Consortium for International Education & Multicultural Studies
Planning for the Unpredictable
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that travel plans are honey slowing dripping down toward your lips - sweet anticipation. Everything you do in preparing, up until the moment of departure, should be like appetizers before a feast. Savor this preparation time, however little there might be.
Travel planning requires you to consider how you live now versus your needs when you're far away from your comfortable home -- and this will require some research on your part.
Visit your local library and do some reading on your destination. Check out a guide book or two for ideas on things to do during your free time. Write the government tourist office of the country you'll be visiting - or check with the travel editor of your local paper regarding recent articles. Your local university and their library should be able to help you with a bibliography.
If you will be studying a foreign language, brush up on your language skills. The more you know before you go, the faster you will learn abroad. Not to mention that you'll enjoy your trip more and be able to relate to the culture more effectively when you're not in class. Buy, borrow, or rent a language tape or video. Listen to foreign language broadcasts on radio or TV. Do some volunteer work with a local group who may be assisting foreign nationals from the country you'll be visiting.
Collect the names, addresses, and phone numbers of friends or friends of friends who may live near or where you're going. Having even one contact in a foreign country makes a difference. This is the best way to experience the life of the foreign country you're visiting. It is also a good safeguard should you need assistance. You can write a note in advance of your trip, introducing yourself. Or, ask your friends to do so, and you can drop them a line when you're in the vicinity. The people you visit may then send you to their friends, until you have a network of acquaintances around the country.
Get a map of the country, region, and city (if available) you'll be visiting. Map stores, libraries, and government tourist offices should be a good starting point for finding out what's available. If you're a member of AAA, you should tap into the resources offered to you. You may have to wait till you get to your destination to get an updated city map, but in the meantime you should be able to photocopy local maps at your local library.
Culturegrams, published by Brigham Young University's David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, are another resource. Check with your local library, or call Brigham Young University at (801) 378-6528.
Once you're on the road, you are in touch with the "travel circuit." Plugging into this network allows you immediate access to a wealth of up-to-the-moment information. Keep you eyes open for places to exchange information. Waiters, street vendors, and taxi drivers are valuable resources for the traveler. Swap reading material or travel guides with others instead of tossing them out.
Always travel with an open mind and a kind heart. Your experiences will be ones that will last you a lifetime. Be prepared to enjoy them.
For many, a vacation is a much needed getaway. An intercultural learning trip is an enriching part of your life experience. The difference is simply a matter of planning and being intellectually prepared.