“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
There is no way to know what the future holds. None of us knows our fate, and there is so much left up to chance when one travels. So the most important lesson I have learned on my journeys is to be flexible. Not everyone is capable of letting chance decide their path, but often times that is how the traveler discovers the most. Let yourself be free to change plans at a moment’s notice.
My first real test of flexibility came in China. I had been traveling for some time, two months into my Semester at Sea voyage while studying abroad during undergrad. Unlike many of my peers, I had planned most of my shore time before I ever set foot on the boat. Partly this was to appease my worry-wort mother, part of it was to ensure I saw everything I intended to in the short time I had in each port. Yet I decided that China would be different. When the ship departed Hong Kong for Shanghai, I was not on board. I set out with a few well-traveled friends to see what I could discover as we traveled up the coast to rejoin our vessel.
I can say with all honesty, that was one of the most memorable trips I have taken in the ten years I have been traveling. We took a cramped overnight bus to Xiamen, where almost no one spoke English apart from one Chinese-Australian girl we happened to share a boat with to an island off the coast. It is truly an experience to immerse yourself in a place where no one can understand you. To become an outsider, a foreigner, really puts into perspective how arrogant and inconsiderate those folks are back home that firmly believe that if you enter their country, you must speak their language.
Xiamen was a true immersion experience, one most tourists never see. It is one thing to visit Cambodia and see Ankor Wat, where everything revolves around tourism. It is another to visit South Africa and spend a few days living in the townships, seeing the remnants of Apartheid and the stark contrasts between the haves and the have-nots. Often these real experiences arise under unsuspected circumstances. My advice; take a chance and see something beyond the tourist traps. There may be dangers in going out alone into an unknown city, certainly. But if you take precautions and trust in the goodness of humanity, you will come out much richer from your experiences.