Written by Pauline Viaud
After a year and a half travelling around Oceania and Asia, I returned home a little tired.
Looking back, I realized I had a great deal of adaptation to make regarding my surroundings and myself as I roamed around the world.
My experience and my feelings are what I want to share with you, how I often — dare I say always — had to adapt in order to carry out this long-term trip as I intended.
ADAPTING TO OTHERS
I left alone, but it wasn’t meant to remain this way!
Once in Australia, I began my quest for travel partners. Yet, be careful to choose them well since you are going to change your lone wolf lifestyle overnight to living 24/7 with each other without really knowing one another beforehand. Of course, you have to make minimum communication before embarking on such a trip to get the global idea of your destinations, lengths of road trips, budgets, interests… In any case, going on such a trip means you’re in for a lot of good — and bad — surprises knowing the person, or not.
We hit the road, we walk, we eat together, and when we happen to find public facilities, we would shower and go to the bathroom at the same time… our whole routine had to go hand in hand.
Leaving on your own is thus the perfect occasion to forget about old habits and to make space for new ones.
Lucky me, such traits as my slight aggressivity and my tendency to touchiness, which were unwelcomed in France, we’re never brought up by my travel partners.
For travelling is freedom!
Freedom to do what I want to, when I want to, never restricted or judged by society. Freedom to be whoever I want to be, therefore, to truly be me. Daily fatigue and stress from work are gone… (even though road tripping can also bring its load of stressful events such as finding water, a place to stay, to eat, or to shower, knowing where to go…)
And it will bring the best out of you. You’re just so happy to be there, living the adventure, you won’t even realize it’s happening.
I lived with many different families as a Helper, Woofer and Au pair, in Australia and Canada.
You can’t get any closer to the daily and private lives of people you don’t know. It demands some adaptation and observation, time, and a lot of respect from one another.
You have to get used to your host’s habits: the food, the routines, the education… You learn where they keep the dishes, or when they do the laundry… I can’t say it’s always easy, especially when it’s for an extended period of time. My longest stay was 4 months in a family of 5 in Melbourne.
You have to create your own personal space, as far as I am concerned. I escaped every weekend with friends! My host family understood it well. As for the three children, they didn’t have the right to go into my room, for example, it was my sanctuary!
The parents had set this rule, and I took it as a sign of respect.
ADAPTING TO DIFFERENT CULTURES
When I am travelling, I try to observe how people interact with each other so that I won’t act offensively.
In Asia, for starters, it’s prohibited to touch someone else’s head, and it’s very disrespectful to point your toes towards somebody. Your shoes must stay at the entrance of stores and temples.
Depending on the religion and culture, women are dressed differently than the Occidentals.
In India, as I couldn’t really blend in with my blond hair and pale skin, I made sure I always covered my arms and legs, burning heat or not.
In Indonesia’s temples or in Sri Lanka, it was forbidden to enter without covering your arms, shoulders, and legs in the first place. A sarong is the best accessory to carry with you at all times to be ready for an unscheduled visit.
ADAPTING TO A… DIFFERENT NOTION OF TIME!
I experienced quite a few funny situations regarding the notion of time. You sit at a small restaurant, for example, in Thailand or in Laos, and that after ordering, you witness the manager/cook/waiter leaves for grocery shopping! Well, I guess you can’t be more sure your meal will be fresh! 😊
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: WHAT A STORY!
Schedules are often approximate. People will tell you: “Don’t worry, the bus will show up soon!” but the truth is soon can mean 10 minutes as it can mean 2 hours! And don’t get me started about the drivers’ speed. It’s either incredibly slow with multiple stops along the way, or it’s as if you were trapped in a race for your life on crafty roads. In those cases, you hold on to whatever you can and pray to get to your destination all in one piece. With each stop, a roaring crowd getting on the bus trying to sell you water/candies/rice/a chicken… Ring a bell?
I also met some very curious people. They want to know where you’re going, why, for how long, in which hotel you are staying, if you’re married… I don’t always want to answer all of these questions, so I respond vaguely, or I tweak the truth a little bit! We never know what people have in mind when asking questions like that! But if you feel like they are inoffensive questions, then it wouldn’t be nice not to answer.
I travelled with my friend Seb for several months. I was the one to manage our wallet most of the time. When I would pay, shopkeepers would give back the change to my friend, as if a woman couldn’t handle money. On these occasions, I would hold out my hand with my brightest smile. 😉
ADAPTING TO ANOTHER LANGUAGE AND A DIFFERENT TYPE OF COMMUNICATION
I have a medium English level. When I first came to Australia, I had some difficulties communicating. Today, I can say I am comfortable talking about specific subjects such as travelling, my family, my job… I am still at a loss for words when it comes to broader subjects. Yet, I know how to bounce back and make myself clear using other words.
In countries where English isn’t the main language, it can be quite funny to try and communicate with my strong French accent, especially in Asian countries! Still, we can always find a way to understand each other with gestures and smiles.
ADAPTING TO FOOD
When I was in Peru and in Bolivia, I had to get used to… potatoes! No matter what the dish was, soup, rice, chicken, it never was without the potato.
In Australia, as I was on a road trip, we mostly ate noodles, bread, and sardines. Far from high gastronomy, right?
In Southeast Asia, food is delicious in my opinion! You just have to be careful with the spices. 😊
Regarding those, there are different levels of spiciness: first, you sweat, then you feel a burning sensation, and lastly, you sweat, AND you get a runny nose!!! Haha!
I’ll always remember this beach in Indonesia where the women were so charming we didn’t dare stop eating even though we had lost all sensation in our mouths!
ADAPTING TO CLIMATE (ACCLIMATIZATION IS A SYNONYM OF ADAPTATION 😊)
I am thinking of the heat, obviously, and its different types: Rajasthan’s dry heat where it was 44°C during the day, and 35°C at night, in May, while a ceiling fan tossed around hot air above your head.
On Vietnam’s coast, the humid heat stuck a terrible stench to your clothes and crept into your backpack, making it heavier and heavier.
In Guyana, the heat was also humid. You were barely out of the shower that you already began sweating again!
Rain isn’t a better scenario when camping outside in Australia, and when water starts infiltrating the tent, drenching the mattress and your bags.
In New Zealand, since I had the same not-so-waterproof-tent, I spent several days in the rented car!
In Guyana, at the beginning of the rainy season, we tried to make a camp out of tarps. We tied the tarps to trees and slept under them in hammocks. It was a great idea until the tarps filled up with water and fell down on us!!!
ADAPTING TO AN UNWANTED HOST
I came home tired since I did not land in France alone after this 16 months-long trip. I brought back this tiny parasite sleeping soundly somewhere in my digestive system!
Luckily, I didn’t feel any of the symptoms during the trip, only once home. It can be caught if drinking undrinkable water.
Adapting to the weather and the food wherever I went, was very challenging for my body, something to take into consideration.
And I thought I was healthy and resistant! I was taken care of rapidly, but the symptoms persisted until I consulted a naturopath that taught me a great deal on digestion and how to manage my diet. If I leave once again for exotic destinations, I will know better. 😊
ADAPTING, YES, BUT STILL…
Well, of course travelling around the world will demand some adaptation to all of those new wonderful scenarios. You will discover how to deal with that, what’s important to you, and what’s not. Personally, I learned how to put things into perspective and to be patient, because to upset yourself won’t make the bus come by any sooner or the rain to stop! From the moment where I can observe people walk by or dive in my electronic books, nothing matters!
Time is sweeter when you have, or when you take it!
To me, adaptation is to let go, to accept the fact that it’s impossible to control everything and to trust in the world.
Regarding relations with others, these experiences taught me that everybody can teach me something, make me grow, and is interesting in their own way.
Of course, you’ll have to adapt your routine to one another’s if you want this trip to go smoothly, but never should this adaptation make you forget yourself. After all, the goal is to make yourself feel good, right?
This post was translated from French to English by:
My name is Sophie, a passionate language learner, and a full-time dog mom. Long walks, soothing cups of tea, Japanese learning and the search for beauty are my everyday life. Slowly but surely is how I do things, contemplating the peaceful ways of time and the enchanting notion of living the moment.