Let me begin with a story of a trip, many years ago, to Africa. With time off between jobs, I decided on an extended solo adventure, travelling from Zimbabwe, through Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya. I planned the trip over many weeks and read books about the countries, making a list of the must-see places. I requested my travel injections and took anti-malaria tablets. I bought clothes for warm weather, my first travel rucksack, sensible walking shoes and added a box of biros to my rucksack. (I had read that the African kids would ask for pens.) The experience was every bit as exciting and enriching as I had imagined. I saw extraordinary landscapes, spotted incredible wildlife, ticked off five bucket list countries and met amazing people.
Giraffes in front on Kilimanjaro
But what I hadn’t foreseen was the chance to step outside my cultural comfort zone. In some ways, this presented problems I had not planned for. I was told on my first night in a hotel in Zimbabwe’s capital city Harare that it was dangerous for a solo female traveller to go out after dark. Despite being a hot day, I was advised to cover my arms, legs and head (I had to put on pretty much all the clothes I had with me and buy a head scarf) when crossing the border of Zambia to comply with the then president’s religious wishes. The men did not need to! I suffered the indignity of being stared at almost wherever I went. People were fascinated by my blue eyes, light hair and fair complexion. Some even wanted to stroke my skin and hair. Yet despite these odd and alien experiences, the African adventure expanded my beliefs and mental horizons. I learned about very different ways of life and I came to understand different religious demands. I tried new foods, bartered for purchases, met indigenous peoples, found new friends to travel with and discovered I didn't always mind too much that I looked so different.
Market in Zimbabwe
What this trip, so early in my adult travelling life, taught me was that it is sometimes incredibly uplifting to venture outside of your comfort zone. It can be daunting and disconcerting at times but the rewards are greater knowledge, understanding and fascination. Here are a few tips for enjoying a holiday that is outwith your cultural comfort zone.
Know what to expect
Knowing customs before you go is a big bonus
I wished I had read more of the chapters in my travel books about religion, culture, etiquette and mannerisms before heading to Africa. My advice is to seek out as many sources of information, such as guidebooks and websites, about your chosen countries. Choose books that are honest, rather than aiming to sell you a more idyllic picture. Ask the Macs Adventure specialists for advice as well. It is far better to know what to expect before you travel and to be prepared for the differences than to be shocked by an experience.
Deal with your assumptions
Never assume that travelling is as easy as riding a bike!
When visiting a new country, you need to remember that people and countries can be very different from what you have learned to expect at home. It could be something as simple as a different system for queuing or buying items in a market. At other times, culture and religion may test your views on dress codes and gender. You might even find some foods that are served an affront to your senses! You should remember that it is a privilege to be able to enter another country and it is important to respect the ways of other people, even if you fundamentally disagree. Learning about these differences before you travel can help you to cope with your previous assumptions.
Being organised and having a plan is key!
If you are in control of general organisation, such as having a plan for travel and accommodation and keeping documents safe, you will be better able to deal with unfamiliar surroundings. For example, the Macs Adventure guides and books that are supplied with self-guided walking and cycling holidays, are also very helpful for keeping you organised.
Ask for help
Taking a selfie with the locals
Whether it’s the holiday company, the tour guide or a concierge in a hotel, asking for help and advice can be very useful. You’ll gain local and cultural insight that might be a great aid in avoiding difficult or uncomfortable situations, For example, if you are planning a visit to a church or cathedral, ask what is the appropriate dress. If you are dining out, find out whether you should tip or how to say thank you. Find you about whether you should barter or not, how much to tip (in local currency or dollars) what to wear and where to avoid going to stay safe.
There are tons of useful apps while travelling
There are many phone apps that can be used to help you with currency conversions and language in different countries.
Write things down
Keeping a travel diary is a great thing to stumble upon in years to come
It can be very useful to keep a note of expectations, feelings and travelling tips. Not only do some people find it therapeutic to keep a travel diary but this can also serve as a guide for friends and relatives if they are planning to travel to countries that have different cultures to their own. At Macs Adventure, we are also very happy to hear from you about your tips and holiday advice.
Give it a chance
Fried scorpions may not look appetising, but taste delicious!
Try to relax and go with the flow. There will be things that you find uncomfortable and frustrating, but travelling to a different cultural zone can also be hugely enriching and fascinating. Enjoy the opportunities. Macs Adventure offers some amazing opportunities to get out of your cultural comfort zone and really experience the location you choose to visit. We always use local, family-run accommodation where available and these friendly hosts are generally the key to exploring another side to the region or country. To find out more about what Macs Adventure offer, don't hesitate to visit our website or give one of our destination specialists a shout.