We recently took a road trip to a U.S. city that is as well-known for its crime rate as it is for its industrial landscape. I don’t think it’s a city that typically sees a lot of tourists. I’ve visited several times for specific things, and this time we were drawn there for a concert. We’ve traveled to concerts in other cities known for their dilapidated neighborhoods and violence. Interestingly, I’ve found that most of these cities contain hidden gems, such as a beautiful park, a thriving art or food scene, or interesting subcultures.
I have yet to be assaulted or robbed but that’s not to say I won’t be in the future. The chances are actually quite good. However, in my travels alone and with others, both domestically and abroad, I’ve found that people are quite friendly, helpful, and interested. How is it that I’ve had such positive experiences when we’re bombarded with messages that the world is a dangerous place and that people are out to get you? I can’t say that I know the answer to that, but I can tell you how I approach traveling to new places.
1. A Positive Approach
When heading to a place I’ve never been, I generally expect that it will be a fun and interesting experience. I arrive with an open mind, ready to learn and explore. If things go wrong, as they sometimes do, I ride the tumultuous waves instead of fighting against them. I read somewhere that when you expect the positive, both in people and experiences, you see the positive. There’s truth in that.
2. Realistic Expectations
Having a positive attitude does not mean that I expect everything to be rainbows and fairy dust. I maintain an acceptance about the reality of the place and time I’m visiting. I’ll expect that the weather may not cooperate, or that the car may break down, or that I might get sick from something I ate. I don’t worry about these types of things but I accept that they may happen. Even though I can get pretty excited, I try to maintain a sense of reality about the things I’ll see and do.
Remaining realistic about expectations helps me to be better prepared for all of the experiences I may experience. I’ll bring that rain poncho and a warm coat. I won’t carry too much cash, or anything that I don’t really need. I’ll know where I can buy first aid supplies if I need them. And, I’ll be mentally prepared for obstacles.
I try to stay connected to myself and what I need. Do I need quiet time, more sleep, water? Do I need to eat more fruit and less junk? This connectedness also extends to my “gut feeling” which is so very important when you’re exploring a new place. If I get a bad feeling, I get out, and I suggest that you do the same.
I remain aware of my surroundings. This is common advice, but worth mentioning none the less. I notice who’s around me and I try to have an exit strategy in all situations. I always have a backup plan to get home. If I’m traveling alone, I regularly check in with someone at home.
Traveling has shaped one of my theories about the world: most people are just trying to live their lives, support their families, and find joyful moments where ever they can. The world is beautiful and we all have more in common than we think, so get off the beaten path and enjoy it.