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One of the big things we have to ask ourselves is what is the purpose of the vacation we're going on? There's no right or wrong answer to that but I find it's sometimes hard to define other than to see and experience new things. Although there are times when it's just nice to relax and get away from everything. I found that I was being lazy when it came to traveling to other countries. These countries often know that tourists are coming, so they make it easy to be lazy.
They accommodated me by speaking my language and made things easily accessible. This shouldn't be my excuse and I'm not trying to say that vacations should be work. I thought that doing some work prior to taking on a vacation to a foreign country would provide me with a fuller experience. If I wanted a true travel experience I should know at least a little bit about the history, language and cultural significance to the place prior to going.
Sure I can learn on the spot and try to understand the cultural differences when I'm there. I've been doing this for years but I found that if I had read little bit more prior to going to these places I would have had more of an invested interest in the place that I was visiting. I could possibly also learn things that might not be well known.
Learning some of the language is courtesy to locals and it also helps me expand my own horizons. Of course there will be some things you'll learn on the spot but basic words and phrases can possibly save you a lot of potential obstacles on your trip. Finding places and getting food can be that much easier. This is particularly necessary if you have allergies or have special needs. Those are pretty important things to be able to tell a local if something should happen. You can also communicate a little better with locals and gain a better experience by learning their perspectives in life. Maybe they'll be nice and let you know great spots to eat or places to see.
Knowing about the history and culture of a place can give you greater interest into the place that you're traveling to. You'll find the landmarks that interest you the most and understand their historical and cultural significance. It's sort of like those promos you see before sporting events. They give you context to what's going on prior to the event. I know that those promos usually get me interested not only in the event but each of the players involved.
Lastly, I would say it's important to research the date you're visiting the place. This is hugely important because you never know if there's civil unrest at the country you're about to visit. Although sometimes that can't be avoided. I accidentally went to France when they had a huge transportation strike and that had a significant impact on my trip. There was crazy scrambling to find my way around. You could also learn about deals and events going on that time. Who knows? There might be something special that you didn't expect to see.
Some may argue that having being stuck in situations where you don't know the language and struggling to find your way is part of the fun. Some like the fact that it can give you stories that you can tell for the rest of your life. I counter that by asking how many of these type of stories are you going to tell people before they start thinking that you're inept? You have to tell those stories to yourself and realize that you aren't learning from your mistakes. That wasted time could have been spent enjoying something else.
Overall I think this pre-work is vital to any trip you may want to take. I know I've learned my lessons from the past to do this more often. It'll only help me travel more economically, and with greater appreciation.