I think everyone should travel to a different country at least once in their lifetimes. I truly believe you learn so much about yourself, how to manage stressful situations, and how to interact with other cultures—all of which can be applied to your everyday life and work life. You also learn to appreciate where you come from.
Appreciating Where You Come From
In 2015, my husband and I traveled to Vietnam. We were a little nervous about the trip because of our knowledge about the Vietnam War; however, we were pleasantly surprised. The people were absolutely amazing, many of whom spoke English, and it was easy to get around and safe, in our view. While walking around, you see many people who “set up shop” to sell their services. For example, we saw someone hanging out on the street and offering services to fix brakes on the motorized scooters. Capitalism at its finest! Who would think a communist country has so much capitalism?
As citizens of the United States, we grow up with a safety net, meaning there are social services designed to help us (such as Medicaid, for example). This is not the case in Vietnam. We asked our guide about public programs, to which he replied, “There are no entitled programs; if you don’t work, you die.” His response was very humbling. While our system in the United States is far from perfect, at least we have one. It makes you appreciate the programs available in the United States, although I hope I am never at a point in my life where I need them.
My husband and I love sitting close to the guide whenever we travel so we can ask a lot of questions! I recommend others do the same. One of the days, we noticed little burn piles on the sidewalks of Saigon. Naturally, we asked the guide what they were and learned that the ashes are leftovers from a cultural tradition of honoring their ancestors. So cool! We wouldn’t have known that had we not asked. We also asked about dog meat, which is something families eat on special occasions like weddings. I know what you’re probably thinking, but keep in mind this is a different culture with different traditions!
Handling Stressful Situations
Whenever traveling, you’ll find yourself in interesting and sometimes stressful situations, due to language barriers, being in an area where your smart phone doesn’t work, or just being in an unfamiliar place.
During our honeymoon, we traveled to South America at a time when the Zika virus was on the rise. To prevent bug bites, I packed a lot of bug spray in the large aerosol cans (I know, I know, they are bad for the environment) after learning that the best protection against bug bites requires a spray with at least 40% Deet (please check the CDC for updated recommendations).
It was a travel day for us and we were headed from Patagonia to Easter Island. We arrived at the Punta Arenas airport, checked our bags, and made our way through security in what seemed like five minutes (the airport is very small). We sat at one of the few gates there and waited to board the plane. Several announcements were made over the intercom and Eli, my husband, said, “I think I heard my name.” I replied, “No, I don’t think so,” and I resumed reading or whatever it was I was doing at the time. Again, the intercom announcement resumed and my husband heard them call Ellie Wrant Woof. He said, “They are calling me.” I honestly didn’t understand a word that was said, but my husband and I went to the gate counter.
The woman at the counter spoke limited English. After attempting to try and converse with her, we finally learned that we needed to go back to the ticket counter. Eli and I made our way through security and headed down the escalators to the ticket counter. Again, trying to convey that we were told to go there, they realized who we were and asked us to follow them to the back. My heart was racing; all I could think of was that we had to go to security or talk with the authorities. Eli and I look at each other and followed the security man behind the counters, down a long hallway that led to the back office. As we turned the corner, we notices a woman in a room behind a glass window, along with our bag on the conveyor belt. The woman pointed to our bag and asked what may have triggered the alarm. We replied, “Our water bottles?” and she shook her head “no.” Then I said, “Oh, it’s our bug spray!” Still not understanding what we were saying, I gestured, a bug biting me and then spraying myself. Both the security man who escorted us back and the lady in the glass room seemed to understand and approved. We threw the bag back on the conveyor belt and went back through security and to our gate.
Not only was this situation stressful because we had no idea why we had to go back to the ticketing counter, but also because of the language barrier. We had to determine a way to communicate other than by speaking English and just repeating the same thing over and over. We also had to listen and interpret what was being said to us and understand their gestures. This experience proved helpful to us in our future travels, as well as in our daily lives at work and at home. Even when you speak the same language, people often interpret things differently based on how they learn or based on their cultural upbringings. We also learned how to adapt and handle a stressful situation without getting upset with each other or with the people at the airport.
Vacation is Good for the Soul
If you are a full-time employee who works 40 or more hours per week, it is important to be able to step away from the hustle and bustle, and enables you to re-charge and re-set.
On average, American employers offer less PTO than many other countries, providing approximately 16 days per year with 10 public holidays. France and Brazil top the charts with 30 paid vacation days and 11 public holidays. Not only do Americans earn less PTO than their fellow world citizens, but they also fail to take PTO days. For some reason, there is a negative stigma associated with people taking PTO. I have experienced it before with offhand comments such as, “Oh, I just have too much to do! I could never take two weeks of PTO or 10 work days.” Well, not me! I earn my PTO, I work very hard, and I take my PTO free of guilt! Furthermore, I leave my work cell and computer at home. If you think that any job or role is so important that an entire organization cannot function without you, then think again! The company you work for will continue to function—with or without you—so don’t feel guilty and take that PTO before you lose it!