Traveling isn't only a great adventure, it is also a momentous, potentially life-changing undertaking. Whether you're going on a simple week-long excursion to a neighboring country or spending a year of round-the-world travel, it's important to equip yourself with skills that will help make your journey more meaningful and memorable. You might already possess some of the skills listed below, while others you might learn along the way.
In your trips so far, what skills have you found especially useful?
1. Waking up early.
To some it's an ordinary, easy enough task, but for people like me who, even after years of impossibly early flag ceremonies and homeroom classes under the Philippine private education system still find it difficult to wake up early every morning, it's definitely a skill. I've come to discover though that I find it much, much easier to wake up at dawn, even before the sun has risen, when I'm traveling. I guess the words of Jason Mraz ring true - how can you sleep at a time like this? How else can you witness Luang Prabang's daily alms giving ceremony and marvel at a beautiful orange sunrise as you sit atop a temple in Bagan, Myanmar if you don't get out of bed early enough?
The Bagan sunrise is definitely worth more than a few more minutes of shuteye.
Monks line up to receive alms at the crack of dawn in Luang Prabang.
2. Eating with chopsticks.
If you're planning on traveling around Asia and experiencing life like a local there, you'll want to brush up on your chopstick skills immediately. Once, my friend and I ate in a local joint in Korea and the lady who managed the place must have noticed how much difficulty we were having with the chopsticks, that she offered to give us forks. Somehow though, the gamjatang tasted better with chopsticks, so we powered through the meal with our chopsticks and by the end of our trip, we were pros. Eat that, Fork of Shame!
If you're not good with the chopsticks, you'll lose all the galbi to your friends!
In Korea, you eat with a spoon and chopsticks.
3. Riding a bike.
I personally prefer driving to biking, but in Bagan, Myanmar, I discovered the simple joys of being able to experience a place on your own, on a bicycle. Navigating our way beyond Old Bagan, greeting locals that drove past and stopping at small and unnamed temples made for a somewhat more authentic and personal experience that made our adventure even more meaningful. Good times.
Wish I had the right GoPro mounts so that I could've documented our bike journey properly.
I am grateful to my parents' love for beach trips and our fairly close proximity to the sea, which meant that I learned to swim at a young age. More importantly, I learned not to fear the water, but to love and respect it.
In Coron, Palawan, there is a hidden lagoon that you can only reach by swimming through a hole under a limestone cliff. When the water is low enough you can float across the hole with a life vest on, but otherwise, you will have to swim underwater through the hole, and you wouldn't want to miss that because you didn't know how to swim.
There can be a lot of shopping in your traveling - in giant air conditioned malls and small open-air markets and bazaars anywhere in the world, a good bargain can always be made if you know how to haggle. Depending on where you come from, this can be common practice or a completely foreign and uncomfortable idea to you. In a lot of places in Asia it's an accepted part of a business transaction, when you're shopping, renting a bike, or hiring the services of a van or a tuktuk driver. Remember to be polite and respectful but firm on a price that you think is mutually fair and acceptable, and you should be fine (for more tips, read about what Southeast Asia Backpacker has to say about haggling here).
The Luang Prabang Night Market in Laos
6. Talking to strangers
Yes, your mother told the five year-old version of you not to do it, but how else are you going to find your way in the busy streets of Bangkok or Hong Kong? You can't be afraid to ask questions or ask for directions when you travel. Traveling through a foreign place can be a humbling experience once you realize that you don't know everything, that not everything is within your control, and that at some point you will need the help of others. You'll be pleasantly surprised that more often than not, strangers are more than willing to help you, in whatever way they can.
7. Being alone.
One of the greatest lessons I've learned from my trips is the joy of traveling alone, whether it's entire trips on my own or pockets of moments during a trip with friends. Traveling is a lot about independence - about having the courage to leave your comfort zone to explore new places and meet new people. On my own in a foreign country, I've learned to be humble and ask for help, I've learned to make friends out of strangers, I've learned to find comfort and contentment in being alone with my thoughts.
When you go on your next adventure, try wandering off on your own to maybe sit in a cafe with a good view, a cold drink (or a warm one, depending on where you are in the world), a book or an iPod, or just your thoughts, and relish your moment of solitude.
Travel to be alone, but not to be lonely.