Embracing the Universal Language of Sport

wayne
a well-known picture to all Canadians (thanks canadianmusichalloffame.ca)

Most, if not all nations, have that one sport that brings entire communities together.  If you’re Canadian like me, you know that hockey defines who we are as a people.  If you travel to my country, find any local pub in the middle of winter or any street after a major Canadian hockey match and you will find yourself in the midst of an inexplainable cultural phenomenon – the love that all Canadians have for the sport on ice!

And we know that what hockey is for Canada, football, cricket, yoga, muay thai, rugby…are for others.

If you want to experience culture in a quick, fun, and healthy way, get to know the local sport.  And embrace it! 

Maybe this means watching a local team play a match.

Maybe this means sitting at a pub cheering on the local team.

Maybe this means actually participating in the sport.


Sport is a universal language.  The right for children to play is a major feature of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child because it’s recognized as an important means for children to grow, develop, and learn skills of sportsmanship, camaraderie, and health, that they can take throughout their whole lives.

This means that wherever you travel, wherever your journey takes you, sport is a great way to bond with locals and get to know more about their culture.

HOW TO EMBRACE THE SPORT OF YOUR NEW COMMUNITY:

Do your research! Find out when local matches are happening and where good spots are for viewing.  Ask your hotel, in shops, etc.  Some of my most fun traveling times have been outside little food joints in Tanzania or Zambia joining in as people crowd around the radio listening to a football match. 

Soccer or football....called football in this post, but I grew up calling it something different :)
Soccer or football….called football in this post, but I grew up calling it something different 🙂 (thanks thelittleactivitychest.com)

2) Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to watch local competitions.  Sometimes all it takes is a walk down the street and suddenly you find yourself in the throes of a game.  Be the spectator for a while and you may eventually get invited to play (depending on your fitness level).

3) Initiate conversations about sport.  Doing your homework (via even a simple google search) before travelling to the country, you can get to know the sport of choice before you go.  When you arrive, read newspapers, find some basic knowledge about recent matches, and use this to start conversations with community members.  Talking about the big game or match can ignite into an awesome conversation.

4) Join a house league.  Depending on how much time you have in your destination, joining a house league is a great way to make some local friends and stay active.  Community boards, churches or mosques, and hostels (even if you’re not staying there) are great places to find out about local sports leagues.

5) Try something once.  In my next post I’ll be discussing Yoga in Kata Bay, Thailand.  I wasn’t in the country long enough to actually join a league, but I was there long enough to attend a couple of yoga classes, meet some locals, and embrace some new things about Thai culture…all while making my trip a little bit healthier.

6) Exercise on your own…but don’t use an ear piece!  From attending a local gym to running around the neighbourhood, showing that you are involved in an exercise can sometimes invite people to talk to you.  I was very diligent with running in Tanzania and struck of many conversations with locals who were interested in my mazuwezi (exercise).  Just by going out and being active, people became curious about me, inviting conversation.  Going to a local gym, rather than your hotel gym, can lead to instant conversations with people from the community also trying to stay in shape.  Just make sure that you aren’t using your earphones so that people feel like they can engage you in conversation!  And for safety remember to change your route and times if you’re running.

sorry, but it's better if you say 'no' to the phone (thanks for the pic, redbubble.com)
sorry, but it’s better if you say ‘no’ to the phone (thanks for the pic, redbubble.com)

So go out, be active, and embrace the universal language of sport!  It will not only keep you healthier while on your vacation, but also lead you to new conversations, opportunities, and exchanges with locals.

And as an added bonus, exercise is a proven way to alleviate the symptoms of culture shock!

So get active, get travelling, get experiencing!

Enjoy your travels,

Leah

How to pick a cooking class

Cooking classes are an awesome way to invest more in the culture while also giving yourself one awesome souvenir – the ability to impress your family and friends with your new skills. Not to mention how great it will be to share the new cuisine when you return home, giving you an opportunity to share more about your travels. 

But how to pick the right class with so many cooking schools become the norm throughout many countries???  

cooking class at katacookingthailand.com
 Here are some tips for picking the right cooking class: 

1) decide what’s important to you. For example, Many cooking classes offer market tours which is awesome if you are interested, but annoying if you’ve been to one too many.  Also look for the food you enjoy eating so that you can cook what you most want to. 

2) ask around. Either tripadvisor (excellent source for reviews!!!) or lonely planet or through a simple google search –> look to those who have already been for advice.  

    3) ask if you can keep the recipes. Some places don’t let you which, to me, really defeats the purpose of learning to cook your new favourite dish. Find out before and choose a place where you know you’ll have the tools to recreate at home. 

4) avoid large hotel chains. Not only are they pricier for no reason, but often don’t have the intimate feel of smaller classes. 

5) ask about the class size. It’s best to have a class where you can ask questions and be heard. 8 people or less is a good number for having a more intimate experience. 

6) find out if you’re cooking or just assembling. Some places have everything laid out so all you do is dump pre-cut veggies into a pre-made sauce. If you want to learn to really cook from scratch make sure your classes offers this.  

chopping!
 7) find out about transportation. Often they will pick you up either for free or far cheaper than local transport. 

Finally…

8) GO HUNGRY!!!! 

chances are you’ll be eating much more than you anticipated. If there is a market first you might be sampling along the way.  

stirring deliciousness!!!
 Cooking classes are an awesome way to get to know more about food culture and an awesome souvenir that lasts forever. If you want to do experiential travel, I highly recommend finding a cooking class. 

Happy travelling! Happy eating! 

Dear Solo Female Traveller

Dear Solo Female Traveller,

You are awesome and courageous and brave.  Whatever your age, whatever your reason for going on your journey, I admire you.

If you’re from the western world where feminist thought abounds, it might be hard to think about your vulnerabilities – to recognize that there are ways that you are disadvantaged as a woman travelling.  That there are things you’ll have to think about more so just because you’re a woman.

female
YOU GO, SOLO FEMALE TRAVELLER!!!!!

This thought might anger you.  It might enrage you. It might make you so angry that you don’t actually want to do things differently because you’re a woman.

Dear Solo Female Traveller, I’m here to tell you that there is power in that vulnerability.  It isn’t anti-feminism or inherently bad to do things differently to keep yourself safe.  Sadly, it isn’t an equal world.  But remember – you are going against the grain by travelling independently.  And there are things you can do to keep yourself safer.

Here are a few of my tips for you to keep yourself happy and safe!

1) RECOGNIZE YOUR VULNERABILITIES

The first step is recognizing your vulnerabilities and committing to putting your safety first.  And I don’t just mean gender.  Your skin tone, hair colour, eye colour, body shape…what will make you “stand out” where you’re going?  Awareness is the first step.

2) RESPECT THE DARK & ADAPT ACCORDINGLY

are you
Remember this show from YTV? We can learn a lot from its premise…the dark IS spookier!

You are always safer during the day.  Be careful at night. Always carry your cell phone with you, keep the address of where you’re going and where you must return close at heart, and try to mentally memorize the path you’re taking. I often take pictures of my street, and streets on the way to where I’m going. If I get lost, I can show someone a picture.  Even if we don’t speak the same language, if they recognize it, they can help!

Also avoid visiting the ATM at night. There might be a guard at the machine, but who knows who was watching you take out that wad of cash?!  Also, as soon as you get to a location, find out from someone trustworthy (i.e. guesthouse keeper) what time the night becomes more unsafe.  In Dar es Salaam I was back by 10 pm; in Lilongwe, by dusk; in Thailand where I am right now, it’s 8 pm. Listen to locals as your guide…and trust them!

3) ADOPT THE ‘DRIVER’S ED.’ APPROACH TO SEEING

images
Remember these days? Picture courtesy: http://www.ontariodriverstraining.com

Remember in driver’s ed when your instructor taught you about peripheral vision: you look straight ahead, but you engage your peripheral vision so that you can really see everything that’s happening around you.  In a lot of countries, women get stared at A LOT! To stare back can be either cultural inappropriate or considered flirtatious. Learn to stare straight ahead but know what’s going on around you.

4) TAKE LIGHT-HEARTED ADVANCES LIGHTLY

Most men you’ll meet on your travels are kind. If they ask you to marry them or out on a date, whether or not they’re serious, a polite decline is normally fine.  However, an angry decline may result in an angry response. In some places, ignoring the person will invite them to follow you and keep trying.  Learn the culturally best approach for where you are, but never should the response be anger. You never know who you’re dealing with.

Before I was married, I found light-hearted response like “What?! I’d be a terrible wife for you – I can’t even cook your __(insert name of local dish)__” very helpful. I’ve had unmarried friends wear wedding rings to avoid flirtation.  Do what works for you best suiting your travel location.

5) USE LOCAL WOMEN!

Often when we travel to countries where women are especially marginalized, it’s easier to communicate with men because they speak the trade language (i.e. French, English). But there is the concept of non-verbal communication that bonds us women wherever we go. Not feeling comfortable about a situation? Find a local woman! Even through nods and gestures, if you can’t communicate verbally, you can tell her you’re concerned and she can either direct you to safety, get help from someone else with her local language knowledge, or even let you sit with her until you feel comfortable. Women understand women and safety! Don’t ignore the woman working at the market or simply walking by with her child…she can help!

Local women also give you the dress code. Some people will disagree with me I know, but dressing as the local women can not only be culturally appropriate, but also lessen your vulnerabilities.  Not necessarily exactly what they’re wearing, but something of similar showing.  What might be a good outfit in your country, may be highly suggestive/provocative where you’re going.  My advice? Try to blend in, not stand out.

6) DON’T LOOK LOST

Read maps inside a shop. Tell the taxi driver to start going somewhere before you call the hotel for further direction – don’t sit in the taxi looking lost. Look confident and like you know where you’re going, even if you don’t.

7) NEVER CARRY WHAT YOU WOULDN’T WANT TO LOSE

IMG_9827
In Germany…so cheap that the only form of a birthday card I got my friend was a picture of me holding this sign. Travel light!

I once had a thief laugh at me and forget robbing me because he had never seen a foreigner carrying such little cash. Scared of robbery? Have nothing to rob! Feel like you are in a place where you should keep some extra cash with you for those ‘just in case’ moments (I hear ya!)?  Hide it well!  A favourite spot I learned from a friend?  Make a little slit in your bra. You could easily carry $200 without anyone ever knowing.

8) DON’T LET ON THAT YOU’RE ALONE UNTIL YOU TRUST SOMEONE

Think about your backstory and stick to it: “my friends are coming.” “my husband’s just next door shopping.” “can I get a table for 2?….ope he’s running late.”

9) AVOID THE SAME DAILY ROUTE

Take new routes, new roads, new places home, new bus schedules, new running routes. Don’t establish a routine that someone could get to know.

10) ALWAYS BE ON GUARD AT FIRST

I don’t mean paranoid.  Most people you meet are decent people. But don’t give away a wad of personal information to just anyone. Make sure they earn it through trust. I once had a travel agent use my personal information to try to connect with me outside of our business relationship. Don’t trust your small hostel? Give a fake address. Want to be polite but get the guy to leave? Give a fake phone number.

11) ASK! ASK! ASK!

Find a local person that you can trust and get their advice – what time is too late to be out? what areas should I avoid? cabs or tuk-tuks – what’s the safest way home? can I take a bus after dark? what are the safest neighbourhoods? what bars should I avoid? etc., etc.

Finally…

her own way
The Government of Canada has an excellent guide with tips and advice for solo female traveller. Get your free copy at http://travel.gc.ca/docs/publications/her_own_way-en.pdf

12) USE YOUR GUT INSTINCT

You are smart. You are lovely. You are an intelligent woman who has organized herself enough to independently travel somewhere new. We women have been blessed with an intuition…USE IT!  These above tips are great, but they are just suggestions – not a guide for every single encounter you will face.

Use your intuition!  Don’t worry about being rude or inappropriate. I don’t care if the person you’re with is the son of your roommate, the cousin of your boss, the taxi driver always used by the hostel…if someone or something doesn’t feel right to you, use your instinct and get out!  Politely walk away.

Dear Solo Female Traveller,

I wish you the most wonderful time, exploring the world!  Be safe! Happy travels!

And if you have an extra question about travelling as a solo woman that you don’t feel comfortable asking in the public comments section, feel free to drop me a line: myexperientialtravels@gmail.com

Wishing you all the best in your travels,

Leah

Travelling Authentically: Don’t Forget About your Authentic Self!

In the world of travel guides, trip advisor, lonely planet, and a host of other “top 10” and review websites, almost every place you travel comes with a list of preconceived notions of what you should be doing on your vacation: the must sees, the not to forgets, the best things about that place.

ahhhh what a lovely, blissful, perfect day I'm having.  And I'm not actually outside right now.  This is through a window.  I'm on vacation, I'm in Thailand, I'm INSIDE, and I don't care!
ahhhh what a lovely, blissful, perfect day I’m having. And I’m not actually outside right now. This is through a window. I’m on vacation, I’m in Thailand, I’m INSIDE, and I don’t care!

And those things are super helpful.  I use them all of the time.  It’s great to know the major highlights of a place.

But make sure you don’t lose yourself – you the traveller – in the process.

The whole point of experiential travelling is to experience while seeing.  You will have the best authentic experiences when you are being true to yourself.

Eating and working along the beach...but not surfing or swimming today!
Eating and working along the beach…but not surfing or swimming today!

CASE IN POINT:

Right now I’m in Kata Bay in Phuket, Thailand.  The place is beautiful.  When my husband and I were in Thailand 2 years ago, we stayed in Nai Harn, so I wanted to stay somewhere different.  And I wanted a quieter less party place than Patong.  Kata Bay has definitely met these expectations!

It’s the off-season, so it is less crowded.  The weather is pleasant, the locals are very friendly and helpful, and there’s no shortage of activities (as I’ll write about in another post!)

Let me tell you how I was supposed to spend my day…I should have had a lovely morning stroll along the beach, had pad thai or a curry for lunch, and spent my afternoon doing some water sport.

It’s now 4 pm.  I slept until 11:30 (don’t judge me –  I’m still getting over a 3:30 am flight), and I spent my afternoon going from small restaurant to tea shop, finishing my term-end marking, reading, and now writing this.  I came prepared for a day at the beach.  I did.  I’m wearing my swimsuit, my sunblock’s with me, my sun hat is on the ready…

Writing this post alongside my friend, The Bird.
Writing this post alongside my friend, The Bird.

But as I sat at the water first thing, I realized “I don’t really feel like doing this today.”

So I put aside my shoulds and musts and supposed tos and was true to my authentic self.

And I’ve had the loveliest day!  A highlight was having interesting conversations with fellow travellers – including a woman from Qatar who works at a Phuket school – and local residents.  The tea shop, ReKata, is so small and uncrowded that there’s lots of time for small chit-chats with travellers and residents alike.

And now I’m enjoying hearing the beat of a warm spring rain under a restaurant’s awning, sipping red wine, writing this post, and watching life in Kata Bay happen.  It’s peaceful.  It’s beautiful. It’s what I needed today.

I’m not surfing.  I’m not parasailing. I’m not walking to Big Buddha. I’m not going to the Sunday Market.  And I’m regretting absolutely nothing. I’m loving today’s experiences!

Do read tips and advice for travel, but make sure you first and foremost listen to your own needs and desires. After all, the travel writer is trying to write for you…but only you know your true self!

Want authentic travel experiences? Start by listening to your authentic self!

Coming from Dubai, just sitting enjoying  this beautiful warm summer's rain is SUCH a treat!
Coming from Dubai, just sitting enjoying this beautiful warm summer’s rain is SUCH a treat!

What about you? Any times you listened to yourself rather than what you should be doing on vacation? Were you grateful?

Surviving the First 24 Hours Travelling

Some people believe in the laissez-faire approach to travelling: just arrive and see what the locals say…see where the winds take you…see what other travellers are doing.

IMG_9712
Delicious meal on Safi Airways on my way to Afghanistan…but I can’t eat that glutenous bun! TRAVEL TIP: If you can’t eat everything, make sure you always come prepared with your own “emergency stash” so you don’t go hangry!

Now, I’m all for flexibility and going with the flow.  If you’re too rigid with your uncancellable hotel rooms and dinner reservations, if everything is too set in stone, you have no room to adjust based on your new experiences.

That said, the first 24 hours of your trip are not the time when you should be utilizing a laissez-faire traveller’s approach.  Be as flexible as you want throughout your trip, but those first 24 hours should work like clockwork – even if your brain is jetlagged and shutting down, you should know exactly what to do, and where!

mmmm...sausage...but if you're a vegetarian not so helpful!  Again, prepare yourself with food!
mmmm…sausage…but if you’re a vegetarian not so helpful! Again, prepare yourself with food!

How? Here’s my advice for both the traveller and for the professional setting up students on overseas internship programmes.  Before you leave you must know…

1) Where you are staying the first 24 hours, with reservations.

“But we arrive in the morning and have all day to find the perfect hotel!!!”  Take it from a pilot’s wife and avid traveller – your flight could always be delayed, changed, or cancelled…your car might have a flight tire…

After a 9 hour delayed flight, a flight tire, or some other unforeseen circumstance, imagine how much more you with love yourself when you don’t have to think and can just go straight to a bed and pillow!

2) Know how you’re getting to the hotel, with contact information and a back-up plan

Do NOT be the person who has the perfect plan only to discover that the ride you thought was coming doesn’t…the shuttle you thought was operating isn’t…the taxis you thought were around aren’t…

1 – book reliable transport through your hotel/guesthouse

2 – have a back-up plan in case such as: the hotel’s number if the driver doesn’t show, the metro route to your hotel in case you can’t get a taxi, etc.

It was a lot easier to weather the Dubai dust-storm when I had a mask...TRAVEL TIP: know the weather and pack for it!
It was a lot easier to weather the Dubai dust-storm when I had a mask…TRAVEL TIP: know the weather and pack for it!

3 – have a map to your hotel with a well-known landmark.  Every country has what I like to call a “geography culture.”  That is, how the majority of locals understand and give directions.  In Canada, show a physical address to a taxi driver, and they can look on a map and all will be well.  Instructions like “turn left on Yonge then left onto DeGrassi” or “it’s just north of Bloor” work in Canada.

In a place like the UAE, they do not.  Instructions for a recent class I was teaching in Dubai went like this: from the main road, take the second exit.  After the third mosque, you’ll see a red fenced house.  We are the one to the right of that.

You don’t know how popular your hotel is.  You also don’t know if there is more than one hotel with the same name as yours.  If the person doesn’t speak English very well and hasn’t heard of your hotel…chances are they WILL know a very popular landmark.  Know that landmark and be able to navigate on a map to your hotel thereafter.  Or at least have the hotel’s number so the taxi can then call the hotel from the landmark.

This is NOT what I meant by
This is NOT what I meant by “geography culture” (look closely at the temples in EUROPE)…

4) Always know at least 1 or 2 words in the local language so that you avoid looking completely lost and that it’s your first time here.  The other night as I descended upon the mass of taxi drivers awaiting new clients at the Phuket International Airport, saying “mi, kapukaw” – ‘no thank you’ (spelled phonetically only, I know!) It was a great way to look like I belonged…even though I didn’t really!

5) HAVE MONEY!  Local money if possible.  Otherwise, an easily exchangeable currency like the euro or the US dollar.  The most important thing is COLD HARD CASH!

I was once in Germany running from bank machine to bank machine trying to get one that would accept my card.

When I first arrived in Malawi, it was the weekend after payday, so all ATMs in Lilongwe were out of money.  Don’t expect to find an ATM that works right away…don’t expect an exchange bureau to necessarily be open…have some money!  Enough to get to your hotel, buy some dinner, and a bit extra in case of emergency.  I also always recommend having a hidden stash somewhere throughout your trip in case you run into these difficulties again.

6) WATER!  If you’re going somewhere where tap water is easily accessible and potable, ignore.  Otherwise, be on the lookout for water as soon as you arrive.  Where you’re staying might not give you an adequate amount for your parched jetlagged self…or if might charge you half your week’s spending money for it.  As you’re getting to the hotel, be on the look out for water, and grab some!  3 bottles is my usual “golden number” – 2 which I’ll probably drink, 1 as an emergency.

We arrived in Munich the day AFTER the Christmas Market.  We had to because of work but TRAVEL TIP: look up festivals and events before!
We arrived in Munich the day AFTER the Christmas Market. We had to because of work but TRAVEL TIP: look up festivals and events before!

7) Have a food allergy? Have some back-up food!  Having a gluten intolerance, I beat my tummy rumbling and being hangry by always having something like nuts or homemade granola with me.  Ever shown up hungry only to found out that the only place open and delivering is pizza?  MY WORST NIGHTMARE when I’m hungry and tired!

8) Connect with home.  When you’re on your way to the hotel, or recently arrived in the hotel, take that moment to let those loved ones know that you’re safe … and to make sure that they, too, have your contact information.  The “arrived safely – love you” texts from my husband absolutely make my day and let me sleep that much more peacefully!

9) Register with your government.  The Government of Canada has this awesome site, ROCA – the Registration of Canadians Abroad (http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration).  Basically, you fill out your travel details.  If there’s an emergency, the government can contact you.  If I lose my passport, I have a private government site to easily retrieve all of my details.  I always do this and always make my students do it.  Find whatever your government offers and use it!  It’s there for you!  and on that…

10) Know here your closest embassy/consulate/high commission is.  You never know when you might need it!

Thanks, Canada, for being awesome and having ROCA!!!!!
Thanks, Canada, for being awesome and having ROCA!!!!!

In sum…worst case scenario your flight’s delayed, you arrive angry, jetlagged, hungry and annoyed.  And then your shuttle doesn’t show.

HAVE NO FEAR…my friend, you are a smart experiential traveller!  You’ve got your first 24 hours covered!

Happy experiencing! Happy travelling!

And non-Canadians, please in the comments section, put any addresses for your government’s registration for citizens abroad.

TRAVEL TIPS: Seeing the “whole” of Dubai

Dubai…the beautiful, wonderful, amazing land of Dubai.  Dubai, the land that I call my home right now…but only for another week or so before my husband and I travel (Thailand, Italy, France, Canada…) and then move to Abu Dhabi.

the beautiful Dubai skyline...with the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, towering amazingly
the beautiful Dubai skyline…with the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, towering amazingly

But many people travel to Dubai and after a year of living here, this is my brief advice on how to see the “whole” of Dubai, truly experience this emirate in its truest beauty, whether you have a whole week or not even a day.

My advice: make sure you see all 3 of these quintessential parts:

1) THE OLD

2) THE NEW

3) THE DESERT

If you only see the old parts of Dubai, that is to stay around Bur Dubai and Deira, you won’t have seen the grandeur and amazement of Dubai’s modern masterpiece of city-life.

the beautiful Dubai Creek along the Deira waters at night, in the older part of the city, near Bur Dubai. You can pay for a dhow cruise including dinner.
the beautiful Dubai Creek along the Deira waters at night, in the older part of the city, near Bur Dubai. You can pay for a dhow cruise including dinner.

But if you simply stay in the new areas, you’ll feast your eyes on the amazing Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, Palm, amazing malls…but not get to see the amazing features offered in the the older part of the city.

And if you don’t venture into the desert…well you miss out on one of the most amazing pieces of the natural environment.

The United Arab Emirates is blessed with some of the most amazing topography: conservation areas with rivers and sand dunes, pristine ocean waters, stunning mountains, and beautiful trees and flowers that align many a street.  Venture out!  Hire a car or even do a desert safari.  You won’t regret it!

I know this is short (I’m in the middle of packing PLUS trip planning)…but trust me…if you memorize THE OLD, THE NEW, THE DESERT and truly experience when you are here, you will fall IN LOVE with this city much like I have.

the desert...beauty in its purest, most natural form!
the desert…beauty in its purest, most natural form!

And one big handy tip: If you have time visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (www.cultures.ae).  They offer really informative breakfasts, lunches, and dinners throughout the year where you can learn more about Emirati culture.  You also then tour a mosque and learn more about the Islamic faith.  My first visit to the SMCCU was last year’s Ramadan when I attended an iftar – the breaking of the fast at sundown.  It was an amazing opportunity to learn more about Muslim traditions surrounding the Holy Month.  I highly highly recommend => and you’re going to Bur Dubai anyways with “the old, the new, the desert” as your mantra, so you have time!!!!!

Enjoy Dubai … it’s an amazing place!

PS  www.cobone.ae, http://www.groupon.ae, http://www.dealgobbler.ae => great sites for cost-effective activities!  Enjoy 🙂

Heard a Tanzanian say “hakuna matata” since 1994??!!

Hakuna matata – what a wonderful phrase. Hakuna matata…it means no worries for the rest of your days…

Well, not exactly.  Since Disney’s the Lion King turned every tourist-gone-African-sojourner into an ‘hakuna matata’ speaker, if you really want to impress Swahili speakers, say “hakuna shida”.  It translates as “no problem”, and it shows that more of an effort was made, beyond the Lion King, into truly understanding their language.

The beloved Timon and Pumba from Disney's
The beloved Timon and Pumba from Disney’s “The Lion King”

WANT TO BE AN EXPERIENTIAL TRAVELLER? Start with the language!

I know some people are more prone to learn languages than others, but simply picking up a few key phrases, like ‘how are you’ and ‘where are you from’ and ‘nice to meet you’ can go a long way in ensuring that you have a much more authentic experience.

In my very first post, I mentioned the close link between language and culture (i.e. there being no word for minutes or seconds in Swahili, indicating the cultural perceptions of “time”)

Today I want to focus on the purpose of language learning for the traveller interested in truly experiencing culture while travelling. 

3 REASONS YOU’VE GOT TO LEARN SOME OF THE LANGUAGE BEFORE YOU GO!

1) TO APPEAR LIKE YOU CARE ABOUT THE CULTURE

Attention all English-speakers!  We have a TERRIBLE reputation for assuming that everyone speaks our language. STOPPIT!!!!

If you’re an English speaker who simply starts speaking English when talking to someone from a different country with a different language from English I am talking to you!!!  Simply learning the equivalent of “hello, do you speak English?” will not only show that you’ve made a little effort to learn the local dialect, but it will help you not appear like an ethnocentric traveller that assumes everyone speaks your language.  JUST TRY!  And you’ll appear like you CARE and UNDERSTAND that you are not in an English speaking country.

An extremely interesting map of languages showing the 'families' and connections between each.  It is must easier to learn a language within the same family of another you already know. Thanks environmentandsociety.org for this awesome map!
An extremely interesting map of languages showing the ‘families’ and connections between each. It is must easier to learn a language within the same family of another you already know.
Thanks environmentandsociety.org for this awesome map!

Even when I’m in a country where probably the person speaks English, by opening with “guten morgen” in Germany or “muli bwanji” in Zambia shows that I recognize the beauty and cultural relevance of the language.  And the result is laughter, conversation, and an openness of the local person that I might not otherwise receive so cheerfully.

2) TO HELP YOU TALK TO MORE PEOPLE

Experiential travellers are seeking authentic experiences to talk to locals.  Opening up with a greeting or an expression in the person’s language is a sure-fire way to draw their attention and capture them into a conversation with you.  If you know the language, you can actually greet people respectfully in THEIR mother tongue.

Because of the history of colonization and now globalization, English is infiltrating more and more regions at the expense of other languages.  Currently there is a real threat to many local languages (according to UNESCO 2471 languages are presently endangered – visit http://www.unesco.org/languages-atlas/ for more information).

Speaking in another’s language will create a bridge of kindness that will more quickly welcome conversational exchanges between yourself and your host community.  Not to mention how wonderfully funny it will appear as you try to learn more and more of the language (it usually means that your adult-self is talking like a child in your new language and most native speakers LOVE these attempts).

3) TO HELP KEEP YOU OUT OF TROUBLE

Besides all the cultural relativist, reciprocity explanations for learning the local language, language learning also has a certain level of practicality.  I’m not going to bore you with what you already know – knowing how to ask for the toilet, the police, and order off a menu are all good skills to have while travelling.

My current Italian learning...our trip is now less than 2 weeks away!
My current Italian learning…our trip is now less than 2 weeks away!

But I’m talking about the not-always-thought-of reasons.  I have been able to get myself out of very uncomfortable situations as a lone female traveller because I knew words for “trouble”, “fire”, and, most especially, words that indicated a man was potentially going to start harassing me.  It’s helped me avoid certain situations, including taxi drivers, not because I understood the conversation in full, but I knew enough words to piece together that danger was lurking.

When I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, I was known on the mountain as “Mama Africa”.  While all other climbers mainly talked to fellow climbers, I was able to have the most interesting conversations with the expedition workers because I gained their trust and respect through our Swahili exchanges.  This was amazing during the entire climb, but proved especially important when I had altitude sickness and sadly had to miss the peak.  While I was descending in a nauseated daze, I heard so many porters called out,

“Mama Afrika, wewe ni sawa?!?!?!”  “Mama Africa, are you okay?”

These men would have helped me anyways, but the immense help I was given I know was in part because I had already earned their respect throughout the climb.

Learn the language!  Maybe just a greeting or two…but learn something! It will go a long way to enriching your overall travel experience…

Vous avez ma parole!

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A few places to learn languages effectively and cheaply:

Try these apps: Duolinguo, Babelfish, Eton Institute, Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur Method, Livemocha.

I’ve tried the first 4 and enjoyed; the last 2 I haven’t, but have heard great things.  Please add other sites/apps you’ve tried in the comments section!