Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Waking Up Before You Go-Go:

I may have dated myself with the use of a Wham! reference in the title of this entry, but – as the MHIRT 2015 students prepare for their departures tomorrow - it seemed like a catchy way to introduce the concept of being a conscious traveler.

To be a conscious traveler is to be mindful of the world and its people whom you will encounter during your journeys. Conscious travel* is about making a positive impact on local communities and creating an understanding of one another by being responsible and respectful towards people’s traditions, living conditions, and local heritage. To travel is a privilege which we sometimes forget to see. Being a conscious traveler will help create an understanding of one another, and enrich your lives and the lives of everyone you meet along the way.

So how do you become a conscious traveler? Good question. Here are some tips:

  • Be mindful as you travel; be aware of your existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc.
  • Immerse yourself within the local culture; get to know people and how/what they really think
  • Ask permission before taking pictures of people or entering their homes
  • Dress appropriately and modestly
  • Learn as much of the local language as you can
  • Buy local goods and merchandise
  • BEFORE giving any gifts always check with the person (or your mentor) to prevent doing more harm than good. (This one is super important. What may seem like a harmless gift may actually make the recipients a target within their communities. ALWAYS double check)
  • Write down everything you achieved and memorable experiences you have each day, every day.

And here are some tips from previous MHIRT students who have already walked the roads you are preparing to traverse:

  • Dance every chance you have. In the streets, in a dance bar, wherever. Other dancers will be drawn in, and then you have a party! Leave just enough energy to walk home at the end of the night. And bring your own water--it's not free.
  • When learning a new language, speak as if you know what you're doing. It's convincing, but always insist that native speakers correct you, even though they probably won't.
  • If you are debating whether you should buy that (locally made) souvenir as a gift for yourself, your parents, your friends, your MHIRT program directors (*wink*), the answer is YES. You will regret it if you don’t and you may not have another chance.
  • A cup of café, or the unexpected excursion, are seldom to be turned down. Their effects will keep you going when things are slow.
  • Know the bus routes, be on time, and know which bus you're getting on to...but being too early helps no one.
  • Be good to your lab rats, although they may not return the gesture. Digestion waits for no man, or researcher. Also, rats jump well and they have good grips. They are fast, and they like to explore. Keep the lids tightly on.
  • Make time to truly have lunch, or almoçar. It's the perfect break in a busy day. If you can, do it Brazilian-style, even in the US. That is, pile it high with plenty of variety.
  • Plan your next day and make the most of every minute because you will never experience this day again.
  • Ask a friend to be your solo buddy and contact them whenever you feel down to remind you why you are on this trip.
  • Have ‘feel good’ remedies like a favorite song, a souvenir from home, a photograph or just lose yourself in an inspiring book.
  • Make each day an adventure. Even if it means simply taking a bus to a part of town you have no real business in. You will find exciting new sites, and yourself in the process.
  • Promise yourself not to fall into the trap of complacency and not to be arrested by fear.
  • Give new places and people the chance to teach you, to marvel at the things that may seem inconsequential, to allow yourself to be moved, and to influence your world in return.

Finally, as you prepare to embark on this life-changing experience, remember to listen more than you speak, learn more than you teach, observe more than you assume, tolerate more than you judge, experience all that you can, get homesick...then get over it, take lots of pictures (after you ask permission, of course), and – as Aviva so eloquently put it in the previous post - “love love love.”

*Conscious Travel is a concept developed by Anna Pollock, who has 40+ years of experience as a tourism strategist, consultant, and agent of change.