Since I was a child, one of the most important life matters to me has been traveling the world. I am lucky enough to have lived and taught abroad, and although the list of countries I want to visit is longer than the list of countries I have been, I have learned much from street food consumption, peeing in holes in the ground, and sleeping in hostels with kittens, mosquitos, and Austrian men. The following lessons may be clouded by my personal experiences, but they are an assemblage of advice that the world has offered me whether I had asked for it or not.
1. Italian men wear small underwear and kiss with a lot of tongue.
This may sound like an overgeneralization, but I participated in the “Italian Survey of Tongue” with four or more men of Italian descent and in four or more night clubs in Italy and an excess of Italian tongue was the common denominator across this variety of circumstance and location.
2. Egypt is an extraordinary sequence of history and high cholesterol.
I was in a state of amazement and disbelief after seeing the Egyptian pyramids at sunrise, a dream of mine since The Mummy was a thing. I felt like I was in another time completely, and just as the modern world of blonde highlights and planking that I had come from began to fade from my memory I was visually assaulted by the KFC across the street from the Sphinx.
3. It is socially acceptable to pick your nose in Thailand.
I first learned this in Bangkok after the initial horror of witnessing Thais walk down the street picking their noses nonchalantly. Most of them were picking outdoors, many of them taking their time picking, and some making eye contact while picking. It is the body-action equivalent to scratching ones arm in their culture.
4. It is not as socially acceptable to go skinny-dipping in Montenegro as it is in other European countries.
I learned this when I ventured to the beautiful and less traveled country with a group of girlfriends who wanted to do as Europeans did. After being intimidated by the bra-less beaches of Barcelona, we chose Montenegro as the country to free our tatas. I realized as our naked hops off the dock into mountain-surrounded ocean received stares and not acceptance as expected that we were doing something unusual to the locals.
5. No one is eating lamb.
When you’re careening down a winding road after leaving the hippie town of Pai in the back of a van between Thai teenagers and the aroma of lamb makes your eyes water with its intensity paired with heat, please realize that it isn’t actually lamb you’re smelling. No one is eating lamb. Someone has become car sick and you have two and a half hours until you reach your destination.
6. You know that children’s book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs? Myanmar is a country with a chance of internet and without ATM’s.
Although this may not be the case currently, when I visited this extraordinary and untouched country two years ago I entered with a fresh stack of $1 bills to exchange for the local currency and discovered only one café that had internet sometimes, but was not reliable enough to Skype my mother and tell her I was living.
7. There is nothing that will make you feel more ugly and puritan than watching five topless Swedish women squeal and play ping pong at your hotel pool.
Thank god for sunglasses that you can wear while admiring the beauty of this contrived vacation sport.
8. The Spanish eat dinner very, very, very late.
You’re going to need a snack before lest you starve to death.And then they dance until very, very, very early in the morning where people wait to sell snacks when you leave after the sun is coming up.
9. The Balinese celebrate their new year with a day of silence.
If you happen to be in Bali during this time you will be confined to the hostel property all day and not allowed to leave the premises. When the sun sets you must go inside your room and draw the shades so that no one will see that you’re using electricity. The hotel staff will take pity on you and let you sneak into a deserted corner store to buy a cup of noodles and alcohol if you look pathetic and bored enough.