Friday, October 23, 2015

10 Ways to Show Outward Gratitude while Traveling

Let’s be honest, if being abroad and roaming the beautiful earth doesn’t render you grateful for being alive, then there’s a good chance you are doing it wrong. Traveling, be it for a week or a lifetime, is great. It reminds you how important the simple things in life are, and makes the less than stellar aspects more palatable. If you are the one who planned your trip, funded it, and for all intents and purposes, made sure that S actually happened, who should you show your gratitude to? The answer, my friends, is yourself, your travel companions, those in the country you are visiting, as well as the random person you passed on the street, the animals walking around, smiling children, and, of course, life overall. Basically, your gratitude should be so overwhelming that you are just walking around thanking everyone you come in contact with. If that seems too much for you, here are 10 solid ways to outwardly show your appreciation for life being super awesome

Please help this person look less ridiculous
Offer to take Someone’s Picture: While this may not be as relevant in modern days with this ridiculous piece of equipment being so popular, people like to have their pictures taken. Selfie stick or not, a picture taken by one person of another person or group of people will always look better than trying to get your selfie on. Even if you don’t speak the language of someone trying to get a picture of themselves, use some sign language. Making your hands into a box and saying "cliiiiiccckk," is pretty much universal. Show some gratitude by helping someone else capture a special memory from a trip that they are deeply happy to be on as well.

Learn Some Local Phrases: Ok, ok, so maybe we aren’t all going to become polyglots, but do we really have to be totally ignorant of a language? While English is becoming more and more prevalent (with many people opting to learn it rather than local languages elsewhere), learning at least a few words and phrases in a culture goes a long way. People love to hear words in their own language, especially if you are in their country. Please and thank you are musts, but actually learning words that help you count, ask how much, or even just something silly that can make someone laugh, are all great. The effort put in to learn these phrases shows gratitude more than a thank you in English ever could.

Be a Conscious Tourist: Among all things on this list, being a conscious tourist may be at the top. Learning phrases is keenly important, but actually learning the culture shows true gratitude for being a welcomed guest. Be it dressing culturally appropriate or avoiding activities that are culturally inappropriate but created for tourist purposes (i.e sex tourism in Thailand) learning this dichotomy is a must for a conscious traveler. Along with the former, finding local accommodation, tours, shops, and places to eat are some of the easiest ways to show gratitude and better your travel over all.

Support Street Performers: Without a simple donation here or there, street performers wouldn’t exist. If you find yourself walking down a street and enjoy the music, art, poetry, or incredible physical accomplishment you see, reach in your pocket and put your money where your happiness is. All donations, regardless of denomination, are accepted. While some may argue that this encourages the black market, the truth is that street performers add joy to life, as well as make streets safer by garnering more attention to areas they are performing. Performers bring in a higher volume of people, and, coincidently, normally perform at night. Safer streets = happier people = better existence. 

Support art and creativity

Saving your Leftovers: Why would one save their leftovers? Because wasting food is silly, and even if you aren’t going to eat it, many homeless people like to hangout where the tourists flock. Instead of getting hassled, or getting upset when someone asks you for change, give a person some of your food. You’ll be amazed with how grateful a hungry person will be when given something to eat. This is a very simple gesture, and one that is mutually beneficial to yourself and the no longer rumbling belly of the person receiving the food.

Not Giving Money to Street Children: While this seems harsh, and almost in contrast to the last form of gratitude, it is the best thing you can do for street children. The truth is, there is a large correlation between children receiving money and not returning to school. Children who tend to work or beg and receive money are positively rewarded for doing so. School may be lucrative in the long-run, but money in hand is immediate gratification. Sometimes they are forced by their parents, other times it is on their own accord, but the truth is, as long as it is an alluring option, it will continue to happen. If you do want to help children as a form of gratitude, find a local organization that works with street kids and donate your time or money. While a little bit of money given directly to a child may be somewhat helpful in the short-term, I promise its long-term implications are not positive. 

Artist's welcoming tourists on a local train
Handwritten Notes, Postcards, and Thank You’s: This is coming from a person whose handwriting is nearly illegible, handwritten anything these days will bring a smile to someone’s face. Can you draw? It doesn’t matter. Making your own thank you card, writing a poem, or even just doodling something for someone secretly in their travel journal for them to find later will bring joy to someone's life.

Being Respectful in your Accommodation: While your accommodation abroad is your home at the time, it really isn’t your home. In fact, there is a good possibility you share at least the location, if not the actual room, with other travelers. Show your gratitude by not being a dick! You can do this buy cleaning up after yourself, being quite during the early morning or late night, using a shared room only for sleeping, and most important of all, not trying to hook up secretly when you are in a dorm room. You're not being sneaky, your being obnoxious. Choosing your accommodation according to what your intentions are in a place, as well as treating it as if it was your own, oozes gratitude, and will result in a good karma down the road. 

Being Environmentally Friendly: While not all destinations you visit will be up on their green game, part of showing gratitude is being good to the earth on which you are roaming. One super easy way to do this is by cutting down on single-use items you will definitely come in contact with. If you are street food or drink fan, bring your own container and liquid receptacle, as well as reusable utensils (or eat with your hands, it’s fun!). Do you buy stuff from stores often? Bring your own sack! These ideas, as well as self-powered modes of transpiration, are easy ways to be more green and give this beautiful earth a giant bear hug!

Bringing home gifts: Everyone loves gifts, even people who say they don't. Buy or make some gifts for people, especially those who least expect it. Even if you don't see the happiness they get from receiving said gift in the moment, it will absolutely mean something to the receiver. 

Photos courtesy of: Wall Street Journal and author

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cultural Appropriation and Traveling Abroad

The basis of abolishing cultural appropriation

It is easy to fall into stereotypes while traveling. Often times, because you are so far away from your own culture, people will immediately peg you a certain way. With these generalizations having a bit of merit, you tend to accept the role. As a person from the states with Australian roots, I do find myself falling into little traps. I feel as if I say “howdy,” “y’all,” “I’ma,” “fosho,” and allow exclamations of “your Australian, so you surf (even though my surfing ability is quite mediocre),” to occur more often than I’d like to admit. It happens. But, what I have seen more often than not while being abroad is that what most people believe of culture in the United States doesn’t come from the mainstream majority, but instead, is deeply rooted in black culture.

The fact is, some of the most notable cultural traits that disseminate from the United States are those that are typically related to black culture. When we look at styles, vernacular, and most importantly, music, most of what people learn outside the US, and believe of the US, is directly derived from black culture. When we look at our society as a whole, with how we dress, what we listen to, the words that come out of our mouths, and where we go for entertainment (think popular music, sports, the dialogue in film and TV even if it isn't between people of color), a large part of the overall culture is owed to black Americans in general. People outside the states being exposed to these facets is completely understandable and fair. What isn’t fair, though, is trying to own black culture as American culture, yet still living in a society that is built on systemic racism. 

In the past year and change we have seen some horrific acts occur in the United States, sparking movements such as #blacklivesmatter. While these movements are absolutely necessary, attempting to bring overarching understanding of the deep rooted racial discrimination in our country, we've seen it met with some horrible and unwarranted backlash from non-black communities. Communities, of which, are happy to partake in aspects of black culture, yet show no support. As a caucasian person from the middle to upper class white suburbs, I have the distinct (-ly disgusting) pleasure of understanding where this ignorance originates. I understand it because I grew up in it. I embodied it. As time went on and I was able to leave it, I saw where it was catalyzed. It is an entitlement thing. It is a bubble thing. Most of all, it is a lack of cultural awareness thing. It is directly derived from public schools teaching a single racial and cultural history, further emphasizing the issue of deep-seated racial discrimination. We as a culture are happy to not only associate with, but profit from black culture, yet we aren’t willing to stand up against issues that plague the overall community. We package it and export it, yet we don't support it in our own borders.
A movement started out of necessity, bring to light deep rooted racial issues

As a person who spends most of my time abroad, I have a much better grasp on perceptions from the outside then I do on the inside. I can tell you what aspects of black culture are being portrayed in different countries, and what type of picture our mass media’s portrayal of black culture creates. Here's a spoiler, much like in the states, it isn't always great. I’ve had more conversations revolving around the “N word,” and it’s “appropriate,” usage than I would like to admit. The sad truth is often the outcome is people of multiple races finding no problem with themselves using it because "Kanye West says it." I've also had to explain to people wearing confederate flag attire (which was sold in their homeland outside the states) what that symbol means. I’ve seen predominately caucasian crowds at hip hop clubs worldwide not react to classics like this, this, or even some of the 90’s jams, yet go completely dumb when “N****z in Paris,” came on. While this in itself isn’t necessarily a huge issue, what it does show is that only a small, mass produced portion of an entire culture is being portrayed through a lens of the majority. On top of that, it also shows how the appropriation of the culture is something exported as well. If small glimpses of a culture is all that is being portrayed, how are those on the receiving end supposed to learn and appreciate the culture in full? 
I’m not an expert on these issue, but I am willing to point out a negative occurrence in hopes of making change. The cold hard fact is, unless we as a culture in the United States can at least accept the fact that we have messed up, and there is a hierarchal system which places certain demographics above others, we will never be able to make a change. As well, unless we can treat one another with dignity and respect in our own country, how can we expect folks outside the US to treat our differing cultures with respect? Our media, whether you are cognizant or not, spreads extremely far. What we do in the US, how we treat one another, and what we create in film, music, literature, and news has a large ripple effect. Its wake spreads much farther than most people could ever imagine.
My hope is that if you find happiness in listening to music, using language, or enjoying literature or cinema created by people who don’t share your demographic, you realize that it is a privilege. What makes the US great is our diversity. We are the melting pot for a reason, and without all the cultures present, we would be no where near the country we are today (for better and for worse). The best way to show gratitude for this blessing is to acknowledge we have problems in our country, many of which specifically targeting those outside of the majority, and amend our own behavior. If we want to keep enjoying our delicious, multi-cultural existence, and want those outside the US to see it in a positive light, we need to start taking action that garners equality for every ingredient in the pot.

Is this how we want to portray multiculturalism to the rest of the world?

Photos courtesy of Black Girl Long Hair, Every Voice, and Noisey 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Transitions, They're a Real B!

A typical lyric from a shitload of current pop songs references some sort of journey which touches ground in LA, New York, Ibiza, London, Hong Kong, and/or Tokyo. With arguably some of the most popular night life being found in these areas, apparently this is a normal tourist trail for DJs, rappers, MCs, socialites, and whoever this person is (gross!). While I'm not sure of the depth of these people's travel budgets, or if they are purchasing a round-the-world ticket as opposed to going a-la-cart based on how hard they rage (poor bodies), but such a wide range of countries in one fell swoop sounds hectic. Maybe rappers don't sleep on airport floors or worry about cultural competency, but even so, a journey to this magnitude could cause a lot more strife than just jet leg. 

While the idea of visiting so many amazing destinations sounds great (and it is!), truth be told, it does come with its setbacks. Travel, be it long-term or hopping from one tourist sight to the next, can be disorienting. For me, each new place I visit, I tend to have a checklist of what I need to do to feel settled. Learning the local currency is a must. Finding out a few key phrases (hello, thank you, where's the bathroom, does this look infected?) also tops that list. Figuring out how to not be a disrespectful A-hole is positive, as well as finding a group of transitory besties to curb the loneliness. This song and dance, while part of the travel game, can be an exhausting measure for any road-weary tumbleweed. The transition from one place to the next is the part of travel I struggle with the most.

To be honest, though, the idea of travel transitions are both awe-inspiring and horrifying at the same time. There is something to be said about staying with a devout Muslim family, eating cous cous until your 1 am flight to Barcelona, only to wake up on the beach (where you slept as opposed to paying for a hostel) to western men and women swimming naked and making out in public. There is also some majesty in spending weeks on a pilgrim trail, walking with other soul-searching counterparts, only to end up in a hip hop club in Vienna, mere hours later, failing at explaining how Kanye West may not be the best ambassador of black culture to a disbelieving crowd of Europeans. It is an amazing feeling to have such differing experiences so close in proximity, yet it can be a trip in itself to wrap your head around all you've seen and felt. The truth is, though, that travel is not the only place where transitions occur.

Transitioning from one culture to another may be unique to vagabonds, but the idea of transitions aren't found solely in the wandering world. Being able to transition is a part of all walks of life. Be it a triathlete trying to better their time by shaving off a few seconds from the bike to the run, or a person trying to maintain a balance between their work and home life, transitions exist everywhere. Students graduating from college trying to cope with inevitable jump from school to "real life," feel the heat of a transition. People whom have differing groups of friends or seek a broad spectrum of thought know about transitions. Teachers whom gracefully teeter from a stern disciplinarian to a kind and loving roll model at the drop of the hat live and breath transitions. Yet, with as many transitions as we encounter in daily life, the ability to do it freely and gracefully is a skill that isn't so easily mastered. Many folks fail when trying to successfully navigate even the most common of transitions.
In my travel life, I can be whomever I want to be. One day I may be an introverted writer in an Spanish cafe that resembles Hooked on Colfax enough that I curb homesick tinges. The next, I could be the life of the party anywhere from Marrakech to Monaco. This is what I love about travel. Yet, the period between one existence to the next often comes with a hint of desire to hang up the old backpack. The days where I want to rest my hat on a more permanent post are few and far between, but most of the time they walk hand and hand with transitions. It's said we can't run from our demons. If we try to hide, they find us. If we try to swim, they hop in a boat. If we fly from one end of the earth to the next, they meet us in the middle, when we are the most vulnerable. The freewheeling life fits me, this is for certain. Truth be told, if my pack ever does become to heavy to bare, I have a hint it will be at the hands of one too many transitions to wrap my brain around.

No matter how many transitions we see, for some, the place that exists between finding comfort in one experience to the next is the most difficult place of all.