1. I’m less scared of bugs.
I know I just told you about my horrifying Laotian spider-eating-butterfly experience, but I really am.
One time when I was studying at my desk in my Montreal apartment, I noticed a large spider on the curtain in front of me. I shrieked and leapt out of my chair. I spent the next several minutes maintaining a three-foot distance from the curtains, occasionally prodding them with a broomstick to see if the spider was still there and jumping back again just in case it was. (Our standoff ended when I gave myself a pep talk—mentally preparing to do battle—put the broom away, and got out the vacuum cleaner, which is the only reliable weapon in these matters.)
By contrast, the other day I was trimming my nose hairs when what looked like a small cockroach or large earwig came crawling up the bathroom cabinet beside me. Did I shriek? No. I didn’t even put down the scissors. That kind of bug is too gross to kill by squishing it, and the vacuum cleaner was too inconvenient to get out (of its nook in the Tokyo apartment I’m now inhabiting), so I let it be.
2. I trust that my travel plans—aka having no plans—will work out.
A year ago, I was talking about how I wanted to travel alone, and my friend said “You should just pick somewhere and not make plans and see what happens along the way!” I told her I couldn’t possibly do that, because I needed to know in advance where I’d be sleeping each night.
And now I’m embarrassed that I ever used to think like that!
When the time came around to actually book my flight and accommodation, I’d read so much about other people’s travel experiences that I was way more comfortable with the idea. I booked two days in a quiet hostel, two days in a “social” hostel, and left the rest of “where I’ll be sleeping each night” up to chance. And it’s been one of the best things I ever did.
3. I wait until I actually get places to find out what’s going on.
I used to do a lot more research, because I wanted to avoid making mistakes. But now I know that so much of what you need to know while traveling can only be gained along the way. (Or at least, it’s a lot easier to just pick it up along the way than to try to cram it all in through third-party sources.)
It’s tempting to write blog posts listing all the advice I’m now qualified to give (e.g. “10 tips for traveling in Tokyo: Tip #1, get a Suica card, because you can load cash onto it and use it to pay for the subway/train, at convenience stores, and at some tourist attractions—much easier than fiddling with those confusing Japanese coins.”).
But even though that kind of post might seem like it would be useful, I don’t think it is. First, a million people have written that kind of post before, and second, it won’t age well.
They’ll inevitably replace the Suica card system with something else, and then my advice will be useless (because I’m certainly not going to go back and update it, because I’m not trying to make “providing travel advice on the internet” my full-time job, unlike the aforementioned million other people).
It will be worse than useless, in fact, because you’ll think you know something that you actually don’t know. You’ll get to Tokyo and think “I know what to do. I’ll get a Suica card, because Kate said so.” And then the kind old Japanese man who works at the train station will have to explain that they don’t sell Suica cards anymore, and you’ll be very frustrated by his explanation, which involves many hand gestures and him apologizing to you over and over even though it’s obviously not his fault, and these apologies are just a waste of both your time.
Two things are worth looking up in advance: common tourist scams in your destination country (so you know how to avoid them), and entry/visa requirements. That is all.
(Update 6/6/2020: Actually, let me add a third thing to look up: the weather, climate, and related hazards. For example, don’t go to Chiang Mai during burning season (mid-Jan. to mid-April). Also (although I thought this would be an obvious part of looking up visa info), check if there are any government travel advisories for the region.)
4. I’ve embraced my extroverted-ness.*
I thought I was an introvert for a long time. People keep telling me I seem like an introvert, because I’m quiet and I like to read.
(I’m defining an introvert here as someone who gains energy from being alone, and an extrovert as someone who gains energy from being around other people, by the way.)
But it turns out that much as I like having time to myself, I’m capable of enjoying much more time with other people. My friend from back home asked “Don’t you get sick of going out every night?” (She didn’t mean it in a jealous way; she was genuinely confused, because I never used to do that.) And the answer is NO!
*I know the word is “extroversion,” but “extroverted-ness” sounds better.
5. I don’t put as much stock in my first impressions of other people.
Or, I’ve learned that even if my first impression of someone is that they’re dumb or annoying, we can still end up being great friends! (No offense, friends :P.)
I already mentioned this to the two friends I’m thinking of here, so they know who they are. One said his first impression of me was wrong as well. He thought I was a snob—perhaps an heiress trying to slum it with some broke backpackers.
(I get this, or something like this, a lot. It’s partly because I cultivate a persona that says “I’m not amused by your boisterousness” and “Don’t even think about starting a food fight with me. Save it for your fellow peasants.” (I also take “princess” as a compliment, regardless of how it’s intended 😉 )
6. I’m more environmentally conscious.
Long-term travellers tend to be very eco-conscious (if you ignore the amount of carbon they burn with their flights). I’ve even been at meals where vegans outnumber omnivores.
When you’re around people who never want plastic straws in their drinks or plastic bags to carry their groceries, you start to feel like you should decline these things too.
However, I could never be as extreme as the people who carry Nalgenes around everywhere, since I like having the option to go into any establishment at any time, and nightclubs will take away your water bottle at the entrance. It’s more convenient to carry a disposable one.
I could also never be as extreme as the people who bring plastic tupperware containers around so that they don’t need to put their take-out fried rice in a styrofoam clamshell. I mean, at some point finding a place to wash your container is more effort than it’s worth.
(But I’m still less than six months into my trip, so who knows how much more I could change…
I’ll tell you what, I’ll be sure to let you know if I ever become one of those people.)
(Don’t you know it. “Telling you about it regardless of how much you want to hear about it” is practically the defining characteristic of these people.
But they’re my friends now, so watch it :P.)