The thick padded straps of your backpack dig into your shoulders as you hoist the weight and step down from the bus. You squint your eyes as the brilliant sun bombards you and sweat starts to prickle on your upper lip. Before you lays a square bustling with people: women dressed in the traditional white dresses of Bahia and elaborate headdresses selling homemade coconut candies, children running around dragging kites behind them, and jewelry vendors showing off their artisanal ware. You ears are overwhelmed by the mixture of laughter, cries, and exclamations, and down one of the many cobblestoned streets that branch off from the square, the methodic beating of drums at a capoeira school echoes off of the colorful, colonial houses. The saltiness of the nearby sea wafts over, combining with the scents of fried bean cakes stuffed with shrimp and vegetables and burnt sugar and coconut coming from the stands scattered through the square. You stop to indulge in tapioca de Romeu e Julietta, or a manioc flour pancake with melted cheese and guava jelly oozing out of it. Navigating through the square to your hostel, your mouth delights in the warm combination of salty and sweet and you know this will be an unforgettable experience.
Men “playing” capoeira, an African-influenced mixture of martial arts and dance.
Wanderlust is rampaging through today’s youth like no other. Whether it’s backpacking through Europe for a couple weeks with your best friend, volunteering in Thailand for a couple of months, or staying with a host family while studying abroad in Peru, it seems like staying home is overrated. Unfortunately, traveling can be really difficult for a number of reasons: homesickness, fear, discomfort, time, and money. You may not speak the language of the country or miss your home when people and a culture so different from your own surround you. Often times, if you have enough money to afford an overseas trip, you can’t get enough time off from your job. Contrarily, if you’re a college student with a few months off in the summer, you don’t have the financial means to travel. Many people are discouraged from pursuing their wanderlust, but that doesn’t mean you need to. Here are some tips that, hopefully, will make it easier for you to go abroad.
A woman, or Baiana, dressed in traditional garb in Bahia, Brazil.
1. Stay in hostels
If you aren’t staying with a host family, then youth hostels are the way to go. For those of you who don’t know, youth hostels are similar to bed and breakfasts, but with more of a communal atmosphere. Most hostels have communal/dorm-style rooms where you can reserve a bunk bed and a locker for a few nights. The bunk beds can be turn offs to those who prefer the privacy, and usually there are pricier private rooms, but in my opinion, they are a steal that will lead you to reminisce on your summer camp days. Regardless of what kind of room you stay in, hostels are full of young people travelling alone or in small groups who want to meet fellow travellers. You probably won’t meet very many locals through the hostel, aside from the employees, but you will make connections with people from all over the world who may understand any of the aforementioned homesickness or other difficulties that you are experiencing.
A typical dorm room in a youth hostel.
2. Eat local food
There are two advantages to eating local food: trying something new and saving some money. While it would be ideal to have a traditional home cooked meal, that isn’t always a realistic option. A lot of popular “tourist” spots have stands selling local food, and while delicious, it is usually overpriced. If you’re not on a budget, that’s not a problem for you, but if you are, try to avoid those places. Ask locals where their favorite restaurants are and stay open minded to holes-in-the-wall because sometimes those places have cheap and tasty food. Also keep in mind what and where locals won’t eat. Pro tip: if you’re ever in Rio de Janeiro, DO NOT eat the shrimp kebabs on the beach. Avoid the hospital and stick to the equally delicious and much safer cheese kebabs.
Chole bhature, a must-try dish from northern India.
You don’t always have to do things. If you have a limited amount of time in a place, it is understandable to want to fit in as many museums, tours, and parties as you can, but remember that you are human and need to rest. Don’t feel bad if all you do one day is lay on the beach, or if you don’t even make it out of the hostel. You will be better able to appreciate all of the new experiences that you’re having if you can actually keep your eyes open. In addition, if you combine alcohol poisoning with a lack of sleep and altitude sickness, you’re probably going to have to cut your trip short. I highly recommend going to a couple boat parties and dancing at new nightclubs, but also remember that your body can only take so many hangovers.
Nanguyan Island, in Koh Tao, Thailand, is a great place to spend a “rest” day.
4. Keep an open mind
This may seem obvious, but you’re going to come across customs and practices that are different than what you’re used to. You don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to, but you should respect others’ beliefs and traditions. Aside from accepting other cultures, try to keep an open mind in regards to your trip. I’ve found that planning everything out might give you a lot of peace before your trip, but in the moment can be very stressful. Try not to make too many reservations or plans before heading out so that you can change your plans along the way. Maybe you’ll meet a great travel partner who wants to go to a different city than you had imagined, or you might show up to a hostel and realize it is very dirty or very empty and want to change your reservation. I recommend having a loose plan before starting your travels, but when possible, try to be flexible by buying tickets and booking accommodations at the last minute.