Throughout my travels in the United States, Canada, Africa and Europe, there are a few things I've found to be true in all the places I’ve visited.
Being a Canadian living in the UK has made me a never-ending tourist in this foreign land.
While there are many similarities among the place I live, the places I’ve visited and the place I call home, there are also some things that come with the territory.
These are the things I like to call the "side effects of travel":
1. Looking Like A Tourist
We hop off the plane, wide-eyed and eager to immerse ourselves in a culture the locals exist in every day.
We have a desire to learn the city’s history, appreciate our surroundings and admire its landmarks, all things locals have become accustomed to.
Our trigger fingers shoot pictures at a rapid pace, and our tongues are twisted while we try to pronounce foreign words.
These help us stick out like sore thumbs.
Growing up, we’re taught, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”
However, the looks I’ve been given by locals while traveling would suggest otherwise.
One phrase that is sure to reveal your tourist card is, “Sorry, do you speak English?”
This phrase is most often muttered while holding a map between my hands in the middle of nowhere.
Another dead giveaway is our natural instinct to flock to the souvenir shop.
A more discrete, yet still touristy move is to ask to keep all the receipts, ticket stubs, etc. throughout your trip.
2. Being Taken Advantage Of
No matter what country you go to, there are always going to be people who suck.
These are the people who jump at the opportunity to take advantage of the unfamiliar traveler.
This is often associated with paying too much for something and wondering why you only have €20 left to last you two days.
You will run into at least one of these creatures during your travels:
The taxi driver whose meter isn’t visible as the fare continues to grow
The street salesman who sells you an item at a “discounted” price, only for you to walk by another salesman selling it for less
The cashier who gives you incorrect change, in the hopes you’re too unfamiliar with the currency to notice
The street peddler who throws a snake around your neck, snaps your photo and then demands money in order to remove the snake
These are a few situations where my gut instincts have kicked in, causing me to get defensive.
While I like to hope for the best in people, as a tourist, you are a constant target.
Being out of your comfort zone and automatically having the lower hand puts you in a very vulnerable position.
This is why I believe a little bit of paranoia is a good thing.
You shouldn't have so much that it cripples you throughout your trip, but you should have enough to keep yourself safe.
Don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications, and if necessary, stand your ground.
As in any situation, pick your battles.
However, I do suggest that if a man has a snake around your neck, give him the money and get the f*ck out of there.
3. Getting Lost
Whether it's because your map is in Italian or because the directions that local gave you were too confusing, getting lost has gotten even the best of us.
There is certainly a beauty in getting lost.
Some of the best things are hidden off the beaten path, unlikely to be found by the to-the-map traveler.
Another type of lost would be the “Where the f*ck am I?” lost.
Or, the “F*ck, was I supposed to go left or right back there?” lost.
Or, the slightly more concerning, “Am I supposed to be going down this dark, dingy alleyway?” type of lost.
I can only assume everyone traveling in uncharted waters has gotten lost.
Or at the very least, believing so helps me feel better about the number of times I’ve gotten lost.
The thing is, I’ve enjoyed being lost.
I often find that by the third day in a new place, I have a handle on the area and am comfortable getting around.
This is usually just about the same time I’m prepared to leave. Go figure.
4. Not Knowing The Customs Or Language
Traveling to a country where the main language is not English can certainly be a struggle.
Of course, there’s always that little bit of paranoia that kicks in when you’re in a crowd that's speaking a language you can’t understand.
"They’re definitely talking about me," you think.
It is in these places where you put your trust in strangers the most, and you hope for the best when asking for help.
Each country also comes equipped with its own set of customs that — despite all your Googling and pre-trip research — you may not be accustomed to.
As a sign of respect, you should do your best to adhere to each custom.
When you fail to do so, most locals won’t hesitate to tell you.
My experience traveling to Morocco was the first time when adhering to particular customs was in the best interest of my safety.
Locals advised that, as a woman, I should not leave the hotel after dark.
Even during the day, in 100-degree heat, I should be covered from head to toe.
I packed long, billowy body suits and did not press my luck.
The things you do at home without even thinking can easily offend those in other countries.
As a Canadian, one of the best habits we have is apologizing.
One can never overuse the word "sorry," and it is often best to learn the equivalent of this in as many languages as possible.
5. Getting Homesick
One is usually the most vulnerable and insecure when in an unfamiliar place.
Throughout my travels, I’ve tried to push myself out of my comfort zone, exposing as much of myself as possible.
I will say that since the beginning of this journey, I have not experienced much homesickness.
I attribute this to traveling with two of my closest friends.
I have created a new home for myself.
Traveling with friends provides me with a constant sense of home and an increased feeling of security.
When I'm traveling and get that pang of homesickness, it’s not for Canada or even Scotland.
It’s for stability.
Constantly being on the move and not feeling settled is what has me missing that sense of home.
Or maybe, it's just my dreamy bed that I miss.
6. Pride In My Home
I’ve become accustomed to people asking me where I’m from and what brings me across the pond.
At this point, I almost become offended when I meet someone new, and he or she doesn't ask me where I’m from.
I’m exotic and interesting. Why don’t they want to know?
Most often, people assume right out of the gate that I’m American, without bothering to ask where I’m from.
When I correct them and inform them I’m actually from Canada, their whole demeanor toward me changes.
They become much friendlier and more inquisitive.
I jump at any opportunity to talk to people about Canada and my family, not only because it educates them about Canada, but also because it makes me feel closer to home.
The fact that so many people haven’t heard of Toronto amazes me.
It’s always entertaining to hear other people’s stories about their visits to Canada, or to hear them impersonate the Canadian accent.
My favorite part is describing the igloo I live in, showing off pictures of my pet moose and telling them all "aboot" our four seasons: winter, winter, winter and winter.
7. Bonding With Fellow Tourists
There’s just something about meeting someone from the same country that forms an immediate connection.
This usually leads to a conversation about all the things you miss from home: Tim Horton's, hockey, poutine, manners, etc.
This is quickly followed by a list of all the differences between the place you’re in and your hometown.
For some reason, you immediately feel comfortable with these people.
The same thing can be said when you're meeting fellow travelers from anywhere in the world. I’ve noticed that when strangers are experiencing the same situation, they turn to one another for guidance and support.
This can certainly be said for people being delayed or inconvenienced by public transportation. I’ve never made instant friends the way I have when we’re all stranded together at a train station, unable to get home.
8. Desire For More
Travel is an addiction.
With each place I visit, I find myself adding more and more places to the bucket list. I’m barely even home from one trip when I start planning the next one.
I’m learning so much about myself and the world, and I don’t want to stop.
The world truly is a beautiful place.
I can’t see the travel itch going away, no matter how much I scratch.
So, a word to the wise: If you have yet to travel, prepare yourself. You might become addicted.
I'm constantly plagued with questions about how I do it.
How did I give up a great job to move across the globe and spend two years traveling?
The answer is easy: It's what I love.
Travel has given me an unwavering appreciation for the world around me and a new appreciation for my home.
If traveling is important to you, get out there and do it.
See everything you want to see, and start crossing items off that bucket list.
Don't save your life for later.