6 tips for dealing with culture shock

When traveling, especially internationally or to more remote destinations, culture shock is bound to happen. Sometimes it is just the smallest feeling of discomfort, and at other times can lead to complete panic and an intense longing to get on the next plane home. While it is completely normal to experience these feelings of culture shock, it is also important to not let it ruin your trip. Keep these tips in mind next time you are traveling to help turn your anxiety into excitement.

Research the destination before you leave home

If you dive into the trip completely unprepared and not knowing what to expect, you are literally setting yourself up to be shocked by the culture. Search the internet, read a guidebook, or talk to travelers who have visited the destination before. Find out about customs and etiquette, ask about what kinds of clothing locals wear, learn about greetings, read about transportation and how people get around, and, most importantly, safety. Basically, just gather enough information so that you can be prepared for your experience abroad and have a better chance of blending in.Take baby steps

If possible, I have always found it helpful to begin international trips in the more touristy areas and then work my way to the more rural regions. You could also try staying in a comfortable hotel, at least in the beginning, just so that you have an escape while you are getting adjusted to your new surroundings. As you get more comfortable, you can gradually begin to get away from these comforts and immerse yourself in the culture more fully.

Learn some key phrases

Many times, becoming fluent in another language just to go on a trip that lasts a few months or less just doesn’t make sense (although, if you have the time this never hurts). It can be helpful to learn a few key phrases, however, to at least feel comfortable making small talk and knowing what people are saying to you. When in Ghana, Africa, for example, the locals would constantly shout “oburoni! at me. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought they were angry at me or making fun of me. However, I learned early on that this word, which literally means “foreigner”, is their way of trying to make conversation with you.

Keep a journal

While it may sound a little corny, it can be helpful to write about your experience for a few reasons. One, its generally therapeutic to share your thoughts and feelings, and writing it down in your own personal book can allow you to be completely open. Moreover, I’ve personally always found keeping a journal helpful in shifting my mindset from being nervous about my new surroundings to being excited. Getting everything down on paper and seeing just how many unique experiences you have in one day alone can help make it clear the opportunity you have to immerse yourself and learn about a new culture and place.

Try new things, even if you’re afraid

While it may seem scary, actually participating in cultural experiences abroad can show you firsthand just how not-scary it is. Try a new food, even if it is something you would never eat at home, learn how to play a local instrument, or attend a cultural festival. Even simple tasks such as hailing a taxi or asking for directions can seem daunting, but you should try anyway. For example, while in Ghana I did most of the talking to locals in terms of asking where to eat or where to go, mostly because my travel companion was terrified to interact with the locals. She really wanted to have a dress handmade in the village, and when she asked me to help buy the fabric for her, I refused, hoping to get her to talk to the seamstress herself. After a bit of begging and pleading on her part, she finally forced herself to choose a fabric and ask the woman for the price. Afterwards, she felt a lot more confident about interacting with locals and experiencing the culture.

If possible, make contacts before you go

With all of the company information, social media platforms, and networking websites out there, it makes it easy to connect with people and companies from all over the world. This could be as simple as signing on to volunteer with an NGO in your destination, or contacting hospitality companies in the area. Ask around travel forums or post on CouchSurfing to see if anyone will be in the same area as you at the same time or has ever been to that destination and can provide information and other contacts. Even if you can’t find someone to meet up with in the country, it is nice to speak with people who have been there and learn about their experiences.

Fortnighter launches, providing customized expert travel advice

Ever wish you could have a travel magazine or guidebook written just for you, catering to your specific interests and full of up-to-date travel advice? The new travel website Fortnighter offers just that–customized itineraries written by professional travel writers.

How does it work?
Start with a destination, specify who you’re traveling with (solo, as a couple, or with friends), and the number of days (currently 3, 5, or 7). You’ll be quoted a fee of $100 – $200 depending on the number of days and given a questionnaire to fill out with your interests and specifications. One week later, Fortnighter will send back a PDF with a detailed run-down of what to do and where to eat and stay (check out a sample itinerary here).

How can I trust the travel advice on Fortnighter?
The contributors have written for all the big travel outlets, from the New York Times to Condé Nast Traveler to Fodor’s guidebooks, travel frequently both for a living and because it’s what they love. All itineraries come without writer bylines, to ensure that their advice comes without bias or influence from hotels or restaurants. Plus, we can personally vouch for the site – it was founded by writer Alexander Basek, a friend and colleague to many of Gadling’s contributors.

Why should I pay for travel advice?
If you’ve ever spent time on Trip Advisor or other user-generated websites, you’ll know that sometimes you want expert advice from people who travel extensively, not just people who want to complain about the airplane movie or that their towel wasn’t folded into the right animal. Just because Joe Blow loves a restaurant featured in all the guidebooks doesn’t mean a single local would eat there, and you might miss out on a great small hotel if they don’t have a fancy website optimized to come to the top of your Google search. Fortnighter writers are selected based on their personal expertise and experience, and are often located in the destinations they write about to provide local recommendations. It’s a fraction of the cost of a customized tour, and you can do it independently and at your own pace.

Sound good to you? Check it out at www.fortnighter.com and share your experiences with us.

Living in the Now: Travel in 4D

Sam Chillingworth, a high school classmate, friend, and now featured writer in the inspiring book series Wake Up… Live the Life you Love, recently passed on a book he contributed to called Living in the Now. At the time, I had just returned from a two-month trip to the mainland and Peru, and (as I usually do when I return from a trip) was experiencing a bad case of travel hangover.

There’s nothing like reading a collection of inspiring essays about embracing life and some of the tips I found were so helpful in putting life — and, more importantly, travel — in perspective that I thought it would be worthwhile passing on some life and travel wisdom to ye faithful Gadling readers. Seeing that the new year is so quickly approaching, these tips should generate some good ideas for your 2010 resolution(s). Here’s the first one — of three:

Chuck A. Reynolds, an inspirational life coach, writes that living in the now is all about achieving life in 4D — those four D’s being Destination, Decisions, Discipline, and Determination. He says, “Waking up and living each day without clearly written goals is like riding in a bumper car with your foot on the pedal, but your hands tied behind your back instead of on the steering wheel.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement. The journey of life is too short to not be as deliberate and intent as possible.

The 4 D’s that Reynolds maps out in his essay relate to travel so directly.

  • Destination: When traveling, always consider your destination. Where are you going — and why?
  • Decisions: While you are abroad, be very deliberate about the choices you make — even the small ones, like where you want to have lunch or when you will move on to the next city.
  • Discipline: Stay focused on the road, and be respectful of the culture of the place you’re visiting.
  • Determination: Take advantage of as many experiences as you can while abroad. You don’t want to look back and regret not doing something.

Living in the now and the art of travel are so intimately tied that, for both the frequent and infrequent wanderer, it’s a great idea to put these 4D’s to the test — both in life and on the road. Happy travels!

Ask Nan at BabyBoomersTrips.com. and you’ll get an answer

If you’ve ever had a travel related question and have been stumped about where to find the answer, there’s help. Her name is Nan. I just found out about Nan a couple days ago and thought, now that’s clever.

At BabyBoomersTrips.com, Nancy Zimmerman, former talk show co-host of WE TV’s StyleWorld, answers readers’ questions that range from ghost town jaunts to what in the world is going on with airline seats these days. It turns out that if I had read “Ask Nan” in December, I may have taken some time out to go to St. Augustine. (We were heading in a non-direct route from Orlando through St. Petersburg to Ft. Lauderdale.) St. Petersburg was a lunch stop off visit with my husband’s aunt. We could have combined this with a tour of the St. Augustine’s haunted hot spots. Evidently, there are plenty and the Ripley’s Ghost Train would have taken us to them.

About the airline seats. Nan’s news kind of makes a person never want to sit down again, unless, there’s something between the seat and you. Airline seats are a real germ carnival. She suggests bring along a stole or an airplane size blanket (cuddly) to put between you and the seat.

BabyBoomersTrips.com is also filled with other detailed tidbits divided into catagories of “Budget Boomers,” “Big Shot Boomers” and “Beauty Boomers.” Passport information, spa vacations and how to get the best travel deals are part of the offerings. It’s interesting to see what people want to know about. So, if you have any questions, “Ask Nan.” Or you can always ask us at Gadling. There are plenty of travel questions to go around.