Faraway Adventures Close to Home

By Dave Fox
Globejotting.com

If you love the thrill of being in a foreign place, but you don’t have the time or cash to go abroad, you can go on a mini-adventure, and experience the adrenaline rush of being out of your element, close to home. Step one is redefining “foreign.”

One of the reasons we travel to foreign places is to experience things that are different – to meet people whose realities are different from ours, and to challenge our own ways of looking at life. Most of the time when we’re at home, we’re in our everyday groove. The thrill of travel comes in part from getting out of that groove. Even in our own neighborhoods, we’re surrounded by cultures different from ours. Yet most of us tend to stay away from those cultures – not necessarily because we’re avoiding them intentionally, but simply because we’re creatures of habit. We stick around what’s familiar.

Ponder for a moment all of the sub-cultures that define who you are. There are obvious sub-cultures such as ethnicity and religion, but also more subtle ones based on things such as age, occupation, hobbies, body size, sexual orientation, whether or not we have kids or pets, physical abilities and challenges, education, finances, eating habits, and lots of other factors.

The concept of age as a culture struck me in my mid-20s when I was working as a tour guide for a European travel company. Most of our customers were in their 50s and 60s, so I spent much of my summers socializing with people twice my age. One night in Siena, Italy, I and three people from my tour group sought refuge from a gusty rain storm in a local bar. A lady in our group struck up a conversation with a couple of local college students. The next thing I knew, my tour members had left, and I was hanging out with people my own age for the first time in weeks. It dawned on me that, as a 26-year-old American, I had more in common culturally with 20-something Italians than I did with 60-something Americans.

Jobs? Hobbies? Kids? Pets? Depending on our status in any of those realms, we have things we discuss and do with people who share our status – things that people who aren’t involved in the same activities or lifestyles don’t necessarily get. We behave one way at the symphony, a different way at a punk rock show; one way as spectators at a golf tournament, another way if we’re watching football. If these are activities we participate in regularly, we know the “rules” for how to behave in those situations. But when we get out of our element, and delve into an unfamiliar subculture, we have to improvise – just like we do when we’re in foreign countries.

Little adventurer on the Plain of Jars.

So how do we become foreign when we can’t travel far? It’s easy. First, make a list of your own sub-cultures. (For help and ideas, check out the “Foreign at Home” exercise on my website at Globejotting.com.) Then, make a list of sub-cultures you don’t belong to. Choose one that interests you. Or, if you’re feeling bold, choose one that makes you uncomfortable or that you don’t understand. Next, find a way to hang with that culture.

If soccer is your passion, go to a knitting group. If your idea of Friday night fun is staying home and quilting, check out that aforementioned punk show. Try something you’ve wanted to try but have been afraid to. Visit a place of worship for a religion you don’t understand. Go someplace frequented predominantly by people 40 years older or younger than you. If you call ahead, many nursing homes would welcome a visitor who wants to come chat with residents about their lives. Try out a foreign language club. If you’re straight, go to a gay bar. If you can hear, go to your local deaf club and find out who’s the real “disabled” person in a room where everyone but you knows Sign Language.

“AAAARRRRGGHHHH!!!!!” I can hear people shrieking. “I can’t do that, Dave! I’m an introvert! People might think I’m weird! They might not like me! They might think it’s disrespectful that I’ve come to gawk when I’m not one of them!”

Relax. Take a deep breath. I know this can be scary. But you are not going to gawk. You are going to learn about their culture. Depending on where you choose to go, you might check in with a group leader or someone you know in the group beforehand. Explain your reasons for visiting – that you are trying to immerse yourself in a group of people where you don’t “belong” because you are curious and you want to learn about them. That’s a big reason we travel to foreign countries, isn’t it? Usually people will be happy you’re interested in how they live. And the anxiety of approaching them, of feeling out of place… isn’t that exactly what we feel sometimes when we travel overseas?

If it makes you more comfortable, explain you are doing this as an assignment for a writing class. Here’s your optional assignment: Before you go on your adventure, scribble about your expectations and feelings. Afterward, write about what you did, who you met, what you learned, how you were received, and so on.

What’s the point of this? For starters, it feeds the part of our brain that craves something different. We can be foreign, have a quick getaway to a culturally different place, without shelling out wads of cash to travel. Beyond the adventure, there can also be big moments of self-discovery.

Putting ourselves in foreign environments, where we don’t know all the “rules,” forces us to improvise and do what we think is best. Sometimes when we do this, hidden parts of our personality, traits that have been lying dormant in our minds for a long time, peek out. Occasionally, they stick with us. Writing about the experience helps us analyze and understand these moments. It can spark powerful personal transformations – especially if we keep repeating this exercise, checking out more and more places where we feel foreign.

Many of us who love to travel find ourselves at home in our daily rut more often than we’d like. Shaking things up by going where you don’t normally go adds  adventure to your life. You can take cheap mini-vacations several times a week if you like – to faraway cultures close to home. You don’t  have to worry about jet lag (unless you choose to hang out in an overnight coffee shop when you’re usually asleep – a potentially fascinating adventure), you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a plane ticket, you’ll discover new things… and you might even discover a new culture you end up going back to and becoming a part of. 

 

Dave Fox is the author of Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!)  and Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad. His website, Globejotting.com, features travel tales, humor columns, and tips to help people write their own stories. Dave also teaches wildly fun online travel and humor writing workshops. His next online travel writing class begins August 7. His next humor course begins September 25. For details, please visit Globejotting.com/classes.

Find Dave on Twitter @GlobeJotterFacebook and Youtube!

 

{I am grateful to Mr. Jackson for sharing a few of his Thailand photos with us. Thank you.}

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