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For me, travel is about more than just a new set of surroundings. It’s also about exposing yourself to new ideas and how people do things differently around the world. Some things are more similar than different and other countries do some things better (and some things worse) than the United States. Here are a few habits I’ve implemented in my own life after seeing the world.
I think Spaniards do it best: after dinner, they step out into the evening air with someone to take a leisurely stroll. In Barcelona, the paseo might take you by the beautiful waterfront, but even though I don’t have the sea at home, it’s still a wonderful habit.
I love feeling the evening air change as seasons pass while Mike and I take a neighborhood stroll. When we lived in downtown Richmond, our favorite walk was along Monument Avenue through the fan and then coming back on Grove Street, past gardens and old homes. Now, our walk is through suburban subdivisions, but the conversation hasn’t changed.
The goal of a paseo is just about being out and socializing. There’s no pressure, no major plans, and no focus on fitness (even though a walk is always good for you). Next time you’re done with dinner, skip the TV and lace up your shoes.
The first few nights we were in Morocco, it drove me nuts that you couldn’t head to your hotel room until you had sat with a cup of mint tea to meet your hosts. Now, arriving somewhere and having someone share local knowledge while you enjoy an arrival beverage is one of my favorite travel moments.
Travel can be stressful. I don’t know how many delayed flights I’ve been on and I’ve definitely gotten lost while trying to find my hotel address. The quiet moment before jumping right back into your day lets you reset and start over. Whether it’s fresh orange juice in Cairo or local wine on the Eastern Shore, it’s a welcome gesture.
It’s also something that I’ve tried to do for friends and family who come to visit. Show up at my house and there will be drinks and snacks waiting for you. My mother-in-law was the best at that, being sure to have your specific favorites on hand. I do my best to accommodate and I won’t be offended if after your quick drink, you’re ready to leave and explore.
Shopping at Local Markets
If you haven’t been to Guatemala lately, maybe you don’t know that supermarkets are pretty rare (and often not that great). If you want produce, you go to the vegetable guy. If you want meat, you go to the butcher. If you want peanut butter, you go to the peanut farmer.
That’s actually true in much of the world. Even in Europe, there’s a lot more emphasis on small producers with quality food. And even though I love Wegmans, I still do a lot of shopping at specialty stores and/or farmers markets.
This is partially because I’m a food snob that likes to know where my food comes from, what’s in it, and how it’s made. It’s also partially because I like to support small businesses whenever that makes sense from a financial and quality standpoint. I don’t do it every time, but it’s a habit I never would have started if I didn’t see how great it is in other parts of the world.
I never, ever used to bargain on the price. It costs what it costs, and I’d either pay for it or not. It was an all or nothing proposition. Somewhere in Nepal, I was hit with that so-obvious-I-overlooked-it fact. Locals try to squeeze extra pennies out of unknowing tourists. There was no way that groceries at the corner market cost almost as much as they do at home, but there were no prices marked and the asking price was unrealistic. It was time to make a deal.
So here’s the scoop with paying for things abroad: you’re best off knowing what something should cost and handing that (fair) price over. As soon as you ask the price, you’re setting yourself up to pay too much, even if you do eventually bargain the price down somewhat. If you’re uncomfortable just handing cash over and assuming they’ll accept it, start the conversation by firmly offering a price instead of phrasing it as a question.
But you can haggle in the United States, too. Whether I’m hiring a locksmith for my new home or looking for a place to stay on Airbnb, you can always offer a different price. They might not accept it, but a fixed price is less common than you think. Use that to your advantage.
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