Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The anticipation of travel revisited

Today I woke up and realised that in exactly eight weeks I'll be taking off on my next big trip for work to South Africa and Ethiopia. So I thought it was the perfect time to revisit a post I wrote in 2008 about the anticipation of travel and update it taking into account my new trip.

Alain de Botton might argue otherwise, but I really believe that half the fun of travel is the anticipation. Here’s how I’m try to savour the excitement in the build up to a big trip.

Buy a calendar
The first thing to do is to get a calendar and circle your departure date. I’m not advocating that you start wishing your life away in a great countdown to take-off, but it is fun to day dream and of course very useful to be aware of how many days or weeks you have until you leave – especially if you are like me and have a million projects you need to finish before you leave!

Make a list
I love lists. There is nothing more self-satisfying than crossing something off a “to do” list. At the moment I’m working with one long running list (though for every item I cross off, I seem to be adding another two or three “to dos”!). A more practical solution might be to have several lists – the all important “must do” list (organise passport, visas, tickets), a “things to buy” list (new camera, backpack), a “packing” list (T-shirts, underwear), a “things to organise at home before you leave” list (redirect mail, cancel subscriptions) … Just think; I could make a list of “to do” lists!

Buy a guidebook
OK, so the guidebook author is suggesting that you buy a guidebook! Now I’d never recommend that you consider your guidebook 'the Bible', but they do offer heaps of good practical information such as when to go and how to get around which helps make travelling easy as well as providing you with a handy and easily digestible snapshot of the country’s culture, history and politics. I’ve started with the Bradt guide I am updating and plan to buy others from competing guidebook companies (it always pays to know what the opposition is up to!). And for something completely different, I’ve also order the Royal Geographic Society’s updated 1889 guide Handy Hints to Lady Travellersby Lillias Campbell Davidson which I thought might provide me with some insights (and entertainment) on how my Victorian counterparts travelled around Africa.

Learn the lingo
If you are travelling to a country where you don’t know the language, it always pays to know some basic greetings before you arrive. You never know, you might even be able to put a smile on the face of a surly immigration official with a simple “hello” greeting in the local language. Although there are some 70 ethnic languages spoken in Ethiopia, fortunately for me English is the most widely spoken European language. That said, I am still trying to wrap my tongue around Amharigna (also written as Amarigna), which is the official language of Ethiopia.

Get cultural
A great way to absorb yourself in the culture of the country you are about to visit is to rent a video about your destination or read a book set where you are visiting. Not only will you get a better feel for the country, but if you try to locate and visit the places mentioned in the book or movie once you’ve arrived also makes for a more unusual and unique way to experience the country. I’ve ordered Beneath the Lion’s Gaze a novel by Ethiopian born-New York-based writer Maaza Mengiste. A friend also just droped off a copy of The Mountains of Rasselas: An Ethiopian Adventure by Thomas Pakenham.

Read the local papers
The best way to get acquainted with local politics and events is to start reading the local newspaper. Fortunately, with the rise of the Internet this is very easy to. A quick look on line and you’ll discover that almost every newspaper around the world has their own website – even those in Ethiopia such as Ethiopian News and the Ethiopia Daily.

Do you agree that half the fun of travel is the anticipation of travel? If so, how do you savour the excitement in the lead up to an overseas trip or holiday?