• 7 minute read •
World citizens are in a class of their own. To be one means you see humanity as a whole—there are no lines on your map. It’s different from a tourist, who lacks connections and are merely there to see, or the perpetually rootless traveler, who takes what’s needed in the moment. Rather, a world citizen means you are capable of immersing yourself fully and being comfortable no matter where you are.
Losing yourself in a new environment may seem like a tall order, but during my short stints as a traveler, I’ve gathered these ten universal truths that may help you in your odyssey.
- Age doesn’t matter.
Perish that thought. I’ve seen everything from five-year olds hiking in feverish heat to see their first marine iguanas to senior citizens older than my grandparents plunging into freezing waters. The need to explore trumps age, and watching these varied people defy gravity and fear to experience new things has helped to reduce my own New York-style neuroticism.
- ALL peoples are basically the same.
Your host family may not have a stove and hot water, but they will lovingly prepare dishes using the last of their tamarind harvest to share with you. Your guide may be unscrupulous, lose a bet, buy the biggest beer around and bugger off, leaving you to pay the bill in your impaired and fatigued state (I mean, you only encountered new civilizations, rocks and waterfalls all in the same day). No matter who you come across, respect their life. In fact, respect their hustle. We all want the same thing. Happiness; love, sex and dreams—LSD* is a universal drug.
- It’s not a fashion show.
However, that doesn’t mean you should lose all sense of propriety. For example: Running around a religious site in hot pants and a wife beater with no bra would not be the best decision—please, don’t just whip out your sweats, synthetic cargo pants, baseball caps, fanny packs and oversize tees—that’s just sloppy. And while we’re at it, “vacation” is not an excuse to forgo makeup and shaving. If you’re not going to represent, at least don’t embarrass yourself. Keep it simple: Stick to two colors when you pack if you’re clueless, three if you’re feeling particularly fresh. You’re welcome.
- The world does not revolve around you.
Try to steer clear of starting self-centered conversations. Don’t get into how awesome your town/city is OR how much it sucks ass, AND definitely don’t attempt to show how worldly/knowledgeable/smart you are. For starters, you’re perpetuating a confirmation bias, and, secondly, it’s probably not true. If strangers don’t care what you think back home, why would it be any different now? No one gives a shit.
- Know more than two languages.
English is prevalent in most countries, but guess what? It’s not enough. Equally important are Mandarin and Spanish, if not more, depending on where you end up. Darwin, Australia has a large number of Asians, and Latin nations are well represented in the United States. Sure, you may want to pick up Cantonese or German— which is still better than knowing one language— but Mandarin will swallow up Cantonese in the next 20 years, considering the sheer size of the population, and who needs German when ordering food in Africa? The Germans I know, aside from their mother tongue, speak fluent Spanish. If you’re going to learn, why not opt to learn the most impactful languages? “Duolingo” is a good app to start practicing… NOW!
- Be open to differences.
What gives you the right to treat people any differently than YOU want to be treated? Some people use travel anonymity as a license for bad behavior. Instead, try to stay open, and I guarantee you will learn something about yourself in the process. Re-read number four!
- Understand individuals do NOT represent their entire culture.
Don’t let one punk discolor an entire group of people. Osama Bin Laden shouldn’t be your blueprint for Saudi Arabia, and George Bush is certainly not your typical American. I have seen Asians in South America who do not speak Chinese and have hung out with Koreans who can’t handle adventurous eating. Sweeping generalizations and stereotypes can lead to, at least, awkward moments, at most, dangerous territory. You do not want to experience the latter in a foreign land.
- Don’t let people or books tell you about the world. See it for yourself!
Victors write the history, but no one knows the world better than the people living in it. If you go by history alone, you’d never know that behind “Thanksgiving” are hundreds of Native American massacres committed by white settlers or that a female Egyptian pharaoh existed**. There’s more than one perspective, and learning the viewpoint of others can be humbling. It’s okay to connect your knowledge of history with travel, but just know you might have to throw it out the window at some point.
- Be mindful of the local culture.
This means, if you’re a woman, covering yourself up from head to toe in an abaya in Dubai. Or realizing the peace sign as it’s known in the States is actually a big “eff you” pretty much everywhere else in the world. Now is not the time as an individual to wear your difference on your sleeve. It’s like high school—not understanding best practices for conforming invites unnecessary attention, unless attention is what you want. Behave.
- Stay open to adventure!
During your travels, people you meet will say: “You can do it!” Of course, be cautious about who’s doing the talking. But if they’re a good person? Stop being fussy and just do it. You may never think to snorkel in open sea when you can’t swim, but if the guide, el capitán, and fellow travelers think you can, do you really want to be held back by yourself? Besides, these stories are gold when knocking back drinks with friends.
Now that you have these tips and tricks, do you think you have what it takes?
* This song is pretty dope.
** Hapshepsut was the 5th pharaoh in Egypt’s Eighteenth ruling dynasty. Upon her death, statues and cartouches bearing her name and were either destroyed and chiseled off.