As the second of three parents visits me on the road, I find myself oddly in the parental role: "Wait!" or "Quickly now!" directives bellow from my chest. I throw my arm out as a barrier more often than there are hours in a day. My head hangs low, torn between laughing and yelling, when we find ourselves in opposite sides of the street. This happens more than you'd think.
After years in New York, I thought I knew how to cross the street. Look right, left, right again, then walk like you own the road and stare down any taxi who tries to contest your rightful place in the middle of Sixth Avenue. Then I lived in London and realized the taxis don't give two shits if you think you have the right of way and will mow you down with little more than a "sorry love!" So I learned to be a little more cautious.
When my dad came to visit me in China and we found ourselves in the middle of Beijing's massive boulevards without any crosswalks I dispensed my most useful advice yet:
"Cross with the grandmas or the strollers."
Because they're slow? No. Because their "I dare you try to hit me" stares and determined pace will stop an 18-wheeler in its tracks.
This dog knows how to get across the street.
After a while this advice became a bit of a game. We'd find the right guide and hurriedly follow in her footsteps.
Now you can find all sorts of good travel tips about what to wear, what to carry, how to be safe, how to visit the hospital, etc. etc. Personally, I really like Shannon at A Little A Drift's traveling planning resources. But if once you've got the basics down, I've got 10 more tips for surviving life on the road, literally.
1. Follow the old, or the young, when crossing the street.
Note these folks will not necessarily cross slowly! But if you find yourself trying to cross Cusco's chaotic dirt roads or Lhasa's oddly barricaded streets, then, wait till you've got a group of school children, grandmas, grandpas, parents with strollers -- or best yet, clergy -- and follow them. But remember to keep pace!
2. Wear sunscreen -- on your toes.
This advice I didn't really follow until I looked down one day to see these reddish brown pinky toes I didn't recognize wiggling back up at me. Yes, I have the worst Teva sandals tan that might shout "queer" louder than the Teva's themselves and I'm stuck with it. (Alex, you're right, normcore isn't in fashion outside of Bushwick or Copenhagen.) But now I lather up in the morning -- sunscreen for my face, ears, shoulders, and those little toesiewosies too.
3. Just close your eyes.
Sometimes buses go faster than you want, on paths that are narrower than you want, on slopes that are steeper than you want, just so you can get to that place you really want. As our bus wound through the Cretan gorges and my mom found herself saying "Oh Lord" more often a Pentecostal I dispensed the all time greatest advice yet: "just close your eyes."
I know, great advice right? Look, in these cases worrying won't get you anywhere -- the crazy bus drivers will and you might as well let them do their thing. Maybe with your eyes closed you'll fall asleep like all the locals.
4. Wear a liner.
Look, the pantyliner it has a bad wrap. I get it. First the word is awful. I hear it and I can't help but then about all those awkward times in middle school when girls would ask if their pads were showing. Oh and not to mention those torturously massive pads with "wings" that were so popular for cruel nurses to dispense who must have enjoyed making girls waddle to class.
I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about the little Kotex liners that will save you when you find yourself needing to run out of a nasty Tibetan outhouse before you even have time to finish pissing. I know, it's a bit gross. But you know what, so is urine on leg so just deal with the advice and be glad I told you.
5. Have some candy with you.
Grab yourself a handful of whatever treat you like and have a few extra on you to share. You'll find the little energy boost might be just what the doctor ordered to get you up that next hill if you're trekking. And if you find yourself with some new people, then trust me, the simple gesture of sharing your candy with them will break the ice and maybe even get you a friend for life. Or at least for the day.
6. Go back to the same place.
All of my parents and I seem to share a "Been there. Done that. Now what?" mentality. This drive will surely keep you moving in your travels and ensure you see as much as you can. Yet in Athens I found myself coming back to the same cafe Δυο γουλιές & δυο μπουκιές (Two Sips and Two Bites) whose owner, Nickolas, seemed to naturally possess all the caffeine one could ever need in a day. He seriously never stopped moving. Nickolas readily gave us insider tips, free treats, and the names of cafes in New York to visit. After just a few days I already had myself a filled punch card and a new friend.
7. Mind your manners.
This advice should go without saying, but just in case, learn a little bit of the local language. My friend Nate over at Travel Lemming has a great thought piece on the linguistic imperialism of English as the world's de facto travel language which I highly recommend reading.
As someone who can pass as many things -- Spanish, straight, Greek, a student -- I have found even learning a few simple phrases, "Signomi" ("Excuse me" in Greek") or "Ngay mingla Alicia ray...kayrang?" ("My name is Alicia...and you?" in Tibetan) immediately makes any awkward, tense, or boring situation into something... better. Many tour books over-inflate how happy "locals" will be if you know a few phrases in their language, but personally, I think it is just a common courtesy to start in the language of the country even if you then have to immediately apologize for only knowing a few pleasantries when they start rattling off at you in Greek. (This has happened a lot so far.)
That said, if you know just "Konnichiwa" and "Sayonara" in Japanese they'll call you fluent. So, congratulations, you're fluent now.
But if you still need to learn the language, I recommend downloading the Google Translate app for its better-than-you'd-expect live translations and Duolingo to learn more common languages. And just pronounce everything by pretending to be Antony Banderas -- you won't be right but at least you'll sound lovely.
8. Know when you've had enough.
Alright, listen, I'm an introvert who enjoys sitting quietly in a hipster cafe in a moderate climate more than I'd like to admit. So this trip I've intentionally gone out of my comfort zone and finding that easier with each day. But there are still times when I've had it with the 16-person dormitory room. Or the 100°F+ city weather. Or the dirty grimy hair-ridden shared showers. Or the awful, watery, weak, flavorless brown water that might be tea or coffee.
And in those instances I "indulge" myself, as much as one can within a budget. I might opt for a nice night in a hotel after six days trekking in the wilderness. Or a fabulous iced latte. Or an order of fries.
So find that little bit of something that will let you regain whatever it is you call "you." Then try Buddhism. It's free and you realise there's no "you."
9. Say yes to weird things.
Some of the best (and possibly worst) travel stories happen when you deviate from the plan and just say yes to odd sounding things. In Kyoto my bunkmate Johnny and I decided to go out exploring for a couple of hours before we each had to depart. After hitting the ever popular Nishiki market we headed to this random place I had seen on Google with just a few reviews: “The world’s smallest Ukioye museum.” There we met the adorable, slightly senile Ichimaru Mamoru — the last in a family of woodblock printers — whose 30-minute rehearsed, no-interruptions-allowed spiel about woodblock printing left us smiling and laughing.
Watch a younger Ichimaru Mamoru explain his woodblock printing craft.
10. Pop Pepto-bismal like it's candy.
Okay technically this advice comes from Katherine, whose aunt is a nurse and gave her this advice years ago when traveling through South America. Oh if only I had listened to this advice earlier! Apparently I have a sensitive tummy but adventurous eyes so I wised up after my second awful, adventure-shuttering bout with food poisoning. I found myself some of that magical pink medicine and popped it before meals I thought might land me in the shitter and woooooof it helped. I now carry Pepto on me now at all times, and Imodium too. But if you forget these, then make sure to ask for the active ingredients (bismuth subsalicylate for Pepto, and Loperamide for Imodium) at the drugstores. Or just motion to your tummy and cry and people will get it.
Note, I'm not a medical professional so really, talk with your doctor about anything gastrointestinal related.
Best of luck on the road. Stay safe. And remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires. ;)