A dear friend’s teenage daughter was heading out on her first foreign adventure–as such, i passed along a few thoughts. Sharing as perhaps others will find helpful.
It’s Dave here – and while I don’t have knowledge of all things, I do have a lot of knowledge about traveling… Not about fancy hotels and airline miles and gourmet restaurants but instead, grassroots travel where you immerse yourself in the culture and never really quite return home because much of your heart remains behind.
Now I don’t know all the details but I understand you’re going to a rather “developing” (hate this term but…) with a school group to do a humanitarian project – all that is awesome and, since I’m here, I’ll share a few random tips for you to consider while you ramble.
First off, all that stuff about packing light is very, very important. Consider your clothes a “uniform” and trust me, no one cares what outfits you wearing plus, one of the funnest things to do is buying clothes local and then you come home with a neat outfit. I take clothes which are quick drying, dark colors, and well-worn in so I don’t mind giving them away when I leave.
Since you have this extra room in your pack now you will fill it with something much more valuable: treats for the people. I don’t mean important expensive things but some of the things I take include: sets of pencil crayons, notebooks, pens and buttons with fun designs, postcards from my home town (remember agricultural people around the world love seeing photos of animals and farms and plants and so on), sometimes deflated soccer balls but those are a bit clumsy. My last big trip I printed out hundred postcards of my art so I had something to give to people that really created that connection much more than a “Facebook friend.”
Document extensively but use cameras judiciously. What I mean by this is that photos are often the worst way to connect with the people (there are exceptions like instamatics), as it put something between you and them, and that something is also an expensive piece of technology. Now photos are so important and I’m so grateful for the few foggy images I have from my first travel spots, my rule was to buy one or two disposable cameras, peel off the outer wrappers so is just a plastic black box and then I am limited by those 24 or 48 exposures so each shot had to be very important. Sure lots of them turned out really lousy but the intention was a lot of fun. Now I travel with a sardine can film camera which produces hazy water-colored memories which sort of seemed like how memories fade.
Instead, I love to make notebooks, fill up journals, scrapbooks with all my travel artifacts (ticket stubs, postcards, brochures, signatures, sketches, maps,…) These give you an interactive talking point with folks as you meet them and, of course travel with a pencil bag so folks can sign and add their thoughts to the big jumbo book, plus flip through and see other artifacts of me and my journey. I even throw in a few family photos and stuff like that before I leave to show new friends (as well as stave off the possible homesickness).
This one may sound weird but stay with me: I (usually) have a rule in which once I decide where to go, I learn nothing about the country. This seems super counter-intuitive but, because traveling is so easy now (my first trip to Europe at 21 was before cell phones, Internet, ATMs, common currency etc. ugh) so to keep that “degree of difficulty” up to snuff, I go in naïve so I can feel like an early explorer, there before the masses. Now I realize that doesn’t fit exactly with the logistics of your trip but the thought of going with a clear mind and minimal expectations opens up so many opportunities. Think of the place as white paper or canvas waiting for your contributions rather than pre-coloured with the drivel of guide books and instagram stories. Great examples is: “the most famous tourist site in every country” in which you can line up for hours to see something which you could go to another town and see something less crowded, perhaps not quite as magnificent, but almost wholly to yourself.
In other words, find your version of what’s awesome and discover the story(s) for yourself. Trust going to places you’ve never heard of or never expected, and you’ll find bits of magic which you can feel like you were the first person to document.
OK, health stuff… Like you, I’ve struggled with terrible migraines on and off throughout my life and now I’m dealing with a bunch of other crappy illnessess (fibromyalgia, CFS/ME etc). So, when I travel, I always have my little “safety kit” of killer soft eye mask, best earplugs, lavender oil, sticky heating patches from Japan for my shoulders and back, various oinments and magic to deal with onset of crazy pain. Like your situation I suspect, once it hits, you are done and need to shut down until you sort it out. So make sure you have your emergency escape kit and don’t be afraid to take an extra day in a quiet room when you need it. You are young, South America is just getting going (keep in mind it was a collection of “banana republic” – another lousy term, sorry – dictatorships for most of my life) so you can return again (and maybe again). The important point is to come home inspired and not battered.
Besides my beloved scrapbooks (if you want links to view photos of them just let me know) I also often take an audio recorder and love to record ambient noises of markets and streets and crowds or music or buskers and when I’m home and feeling blue, I put on my headphones and the audio drift you back better than any photo ever could (usually). Also, with my travel artifacts besides scrapbooks I also make big “static montages” meaning a kind of wall-hanging collages with all my bits and pieces floating and stuck on, sometimes with some paint, and a bit of narrative on top.
Anyhow I could go on and on but mostly I’m just super excited to see you heading out on an adventure. Your Mom tells me so much about you and while I met you was a baby, I look forward to seeing you as an adult one day soon.
I am constantly available to offer any bits of scattered wisdom or encouragement… At your leisure…