As we know, moving to a new place is quite scary and stressful; getting over barriers the family sets, finding a home, and making friends is just the beginning. Once you arrive to a new place you find yourself surrounded by a different language and cultural norms, a new environment and public transport, and bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy…ugh it can be the worst! Not to mention that you are easily picked from a crowd and fingered as a tourist when you first arrive.
English, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Arabic, Danish, Swedish, Russian, French…I navigate my way through so many different languages I hear on the street each and every day. I would say I am lucky just because my native language is English. And in this day and time, English is the “international language”. But even with a native knowledge of the global language, I still live in a Spanish speaking country and my days are still full of blips and fragments of a language I have yet to perfect. And three years later, this can still be terrifying and embarrassing. I remember my first time going abroad and I thought everyone in Brussels would surely speak English and to my terrifying surprise, I constantly encountered people who only spoke Dutch, French and even Spanish. I quickly pulled words from thin air and used exaggerated hand gestures that I’m sure make me seem crazy. So, just know that if you are planning on traveling or living abroad that you must be ready to act a fool. I’m used to the wild physical gestures now since I teach English, and I probably use them even when I’m speaking to native English speakers. The great thing is though, that no matter how uncomfortable you may feel, just tell yourself that there are only two outcomes when speaking to people around the town….1) you will never see them again, so just be polite and respectful (you’re still representing your country) and “no pasa nada”, or 2) the person is so interested in you that they take a liking to you and show you around or invite you to join them.
(Plaça Major, Palma, Illes Balears)
Knowing just a few words of the language of the country that you are visiting will go a long way. If you are planning on traveling to Brazil, search typical Portuguese phrases, if you are traveling to China search typical Chinese phrases of the region you are traveling. Google Translate is getting better and better and there are so many different websites that have typical phrases where you can even listen to the pronunciation. As I said, I am still not fluent in Spanish as I’ve learned that languages are not my forte but I still cringe when a tourist greets a city worker or service worker in his/her own language instead of the language of the country they are in. Just greeting people in the native language can take you far and will help you gain immediate respect. Before moving to Spain, I bought three books on learning the Spanish language from Amazon.com (a Spanish for Dummies book, a Complete Spanish Course book, and a Dirty Spanish book to learn colloquial language). I also downloaded the Duolingo App which has over 20 languages you can learn! And the Rosetta Stone Travel App, which is a free app to help travelers learn how to get around in their new surroundings. And as languages are not the only new thing that you will encounter on your travels, please, please make sure you research the cultural norms of a place before you visit! Respect the cultural norms even if you may not have the same beliefs. This doesn’t mean that you have to convert or pray with the natives, this just means you should be respectful. This is especially important when packing your luggage! Make sure your clothing and attire are not only suitable for the weather, but that they are in line with the customs of the countries you are visiting/moving to as well. Just following minute norms also helps when needing information or meeting new people.
(Exploring Cala Llombards in Mallorca, Spain)
One of the scariest things about traveling is the fear of getting lost. So how do I get around in new places? Well, the first thing I do is download an offline map and public transport app of the cities onto my phone. Google Maps can now pin point your location without wi-fi or data, and it is easy to star, or tag places you love or want to see. As long as you open the map and search for directions in wi-fi, you can continue to use the directions without wifi. But my favorite app to use, however, is Ulmon CityMaps2Go. Not only does it download the maps of the city centers, track your location without data, and let you save and star different places you want to go, but you can also search for the top rated and highly recommended places by category such as landmarks, historical sites, museums, food, drinks, nightlife, etc etc. Best yet, the app will adjust to suit your personality and style. Upon opening the app, it will ask you for the things you are interested in and then it will make travel guides for each city you download based on your taste and lifestyle! Its truly an awesome app, and it has saved me countless times from getting lost in new cities. Plus, if your in a city full of techies, who really wants to mark themselves as a tourist by pulling out a city/tourist map?!
The only thing the Ulmon CityMaps2Go app doesn’t have is public transport of a city. I prefer walking everywhere in new places and exploring each day by neighborhoods so I’m not walking across the city each day but staying in one area. But if walking isn’t for you or if you do not feel comfortable taking a taxi (research taxis in the cities you are going to, to make sure they are safe or regulated) or walking, then you may need to download public transport maps of the cities /areas you are going. Research how to get around in the specific area you are going and the name of their public transport companies. Download those apps. Use them along with your Google and Ulmon Apps. Easy.
Getting over the hurdles of a new language, customs and getting around have easy (sometimes uncomfortable, but easy) solutions. There is no reason to be fearful and not GO somewhere!
(left: Calle Cava Baja in Madrid, right: Me and Meghan exploring Seville, Spain…yeah, we know. 100% tourists)
Are you going to a country where you need a visa? Or are you settling down for a bit and need residency? The SCARIEST part about visiting/moving to a new country can be bureaucracy! No app can help you here. It can be a long and tedious process but if there is a place you just have to see, most places are not unreachable or unrealistic. If you need a visa to visit a country, or a residence card in a different country, all you can do is research, ask questions to as many people as you can, take notes and BE PATIENT. Imagine going to the DMV, but in a foreign country and in a foreign language. Getting the documentation that you need can be a frightening, stressful and long process. My only advice is to be prepared: make an appointment even if you don’t think you need one, make copies of EVERY Identification and document you have, and BRING all of your IDs and documents with you EVERY time you go to an office for visa/residency purposes. It is the worst when you go to a government office, wait/stand in line for long periods of time, and finally get to the desk only to be told you didn’t bring a document that you needed (probably because three different people told you three different documents you needed or the website online didn’t specify this exact document) and you have to go get the document you need and go through the process all over again. Missing documents are the biggest pain, and in my experience, being patient, being nice, looking presentable, and being adamant (not giving up/making your face known) can help you bypass some obstacles, or will at least motivate someone in a government office to focus on helping you.
Now, you have all of the courage and no fear or restraints to get up and GO~ what are you waiting for?!
(Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain)