You wake up in Brasilia, Okinawa, Chennai, Xi’an, Amman, or Chiang Mai. Who knows what time zone you are in, nor does it matter. So long as the sun is finally up, it is time for breakfast. Freshly showered you hit the streets in search of any semblance of coffee and something to fill your belly. A friendly local market? Sure, let’s grub. Noodles at a mom-n-pop shop? Perfect. There is no Starbucks around, so the only caffeine you might find is going to be from a warm can of coke. That’ll do.
Ever traveled outside of your home country? There’s a whole world out there, and people are people wherever you go. The exciting part is culture and food change drastically from country to country. Heck, even city to city.
I love this life.
A little flexibility goes a long way. Abandon your must-have mentality and instead adopt a “sure, that’s possible, I’ll do my best” mindset, and all will work out in the end.
With tiny portions of snacks always stashed away just in case you end up rushing off to work or get stuck at the airport for 6 hours in the dead of night, and all is right in the world. From the drummer’s perspective, your bag always has the backup essentials. Gaffer tape, IEMs, T-key, brushes, sticks, and your trusty iPad. Of course, you’ll need a charger, a small voltage adapter, and a compact backup foot pedal too. (Love my Jojo pedal.)
It’s an easy life for those well versed in independent travel. The rules are simple: explore, watch your surroundings, blend in, and don’t be the silly loud foreigner. Soak it all in, because you never know what’s next. All I’d recommend is to watch your belongings and be on time. NEVER be late, it’s rude no matter what culture you are in. People’s time, including yours, matters where ever you go. Plus you don’t want to end up stranded anywhere. A bit of investigative prep will alleviate most issues.
The rules of engagement?
Simple. Observe and follow the local customs. Eating habits differ, greetings have nuance, and the flow of traffic could be opposite of what you are used to. Being aware of these and adjusting accordingly should be common sense, not to mention polite. Be a respectful guest and represent your culture with dignity.
There are a few certainties to this style of travel and work. First, as in life, things will always change, especially last minute. Secondly, if you choose to let the changes frustrate you, you will not have the best experience. Instead, I find it best to let setbacks roll off your shoulder. You’ll pick up on the pace of the environment eventually, so just let it come naturally as you observe and blend in.
Now there are of course inconveniences that will rear their head along your journey. Shower not working? Just wash up in the sink. Starving and there’s no food around? Always have backup snacks. Flight canceled/delayed? Oh well, that’s the way it goes. Dive back into your book, sudoku, people watch or enjoy the tv show you’ve pre-downloaded. I’ve had to sleep in many an airport for a multitude of reasons. They are kinda like travel sanctuaries. Just make sure you have a light jacket to keep yourself warm, even in the summer. (btw – helps on planes too!) Mainly, regardless of the setbacks, just be adaptable and patient.
Some countries have a steep curve to earn your stripes to delve deeper and take part in the cultural underbelly. I’m talking about navigating air quality, elevation, bacteria in the water, different spices in the food, and the threat of kidnapping (yikes!). Do your homework and be prepared. There is nothing to fear, just be street smart.
Stomach distress? Pepto chewables. Dirty water? Avoid ice, brush your teeth with bottled water, keep your mouth closed in the shower, and steer clear of raw veggies and salads. The threat of kidnapping is no joke, stranger danger applies. Never take a solicited taxi, let your guard down, or wear flashy jewelry or colors when en route. Basically don’t be a target, and a stern, “no thanks, I’m good”, goes a long way if approached and your spidey-sense starts to tingle.
Food-wise, there are some staples that can become your comfort food… and I’m not referring to gluttonous fast food. Meat on a stick, shish kebab, or yakitori, as it’s referred to in Japan, exists in some form just about everywhere. Delicious and rich in protein. Samosa, commonly known as meat pies, have been embraced by every culture and are readily available. Asia, in particular, has done miraculous things with these, such as steamed buns with a variety of meat and veggies, or pan-seared versions like gyoza. And while in Asia, let’s not forget about the noodles. In terms of comfort food, noodles are the western equivalent of a sandwich. Cheap, readily available, and oh so amazing. This is Eastern soul food. Forget what you think you know about food, and let your travels open your culinary palette wide open. A bowl of silkworms? Sure, I’ll try some of those! Fresh frogs straight from the tank? Okay, let’s do it! It’s not all as exotic as you might imagine, most dishes have been passed down from generation to generation. The best tend to be the dishes that were once considered peasant food and were perfected through the centuries. South America in particular has done this exceptionally well.
The difference in food and culture can be astounding, pending your country of orientation. I’m American, so my point of reference is Jersey subs, Florida’s hodgepodge food culture, including Cuban and Puerto Rican cuisine, and California’s amazing west coast mix, including Americanized-Mexican food.
As a point of historical reference, America is only 246 years young, as opposed to the centuries of history you’ll experience in China or Japan. For China, we’re roughly talking a whopping 3,260 years of culture thriving before America even existed. That’s 14 times the length of the U.S.! Now THAT is a lot of history and culture to explore. How about India weighing in with the first inhabitants settling 9000 years ago? They have 121 languages and 270 mother tongues! Talk about steeped in history. For the travelers of the world, every country offers a seemingly endless amount of invention and reinvention.
I can’t recommend traveling at least once outside your bubble during your life enough. The further, the better! Seems to me that each day immersed in another culture is the rough equivalent of 1 week of life experience. You will grow SO fast, and your worldview instantly opens up. At least, that was my experience. The biggest benefit is experiencing the warmth of people around the world. Believe me, there is more common ground than you might imagine. Everyone has a morning and nighttime ritual. Everyone needs to break bread. Everyone has problems they need to address and overcome. Experiencing this firsthand always seemed to minimize the volume of any plight I might have had through simple connectivity.
Travel will drastically shift your perspective. Escape the mainstream media perspective and hokey travel show narrative to write your own. There’s something intangible out there. Why not reap the benefits of seeing it firsthand?
I traveled the globe with the support of my sponsors from 2008-2019. 11 years of 2-3 week spurts in places like Thailand, UAE, GCC, South America, Taiwan, Russia, Philippines, Ukraine, Malaysia, China, and through all the prefectures in Japan. Granted, my travel was all work-related. I have turn-and-burned just about every major city in the world. Fly in, hotel, sound check, lunch, show, local dinner, hotel, up early, and repeat. For over a decade I did this in 2-3 week spurts every few months. A few passports and 50+ countries later and I can attest, travel is good for the soul. If for nothing else, it is therapeutic and refreshingly eye-opening.
On the road, I’ve faced everything from various forms of adversity to the most spiritually moving experiences of my life; from the most delicious home-cooked meals with the warmest friends to being sprayed with machine gun fire; from 5* business class travel to fever dreams from contracting malaria. And it all came from one simple word, “yes”.
Want to travel? Yes.
Have a passport? Yes.
How about a tour from August through October? Yes!
In the coming months, I’ll share some of my favorite stories from those crazy adventures.
Adventure is out there!