My parents taught me a great deal about how to travel, so I really like this guest post on how our parents influence our travel style:
My parents used to have this jeep. It was an ugly cyan jeep. Twice a year they would cram my brother and I on top of the the luggage in the back and go on weeks-long trip around the island. One time we drove all the way from Jakarta to Bali. We joke that my current knack for falling asleep instantly during car rides is from spending so much time in the car during my childhood.
It’s obvious where I got my wanderlust from, but that’s not the only thing travel related I got from my parents. They inevitably taught me some things about traveling that still live with me today.
1. Getting Lost Is Half Of The Fun.
My parents are big foodies; and in whatever region we happen to be in they always wanted to try the local cuisine that the region is famous for. But trying the dish itself is not enough, they have to find who or which shop is best known for it and would not hesitate dragging their two young kids along for the hunt.
It seems that part of what contributes to the almost mythical quality of this dish is the fact that the store that sells it never stays in one place. Sometimes all we had to work with was something like, “Mrs. Tan who makes the best getuk*? She has a shop near the market in the city,” and off we go to the market only to find out that “Oh, Mrs. Tan? She moved to the place near the big mosque.”
We’d get there only to have someone tell us that, “Mrs. Tan is not here anymore. Did you check the market?”
It’s like a treasure hunt and a telephone game all combined! Throw in my dad’s penchant for making one left turn after another and we have a recipe for a full day family fun in the car…
But you know what? Along the way we saw things we not would have seen, and met people we would not have met otherwise. We ended up trying other dishes the region is famous for which turned out be just as good if not better than the one we’re after. We ended up becoming familiar the place and its people just simply by getting lost… We’d get lost and inevitably had to count on strangers’ kindness to put us back on track.
2. Ask for Direction
My dad is one of the few men I know who loves asking for directions. Sometimes, I’m not kidding, he’d stop and ask for directions just to make sure that he’s going in the right direction.
You’d almost think that he deliberately got us lost that one time just so that he could have the opportunity to ask the cop who’s directing traffic in the middle of the intersection for directions. With his knack of getting his whole family lost, I guess it’s a good thing he doesn’t mind asking for directions.
I’ve realized now that experiencing first hand that being lost and asking for direction is simply a part of traveling has made me comfortable at not knowing where I am, or where I’m going (both in travels and in life as a matter of fact). It also made me believe that being comfortable with the idea of not-knowing opens up opportunities that I won’t find otherwise by sticking to well worn paths.
3. Never Pack Last Minute
My dad used to put a big box in the living room about a week before a family trip. The idea was to put the things we wanted to bring into the box as we remember them throughout the week. His philosophy was and still is: we can’t remember everything we need to pack in one go…
Back then, I thought he was crazy. And of course, I’d inevitably forget to pack some important things like underwear or something similar and we’d have to go out of our way to get some new ones.
I’ve never really thought much about it until I realized that I’ve started doing that too! I’d start preparing my bag days before our departure date… I’d leave it open in the bedroom and throw things in there as I remember them. Considering how absent minded I can be this tip has probably saved me a lot of hassles…
My dad would be so proud if he knows.
4. The squeaky wheel gets the grease
Sometimes the hotel room ends up not quite what the travel agent promised over the phone. Or they promised us a tour of the bay only to find out that so-called “speed boat” is a rickety raft equipped with a leaky, smelly motor. My dad, often times to the embarrassment of the rest of the family, would never hesitate raising the issue (and his voice), asking for refunds or a better room, or a discount on the price, or a complimentary fruit basket; he never lets them get away with it.
It’s mortifying, really…
But at the same time I’ve learned that sometimes you have to fight for your rights (at the very least, your right for a complimentary fruit basket) and do not simply sit back and let them take advantage of you just because you’re travelers.
5. Body language is an international language
Both my parents do not speak English very well, but that has never stopped them from trying to strike up conversations with whomever they happen to be nearby. Again, often times to the embarrassment of their children.
Sometimes the conversations consist solely on thumb jerking, facial expressions, hand gestures, and exaggerated non-sense noises… but somehow it works. I’ve seen my mom communicate that “I have missed the bus, and I have to exchange this train ticket for another one. Can you give me an overnight train, please, so I can catch some sleep…” with only the above. I’ve also seen her make friends with people of various nationalities, some of them knew even less English that my mom, simply because they happened to be sharing the same long distance bus.
Not knowing the local language can feel limiting and frustrating. When that happens, I always try to draw inspirations from my parents and remember that body language is truly the international language and sometimes a smile is all it takes to start a conversation going…
*getuk: fried bite-sized cassava covered in light syrup, a popular snack in Middle Java region
I guess in summaries, this is what my parents have taught me about travels: don’t be afraid to get lost and ask for direction, pack early, always ask for what you want, and the do all of those with a smile…
Jack and Jill are in the middle of planning their RTW trip (coming soon in 2011). They bide their time by daydreaming at work, pinching pennies, climbing mountains, and drinking copious amount of chocolate milk. Check out their blog at Jack and Jill Travel The World if you want to know what they’re up to lately.