Places and People – What They’ve Taught Me

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I have had the fortune to live in quite a few places in my life, not as many as I’d like of course, but then that’s just the itchy feet talking; they won’t be satiated I tell you! I have returned to my home state after more than 20 years of living in different places with only infrequent and abbreviated visits home. As anyone who has read my ‘About Me’ page knows, I’m not one who feels homesick much. Sure, I have my moments when I crave my childhood bed and the comfort of mum’s cooking, but not as much as “normal” people do, I think. So without further ado, the things I have learnt from living in, and visiting, different places:

1. Showing an interest in local culture will get you farther than sticking to your comfort zone. Especially in the initial days. Ask questions and listen without judging. Maybe their traditions delight you, or grate you. And that’s okay, no-one is asking you to adopt anything you don’t want to. Observe their way of life, take part in festivities, you might learn something along the way.

2. Eat local food. What better way to indulge than to dive in head first into the food of the land? The supermarket staples that you’re used to back home are always going to be there, but try the local fare, that’s what will introduce you to a new place fast. Be curious, be open, and unless it’s something that goes against your principles, give it a taste.

3. People are inherently kind. Okay, so not all are, some are just plain wary, and weary, of those who dress differently or talk differently. I’d suggest learning a few polite phrases in the local language, this is sure to get you a smile, even if you’re doing a terrible job at pronouncing the words correctly. They’ll mostly want to help you out, and it becomes easier as you’ve already shown an interest in their language.

4. Always dress appropriately. This goes without saying, but there is no easier way to antagonize the locals than to poke at their ideals. Not all countries or cities are the same. Within my country, I wear different kinds of clothes in different places, because: (a) It helps me blend in, (b) I don’t like being stared at, and (c) Dressing appropriately is the easiest way to ensure your own comfort.

5. Make friends with the locals. For many years, this was something I struggled with. Not that I was a loner, I always did end up making friends, but it was slightly painful because I was not very social. The best way is to greet people with a smile, even if it isn’t returned, smiling is good for you. And to be honest, most of the time, a smile is returned. The locals know the best places to shop, eat at, and basically chill, definitely not things you should miss out on.

6. Talk to people who are not in your age bracket. This is something else I was not very comfortable with in my younger days, but I’m learning. Talk to kids, teens, adults or the aged and you’ll get different perspectives of the same city, country or story. In my own country, the 20 and 30-somethings have a completely different outlook when compared to the older generation. It teaches you about the evolution of a society, of its people.

7. Life is nothing without variety. For those who are ruled by wanderlust, there is not much more exciting than planning their next trip. Often, we classify ourselves into beach people or mountain people, adventurous or laid-back, luxury travellers or backpackers, and for most of the time, this works. Once in while, it pays to mix things up though, there is so much the world has to offer!

8. Invest time. Not all of us are loaded (do I hear a rousing chorus of “hear hear”?) and we may not have means to splurge monetarily. That doesn’t mean one needs to be holed up inside watching reruns of sitcoms, there is likely many things in any given place that you can enjoy for free, or a minimal fee. Explore the history of a place, go to the parks, people-watch, eat street food – not too hard on the pocket, yet great for the soul.

9. Prepare for loneliness. This is a common factor for those moving to a new place, whether alone or with family. The utter novelty of everything can have you craving for the familiar, for the mundane. It’s normal to want the things that we are used to, the bend in the road that takes us to our favourite cafe. But don’t forget the possibility of finding a new favourite, a place that serves the best hot chocolate you’ve had yet, and how would you find it if you didn’t let go of what you used to know?

10. Be careful. This might seem a little contradictory to one of my previous little pointers here, but the term ‘better safe than sorry’ applies no matter where you are, even in your hometown. It is good to be optimistic, but not naive. Believing in the good of humanity is great, but one needs to be attuned to one’s gut instinct (we all have some leftover from our hunter-gatherer days). If it feels unsafe, get out of there is my mantra. Of course, if you’ve made friends with a few locals, dressed appropriately and found great hangouts, chances are you’re well on your way to enjoying the new city/country that you’ll call home for a while, or forever.

Do you guys have other pointers for moving to a new place? Anything I’ve missed out on? What have your travels taught you?

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