAllen11.