As most of those who follow this blog know, Kevin and I spent the better part of last year living abroad. It was the longest time I had ever been out of the US, and neither Kevin nor I had ever travelled to New Zealand before (or anywhere in the South Pacific for that matter). We we diving head first into a totally knew world!
I thought it would be cool to write a little about some things we learned while living outside America for anyone who is preparing for an overseas move, or even just a trip. Of course, everywhere you travel is different, but here are a few generalities that we've learned along the way.
Ask the locals
This is a pretty obvious one, but should always be emphasized. I love talking to tourists who visit my hometown of Gettysburg and recommending places they might not otherwise find. And I've found that people in most places are like that. Kevin and I make a point in anywhere we travel to ask people from the area for the best places to eat/see/shop. It's also a good way to get away from a lot of the touristy/commercial places that are often swamped with people.
Don't be afraid to say "come again?"
Americans have a bad habit of saying 'huh?' when we don't understand someone the first time. I realized this when traveling overseas for the first time with some Canadians. They were so polite! When they didn't know what someone was asking or saying, they simply said "pardon?" Even in other English speaking countries there can still be a language barrier. Language is so crazy! I've found the worst thing to do when you cannot understand someone is to pretend like you do (trust me, I've tried). Ask them to repeat themselves! Just go with something other than "huh?" :)
Try the street vendors
In most northeast cities, street vendors and food trucks can be a scary thing. I've gotten sick off one too many rubbery hot dogs sold out of trucks on the streets in DC. But in many places, you can find the best food right on the street corner. I've had delicious breakfast sandwiches from carts in East Africa and Kevin and I's favorite Mexican food in New Zealand is sold out of a little trailer with nothing but a skillet. Obviously, this one depends on where exactly you are traveling, so take tip #1 and ask the locals. But don't be afraid to try something just because it's sold from a cart!
Check about local festivals & holidays
Especially since we were in NZ for such a long stretch of time, Kevin and I were able to experience a lot of festivals and events that happen throughout the year. One of my absolute favorites was Diwali (Indian festival of lights) which happened right in our city of Christchurch. It's so cool to experience new cultures through festivals and holidays. I loved seeing the traditional Indian dances, clothing and of course FOOD at Diwali. We learned so much about Indian culture in just one day. Yes, missing American holidays (Thanksgiving!) is a bummer, but celebrate a new holiday in whatever country you find yourself.
Be aware of little changes
The first time I travelled overseas I was 16 years old and totally clueless. I didn't realize we'd be driving on the other side of the road, reading maps in kilometers and gauging temperature in celsius. Thankfully those super polite Canadian friends I mentioned earlier came in handy once again to help me out with many of these things. Come to think of it, I'd recommend traveling everywhere with a Canadian, if possible:) But really, it's necessary to be aware of things like currency exchange rates and even traffic laws when living/traveling abroad. Like, for example, who knew that driving through a yellow light is actually illegal in New Zealand? Not I! Look into things like this before leaving the good ole USA.
Pop in, but don't live on social media
I try to abide by this rule in every aspect of life, but find it especially important when it comes to travel. So you want to share your Caribbean cruise with Facebook friends? Cool. But please, for the love of all that is good and holy, we don't need to see 84 pictures of your time swimming with the dolphins. One picture is plenty! And when you're constantly scanning your phone for notifications you're missing whats going on around you. So check in now and then, but leave the phone in your bag and try experiencing this new place with both eyes.
And that's really all I have..
Happy traveling, my friends! Smile, say thank you, and give Americans a good name, will ya?