5 Ways to Avoid Culture Shock While Backpacking in Foreign Countries

There are a multitude of reasons to backpack – everyone has their own unique ideas as to why they want to sling a pack on their shoulders and take off to some foreign country for a few weeks or months. For some, it’s the freedom that comes with traveling on their own, or because it is an inexpensive way to see the world. Others just like the adventure that comes with it and the ability to get away from their normal everyday lives for a while.Anyone can backpack, but for most of us it can seem scary at first. It’s only natural that you feel a little intimidated at the idea of striking out on your own in a foreign country – after all, the people have different customs and speak a different language, so you’ll have to figure out how to get around, find food and accommodations, and keep yourself safe and healthy. The key is to introduce yourself to it slowly by learning and practicing – no one just shows up in a foreign country for the first time and is immediately at ease. When you’re learning how to backpack, being well prepared gives you confidence that you’ll know what to do no matter what happens. Here are a few suggestions:#1 – Educate yourselfBefore traveling to a country, study it. Learn something of the language and about the people, the way they live, and how they behave toward Americans. Look on government websites for travel warnings and overviews of any country in the world. Talk to others who have backpacked or traveled extensively and ask them for advice on what challenges you might face. Read travel journals from backpackers to see what they encountered.Take a First-Aid and/or CPR course. Learn what health risks exist in the country you want to visit. Learn how to keep your valuables safe when you travel and what to do if they are stolen or lost.#2 – PracticeIf you’re bad with directions or are intimidated by unfamiliar places, go somewhere you’ve never been before, without a map (or for safety’s sake, keep the map in your pocket and don’t look at it unless you are hopelessly lost). A small town that isn’t too spread out is ideal for this. Just start walking (don’t drive except to get yourself into the vicinity) and ask the people you meet some questions about the area, what there is to do there, and for directions to somewhere – it doesn’t matter where. Then follow the directions until you find the place they spoke of. Spend an afternoon exploring the place and mingling with the local people. This is a situation you may run into often while backpacking – why not see how you handle it while in your own country?Also, look into ways to practice speaking the language of the country you want to visit. If there is one thing that will make your backpacking trip easier, it is the ability to communicate with the locals. Just some basic phrases are usually enough, but the more you can speak the better. It is difficult to travel without the help of local people – you will need to order food, request hotel rooms, ask for directions, inquire about transportation, etc.To further prepare for uncomfortable situations, do something that intimidates you as often as you can – start with something small and go bigger. Try things like shouting out suddenly in the middle of a public place so that everyone looks at you.Do some new activity that you know you won’t be good at, like playing golf on a difficult course where the more skilled players go. Learn to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes despite people who may be watching or even waiting on you to finish.As a traveler in a foreign country, you will stand out; learn to be comfortable with that. In all likelihood, you will make some mistakes and perhaps look like a fool a few times when backpacking, which is excellent because that is the best and perhaps the only way to learn. Just know this – whatever mistakes you make, another backpacker somewhere has made a worse one and looked like a bigger fool than you ever could. Learn to shake off your mistakes and do better next time. The fact that you are willing to face and overcome your fear in pursuit of a goal demands respect.#3 – Don’t do it aloneFind a good friend who’s interested in backpacking and do it together. Nothing adds to your confidence like the knowledge that there will always be someone with you whom you can rely on.#4 – Be Enthusiastic and OptimisticHave you always dreamed of going to a certain place? Maybe the Taj Mahal, Paris, the Great Barrier Reef, or the Andes Mountains? Wherever that dream place is for you, this is your opportunity to go there and to fulfill that dream. Let your enthusiasm give you the motivation as well as the confidence to learn how to backpack and how to get to that dream destination despite any fears or doubts that may hinder you. People from every walk of life are backpackers – high schoolers, retirees, married couples, single moms – all of them overcame their doubts and fears and went on to experience all the amazing things that backpacking has to offer. You can do it too.#5 – RelaxIf you take the time to learn and practice you will succeed at backpacking. It won’t always be easy, but challenging yourself is one of the main reasons to do it. Be calm, take on the challenges one at a time and you’ll have little to worry about.