11 reasons to travel

By Caitlin Kelly

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Toronto

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Washington, D.C.

Wheels up today!

I’m leaving, starting in Paris with Jose for my birthday, for six weeks in Europe, most of it spent alone and my longest break in 30 years — Paris-Berlin-Budapest-Zagreb-Istria-Venice-London.

A few reasons to travel:

Meeting “the other”

Who’s “foreign” and why? What does it even mean to be a foreigner? What’s janteloven and how does it affect Scandinavian behavior? What’s a “bank holiday” and why do people look forward to it? Why do the Dutch keep their windows open and their interiors visible? What part of a Thai person’s body should you never touch?

We each live within a cultural and historical matrix affecting our choices, whether we realize it or not. Shedding that protective shell, even briefly, can be eye-opening — even life-changing.

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The Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

Becoming “the other”

Suddenly you’re the fish out of water, whose assumptions and beliefs can seem weird, even rude, where you’re the visitor.

Here’s a funny and revealing list of the things visitors to the United States find very odd indeed.

To slooooooow down and pay close attention to where you are

Turn off your phone! Put down that damn selfie-stick!

Instead, bring binoculars, a sketch book, a book to read. Sit on a rocky hilltop or by a waterfall or in an outdoor cafe. Sit still for an hour and be truly present.

Memories are the best souvenir and paying attention creates them.

Learning/testing your resilience and resourcefulness

It’s up to you to: read the map/menu/train station directions/find the hotel or hostel or apartment. It’s up to you to catch the right bus or subway, (a challenge if the language is Arabic or Chinese or Japanese or Cyrillic or Greek!) But the self-confidence it brings transfers nicely once you’re back on familiar soil.

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A cup of tea at the Ritz in London

Using/learning another language

Read the local paper or listen to radio and TV. Learn the phrases for “please” and “thank you” and “I need help.” Using the local language, if at all possible, is a basic show of respect, even if you blunder.

Realizing the value of other ways of thinking: political, economic, social, urban planning, healthcare

Americans, especially, have shockingly little knowledge of the world; with a huge Pacific Ocean to the West, the Atlantic to the east, simply getting out of the U.S. can mean a long, expensive flight. Nor are Americans taught much, if anything, about other countries and American exceptionalism can add a layer of potential arrogance and tone-deafness.

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Paris

Making new friends

Social media and the Internet offers us unprecedented opportunities to make new friends, literally worldwide. Thanks to blogging, my journalism work and Twitterchats, I’ll be meeting up with new and old friends this summer in London, Paris and Berlin, and hope to make a few more along the way.

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Americans call it Canadian bacon; we call it peameal!

Exploring new cultures

Through food, music, museums, galleries, architecture, parks and natural wonders. It’s easy to forget how essential other cultures have also been to the foundation of so much Western thought — French, Asian, Greek, Arabic, just to name a few.

Find out what a muffaletta and a pan bagnat have in common!

Gaining a deeper appreciation of history

I once stood in front of the magnificent marble facade of an Italian church with a Chinese friend who asked if we had such things in my country, Canada. No, I said — we didn’t even become a country separate from Great Britain until 1867.

Stand inside the ringing silence of the Grand Canyon or the African savannah or Australia’s Outback….and remember we’re mere blinks within millennia.

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The Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, New York

Savoring nature’s silent beauty

So much travel is focused, as it should, on the great cities of the world. But there are so many stunning natural sites, from White Sands Monument in New Mexico, (actually silica), to the vast red deserts of Namibia and Morocco, the jungles of Central and South America and Africa, the rugged islands off the coasts of Ireland and Scotland and the U.S. and Canada…

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Cruit Island Golf Course, Donegal, Ireland

Trying new activities

No bungee-jumping for me! But I’ve tried street food in Bangkok, chocolate-filled churros in Mexico City, sea-kayaking on Ko Phi Phi, horseback riding through the desert in Arizona. Even if it’s an activity you know, doing it in a wholly different environment is worth trying; I loved playing golf on Cruit Island in strong winds at the ocean’s edge — leaving my cheeks salty with sea-spray.

Looking for travel ideas or inspiration?

There are hundreds of travel blogs; one, written by a young Scottish friend — who met her American husband (of course!) while teaching English in China — is Stories My Suitcase Could Tell.

I also enjoy the sophisticated tips offered by a Canadian living in Paris, here.

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Galeries Lafayette, Paris

It’s a fantastic time to visit Canada, where I was born (Vancouver) and raised (Toronto, Montreal.) The Canadian dollar is about 73 cents U.S. and it’s a gorgeous place, with much to see, from Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland (forever on my to-do list) to the spectacular Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island — at the opposite end of my enormous country.

I join weekly travel-focused Twitterchats, like #TRLT, #travelskills and #culturetrav. If you love travel, it’s a terrific way to learn a lot about the world and meet equally passionate fellow travelers.

Here’s a smart blog post with specific suggestions on how to save enough money to travel.

Ten more travel tips — Key? Ignore the experts

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ll post a final Irish piece later this week.

In the meantime, some more tips:

Ignore everyone’s advice, including the guidebook(s) Really? Maybe. We use Fodor’s and read stuff on-line and read some travel stories before/during our travels, but so often the things that have given us the greatest pleasure are not mentioned anywhere while everyone insists you must do atonofthingsthatdonotinterestyouintheslightest! For example, our very first night in Dublin on our own, Jose found a quiet, simple restaurant a block from our hotel. Great food, good prices, dead quiet, Mamma Mia.

Of course, we have tried other activities and restaurants mentioned by the guidebook, but one of the best days we’ve had here was a day-trip (15 minute ferry ride) to the island of Arranmore, with not a word about it in our guidebook. I am a Very Bad Tourist. I loathe crowds, standing in line, crowds, others tourists, heat. There are only so many statues/monuments/buildings/museums I can take (and it’s shockingly few.) That alone rules out a lot of official sights we are urged to get to. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s your vacation.

Do what makes you happiest, not ticking off a list to please other people! Posting your trip as you go on social media, if your friends are well-traveled, will elicit a shit-ton of advice.

Ignore it as needed.

It costs HOW much?!!!
It costs HOW much?!!!

Prepare for surprise budget-busters In Dublin, there are only two tram lines and, yes, plenty of city buses. But no (?!) printed bus map, a basic asset in New York City, for example, with which to plan your day. So we’ve been taking taxis everywhere. The good news? They are plentiful and cheap. But not a cost I had planned on.

In other cities, it might be the cost of loads of laundry or shoe repair or a doctor’s visit — or all of these. Allow for some surprise costs. IMG_0377 Enjoy some local services

Jose got a great five-euro haircut in Dungloe. He did the same when we were in Cuernavaca. I’ve treated myself to massages and salon visits in Paris.

My one-way ticket, 2 euros, 20. The fun bit? The voice telling riders to take their ticket and their change -- and announcing every tram stop in English and Irish -- is that of my Dublin friend, a career broadcaster
My one-way ticket, 2 euros, 20. The fun bit? The voice telling riders to take their ticket and their change — and announcing every tram stop in English and Irish — is that of my Dublin friend, a career broadcaster

Use local transit — bus, trains, commuter trains and subway

We took the train north to Belfast (2.25 hours one way) and were thrilled with how clean, quiet and quick it was. You’ll get a much better feel for how life is lived locally if you’re sharing transport with natives, whether a matatu in Kenya, a tuktuk in Bangkok, a shared taxi in my hometown of Tarrytown, NY or atop one of London’s double deckers. Our many long bus rides across Mexico were a highlight of our vacation there.

Get out of town!
Especially if you’re traveling in summer heat and humidity, cities anywhere can quickly feel exhausting, dirty, smelly and oppressive. Almost every city has a beach or some green hills nearby; from Manhattan, a 40-minute train ride straight up the edge of the Hudson River is cheap and gorgeous and drops you off in our town. Within a half-hour of Dublin are gorgeous beaches and waterfront in one direction, the Wicklow hills in another. In Toronto, take the ferry across the harbor to the Islands and spend a glorious day biking through the parks. Sit on a patch of green or sand and just…breathe. nyt Read the local papers, in print

If you’ve got language skills, use them! If you’re in an English-speaking country, there’s no better way to really get a feel for what people around you care about right now than reading the letters to the editor, op-eds, editorials and — oh, yeah — the news and feature stories. Don’t stick to CNN. The whole point of fleeing your native culture is to immerse yourself in another.

Bring (and collect) business cards

Yes, really. We’ve handed them out to all sorts of people along the way, some social, some for business. You may want to re-connect with people and they with you. Yes, social media are great. But a well-designed business card carries a professional formality some will really appreciate. (Like Japan.)

Lincoln Center, NYC. Not likely to disappoint!
Lincoln Center, NYC. Not likely to disappoint!

You will, occasionally at best, be disappointed. It’s no big deal!

It happens: the food was too spicy (or not spicy enough) or the service was bad or the bed was too small or the room too noisy. Change whatever you can, (without being an Ugly Tourist!), and go with the flow as much as possible. A vacation in a foreign place means adapting to all sorts of things, some of which you’ll enjoy more (or less) than others. Moderate your expectations and do your homework.

Make local friends

Thanks to my blog and to Jose’s use of social media, we’ve made some terrific new friends by being a little brave and open to the idea. In Paris in December and January, I loved meeting up with four of my blog readers, Juliet, Mallory, Gillian and Catherine — all of whom were only virtual friends until we all made the effort to get together. It might have been terrible! But it wasn’t. In Dublin, Jose and I met up with a local photographer and his wife that he had met through Facebook. We had a great time.

I treasure my little robot, bought in Paris
I treasure my little robot, bought in Paris

Shop for souvenirs in the least-likely places

Yes, you can easily buy a snow globe or a linen tea towel or an Eiffel tower. But why not head off the beaten path and check out local pharmacies, hardware and grocery stores, sporting goods stores and other less-predictable venues for interesting and offbeat souvenirs and gifts?

We still use a polka-dotted apron we bought in Paris at BHV, a major department store and a bright-green enamel corkscrew from a local wine shop there. I use a white enamel pen I bought down the street from our Paris flat.

I treasure the Corsican polyphonic music a man there gave me as a gift, and listen to I Muvrini often. You might find a fantastic skin care line or a great bag of spices or a fantastic cheese knife. In Ireland you could bring home a hurling ball — a sliotar. Ah, go on!