Travel Firsts

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Travel Firsts

We frequently get calls and emails from women who say it is their first: overseas trip/exotic trip/long distance trip/ or first solo trip. Each of these ‘firsts’ is no obstacle if you follow a few rules.

Overseas Trips usually involve different languages, cultures, practices and behavior. Even in Britain, British English differs from US English. London and Britain are perfect first overseas trips, shorter flights, signage and hotel TV in English. And most people will understand your American accent.

Here is what you don’t know even in a country as close to ours as Britain.

Early on in my 10 years of residence in London, I was invited by telephone to a new friend’s home.  I answered, “I will call you.” A few days later, she contacted me. “I was waiting for you, but you did not turn up?”

“Call’ in Britain can mean visit and the correct British English is “I will phone you”. So the lesson here is don’t jump to conclusions if something goes wrong. On your first overseas trip, there will definitely be some confusion.

You might find yourself impatient or annoyed at different customs.  Example, in the US the pedestrian has the right of way, in other countries not so. So, cursing at a driver who doesn’t stop for you might be your fault entirely. Street behavior in England is critical as you also have to look for oncoming traffic from ‘the wrong side of the road’. A zebra street crossing is for pedestrians;  you will see these wide white lines painted on busy streets.

What about your first Exotic Trip or first non-European Trip? We usually recommend Morocco. Morocco’s capital Casablanca is a short flight from the East coast with only 5 hours of jet lag. There is a strong tourist infrastructure, so things move smoothly. French is spoken and French influence shows in much of the food. Meals will not be too much of a mystery. The tourist part of the  country is small: no internal flights needed. Driving distances are shortish, and history includes what Americans have studied: The Romans, WW2, The Moors from Spain etc.

But Moroccan is definitely exotic: camels, tribes’ people, souks full of spices and exciting buys. Scenes from movie sets like Lawrence of Arabia are spectacular with minarets and forts high and gorges in the mountains plunging low.  Here is what might bother you on this first exotic trip: locals love to help even if this help means sticking to your side for 15 minutes. Bargaining might be a new intimidating experience.  And yes, if you are younger, you might be leered at so dress conservatively.  Finally, a Turkish bath in your hotel can frighten the modest North American. We guarantee you will love it.

More to consider signage and TV are in Arabic with possibly, CNN International.  Food can be unusual: pigeon, spices like fenugreek, ginger, cardamon, coriander seeds and saffron.

At the end of the day, Morocco is easy for the newish traveler. There are no unpleasant surprises like blocked roads, unexpected mountains to climb and hotels will be as you expect.  

Now lets’ move on to a destination that is a long distance away and learn a few rules. Persian Gulf countries are modern and rich; however they need acclimation and research. Example: 17 in our travel are going to the Emirates and Oman. There are rules to understand in all traditional Arab nations. Some like medicine must be in an original container are legal.  Others like covering our heads in a mosque are traditional.  Weather is not what one expects: it can be cold in mountainous Oman and it can rain.

Here are considerations for your first long distance flight Do you need compression socks?

Are you prepared with snacks, downloaded movies a travel pillow? Is is worth your money to upgrade? Do you drink enough water even though you need the airplane bathroom often?

Are you familiar with how substantial jet lag effects the body? Have you ever taken a pill like ambient, and do you know its effects on your body? Going East is easier than going West because you wake up early and fall asleep early going East.    Going very far is easier than a 5 hour change; you are so tired you might sleep better.

Final items to consider: money might be illegible, ATM’s will be different. Menus will be a mystery and some Asian food can create bloating. If you wander, you need to have a hotel address and a map marked; street signs will be in a different alphabet. Hotel amenities in Asia as an example will be natural soaps with flowery or spice smells. Expect the unexpected like I did in Bangkok. Fell asleep, heard a knock on the door but disregarded it. On waking up, there was a machine buzzing in the desk drawer. A fax machine was editing a fax which said: We tried to clean your room, but you did not answer, Thank you, Housekeeping.

Feel free to ask us any questions about your personal ‘firsts’. Our group has traveled to many exotic places: Mali, Burkino Faso, Iran, Albania, Persian Gulf and Oman, Senegal and Gambia, Easter Island, The Yucatan. We are always surprised at a new ‘first’ even in Europe.

Phyllis Stoller

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