So you think you want to be a vagabond? Traveling around the world and living out of a backpack can sound amazing when you’re sitting behind a desk stressed out with your buzzing Blackberry and bad fluorescent lighting. However, when you really get down to the nitty-gritty, and start to consider long-term travel, you have to figure out if it’s right for you.
To determine if you can hack long-term travel to remote countries, I’ve put together a little four-week travel training plan to prepare your mind and body for vagabonding.
For one month, drink and use ONLY bottled water. This includes brushing your teeth with only bottled water; don’t you dare use that tap water! I became so accustomed to brushing my teeth with bottled water that it seemed strange for me to use the tap any longer. In addition, when you cook, wash all your fruits or vegetables in bottled water. Or if you don’t want to go to the hassle of washing with bottled water — then simply stop eating raw fruits and vegetables for a month!
Even though English is the one true international language, you will still have to get used to not ever really knowing what is being said around you in a foreign country. Sure, you can always find someone who speaks English if you have a question, however they will answer your question and then go back to speaking to their friends in their native language. You need to prepare yourself for never really understanding what is being said around you. So, for two weeks, spend a few hours a day in your city’s Chinatown (if you don’t have one, then go to a Chinese restaurant and try to sit close to the kitchen!). Make sure that you seek out establishments that are filled with Chinese people; then just sit there and drink tea for a few hours. In addition, for two weeks watch only the Spanish and Italian channels on cable. Sit through the news, soap operas and game shows — this will certainly make or break you! After two weeks, you will be prepared for the experience of being surrounded by constant chatter that you don’t understand.
Choose eight items of clothing from your closet, and for three weeks, wear nothing but those items you’ve chosen. Yes, you can mix and match them, so pick colors that go together! You can also include shoes — pick two pairs and and wear no others for the same three weeks. This should prepare you for living out of a suitcase and losing the variety of items that you can choose out of your closet. As a side note, I think men are better at this task than women!
For a three weeks, wash your eight items of clothing (see Clothing above) in your bathroom sink or tub with shampoo. Let them air dry or dry them with a hair dryer.
If you have a house, sleep in a different room every night for two weeks. Choose your bed one night, your couch the next night, an air mattress the following night, then the second bedroom … you get the drift. You need to train your body and mind to understand that the concept of ‘your bed’ is going to disappear. I slept in a different place most nights for 16 months — some good, some bad; but rarely the same bed twice running.
Get out of touch
If you normally read the paper, stop — you won’t have the luxury of reading English papers while on the road; at least not on a regular basis. For a month don’t read any newspapers or watch television. Allow yourself to only make one phone call a day to a friend or family member. This should sufficiently get you out of touch. When traveling, you can go weeks without picking up a paper or talking to friends back home. You might actually find that you prefer this!
Be the minority
If you plan on traveling to India or other parts of Asia, I highly recommend a trip to your local zoo. Go to the zoo and stare at the animals. Not a quick look: a good long stare. Now put yourself in the animal’s position and see if you can hack it; someone staring at you for five minutes straight. Also consider what it might feel like when someone reaches out and strokes your arm because they want to touch your skin. It can be a real challenge to get used to people staring at you, but with some practice you can learn to ignore it; plus as an alternative, it’s acceptable to stare back!
Do not flush!
For two weeks, don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. Instead, throw it into the trash bin. Flushing paper can be a hard habit to break, and it will take some practice; however it is a skill you must learn if you intend on traveling to developing countries. I had myself so well trained in India to never put toilet paper in the toilet that I kept on doing it for a few days when I got to Singapore until I realized that it wasn’t necessary any longer!
Learn to love charades
If you don’t like charades, then you might not survive vagabonding – proficiency in charades is an extremely useful skill for any traveler. For two weeks try communicating without actually speaking when you go to your local grocery store, dry cleaner, or restaurant. If you can correctly pick up your dry cleaning, find the cereal aisle and order a sandwich without speaking a word, then you are ready to travel!
Once you have successfully completed this training regimen, then you are ready to be a vagabond master. By preparing yourself early, you will enjoy yourself even more when you get on the road! If you gave up after week one, then you’d better just go on a cruise. Happy travels!