I am an extremely awkward person. 90% of things I experience in everyday life make me uncomfortable in some way, and I'm terrible at hiding it. You can only imagine the amount of anxiety I experienced the first time I traveled to another country where things are ten times as unfamiliar, and where I honestly started panicking before even getting on the plane. Luckily, on most trips I've had friends to guide me.
I know I am not alone in this, and that these unfamiliarities are what prevent many people from having amazing experiences abroad, but sometimes it is necessary to be uncomfortable to really make your trip memorable. Therefore, I give you a list of ten things that you should definitely do while traveling despite how absolutely uncomfortable it will make you. To the right, you will see me doing two of these things. Can you guess which they are? These experiences have made me grow as a person, and I can assure you that they are worth trying. So, let's get awkward!
1. Using public transportation.
In Houston, Texas, public transportation is not really "a thing." It's sort of like a mythical creature that people say exists, but is really inconvenient due to the size of the city and the time it takes to get from point A to point B. However, in many cities across the world, public transportation is one of the greatest things to ever be invented, and it can get you places faster and without as many expenses. In addition, you're more likely to experience life as locals do, and you'll get to know the city more easily. In Paris, I remember my friends and I once spent nearly an hour trying to get a cab while completely bypassing the Metro system. All it took was a little confidence and effort to get us where we needed to go, and we did it on our own. This can be absolutely scary, but trust me, you are perfectly capable and you'll be so proud the moment you arrive at your destination knowing you figured it out all by yourself.
2. Speaking another language.
Never have I been more ashamed of my education than when I realized how absolutely useless I was at speaking a foreign language while traveling across Europe. Que? Yo soy Americano? The sheer look of confusion on the face of locals I spoke to was enough to make me want to melt into my surroundings. However, you'd be surprised what words from Spanish class will appear out of absolutely nowhere when you really have to go to the bathroom. So, use what you know! Don't be afraid, and the opportunity to practice another language is genuinely priceless. Which brings me to the next thing that makes me uncomfortable...
3. Talking to people I do not know.
If there's anything American culture has taught me, it's to keep to yourself. While there is an obvious culture of not talking to strangers, there is also an undertone of independence rather than a sense of community that you can feel. I had to learn that talking to people abroad, no matter how short the trip, was valuable because I gained friendships that allowed me to create a network of friends around the world. One of the greatest things I did while traveling was stay in hostels and befriend complete strangers. It's a great way to find out what's worth seeing in the city, or to add a few more companions to your group.
4. Not carrying a backpack.
We see you tourists with backpacks, we see you. And so do all the locals! For some reason, people experience large amounts of anxiety if they don't carry everything they own with them while traveling. However, ask yourself, would you be carrying this if you were out and about at home? You will feel lighter and more free if you carry only your essentials with you, and you'll be less of a target for theft.
5. Not visiting touristy things.
Sometimes I am literally the worst person to travel with because I avoid places like Times Square or Buckingham Palace due to the large crowds. While some places are essential to see, not all tourist attractions are what they're cracked up to be. Some of my greatest memories while traveling happened while veering off the touristy track, and I don't even feel guilty anymore about visiting a city and skipping the majority of "must sees." Sometimes it's great to ask the locals what they love about their city and start from there. The experience you will have will be completely different, and sometimes less stressful.
6. Standing on things that are tall.
Did I mention I'm afraid of heights? It's not even a tiny fear, when standing high up I will freeze in place and start to sweat because I am so uncomfortable. However, some of the best views I've ever experienced would have been complete bypassed if I didn't muster the courage to climb higher. Some of these experiences included getting to view Innsbruck, Austria from the mountains (pictured above) and the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. I nearly saw my life flash before my eyes, but it was worth the risk.
7. Eating food that I cannot identify.
While Starbucks and McDonald's have nearly taken over every country in the world, let's not forget that double chocolate chip frappuccinos will still be waiting for you when you get home. Your new favorite meal could be out there just waiting for you to try it, if you'd only give it a chance! I'm still working on building up my list, but so far I've been able to try shark, alligator, escargot, and a few other unconventional dishes while traveling. Even if you don't go exotic, take the opportunity to eat authentic food as much as you can. After all, it's not every day that you're in another country with access to an uncanny amount of new flavors to experience. Above you will find my awesome lunch of spinet knodel (a traditional Tyrolean dish of spinach dumplings) that I chowed down on in Innsbruck while sitting mountainside.
8. Asking people for directions.
In general, I've had very few bad experiences asking locals for directions, and most individuals are more than willing to help you get where you need to go. While you may feel like avoiding anyone and everyone while frantically walking around and covertly glancing at your map is the best thing to do in any situation, you know you'd secretly like a little help. So ask for it! It's also a good idea to learn how to ask if someone speaks English in the local language, as being bombarded in foreign language can be intimidating if you're not expecting it.
9. Asking people annoying questions in general.
While traveling, it can seem taboo to ask questions about why people do things a certain way. Maybe we should all just accept that things are the way they are in that country, and just gossip about it later with our traveling companions in our hotel room. However, you'll learn so much less about the place that you're in if you don't ask the questions you're dying to know the answers to. Sure, you'll encounter some embarrassing situations here and there, but most locals are more than happy to explain traditions because they are proud of their culture. You are not as likely to offend others as you think, and you'll get so much more out of your trip.
10. Walking places.
Did I also mention I hate walking? At least, I used to hate walking. After spending a semester in Europe, taking an afternoon walk is now one of my favorite things to do, especially if the weather is amazing. I also decided that sometimes getting in a car really isn't necessary. When things are close by, why not get some fresh air? In addition, you can experience more scenery and you're more likely to bump into unexpected gems that you wouldn't have noticed while driving around or taking a taxi.
So, there you have it! While it is not my intention to cause anxiety with this list, hopefully you aren't too tense. I can genuinely promise you that if you step out of your comfort zone, your trips will be more meaningful and unique. It's okay to be awkward, but don't let it hold you back from having an amazing experience!
What makes you uncomfortable when traveling? Share in comments below so that other readers can feel awkward too!