Dave Fox is an award-winning travel writer with a refreshing sense of humor and an incredibly large comfort zone. I just finished reading his highly entertaining Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad. Read the review by clicking here. Dave has been almost everywhere, and he has a unique way of writing about it. With an honest, straight forward writing style, he’ll make you laugh, and he’ll educate you in ways you never knew you should be educated.
Dave squeezed time out of his ridiculously busy schedule to answer some questions for us. Wow. Are we ever grateful he did!
Since you were a young (shy) child, your life has been full of foreign travel and temporary living situations where you were faced with completely unfamiliar surroundings, languages, people and food. What was that like?
I was a shy kid but was also very curious. I grew up in a suburb of Washington, DC with kids from all over the world. I think I related to foreign kids better than some, because at times I felt like a bit of an outsider myself.
At age 8, I spent a year in England. It was an odd sort of culture shock. In the US, I was teased for being the shortest kid in the class, In England, I stood out for my American accent more than my height, but the kids there had a fascination with the US. England was importing a lot of our TV shows and fast food, among other things. So I guess I felt different in a more socially accepted way there, but at the same time, I felt okay being different.
How did that shape you into the person you are today?
The simple answer is I love to travel, but it gets deeper than that. To me, traveling is a way of collecting stories – my own, and other people’s. We are all surrounded by foreign cultures, even when we’re at home. We just have to be willing to seek them out. Culture is so much more than nationality. There are sub-cultures based on age, religion, race, body type, economic level, political views, occupations, hobbies, and so many other things. When we can’t travel in faraway places, it can be fascinating to explore the foreign cultures that exist close to us. I’ll talk to anybody who is willing to tell me their story, and I’m comfortable around people who are different from me. In that sense, I’m often a foreigner, even when I’m at home. And I love it.
You have been to more than 40 countries on 5 continents! I’d imagine there were times when you missed the comforts of home and wished you had not ever left.
Missed the comforts of home? Yes. Wished I had never left? No way. Even in my worst travel moments – and if we travel enough, it’s inevitable we’re going to have a few of those – I’ve never regretted exploring the world, even when it has been uncomfortable. Staying home and hiding under the bed so nothing bad happens seems a lot more uncomfortable to me than jet lag or traveler’s diarrhea.
Have you any tips for our readers about decreasing the ill effects of jet lag?
If I had a cure for jet lag, I’d be very rich! Our bodies just aren’t designed to be flung halfway around the planet in half a day. So jet lag is an unavoidable side-effect of long-distance air travel. But there are things we can do to reduce its intensity.
The pineal is a gland in our brain that responds to light and tells us whether to be awake or asleep. After I cross a lot of time zones, I expose myself to as much natural light as possible during the daytime, and I avoid bright lights at night to help cue my brain that it’s time to be asleep. For the same reason, I never wear sunglasses during the daytime my first few days in a new time zone.
Eating meals at regular local hours and avoiding caffeine later in the day also signal our bodies to the time of day. And, I sometimes take Melatonin or a sleeping pill my first few nights to help me get a good night’s sleep. But I recommend checking with a doctor before you do that.
Now that we are on the subject, what are your top 5 tips to make travel easier? After all these years, you must have the travel thing down pat!
That’s a tricky question. I think on some level, travel isn’t supposed to be easy. When we venture outside our cultural comfort zones, we have better experiences if we challenge ourselves and accept that we’re in unfamiliar territory. You can make things easier by staying in a glitzy Western-style hotel in a foreign country, but then, what’s the point of going to a vastly different culture? You might as well stay home and watch the Travel Channel! That having been said, here are five tips for making travel emotionally easier.
- Always leave something to go back to, even if you are certain you will never return. A lot of people run around with check lists, trying to do all their guidebooks suggest. Foreign travel shouldn’t be a race. Go for quality experiences, not a high quantity of experiences. Allow “down time” for non-touristy things like wandering aimlessly through side streets, visiting a grocery store, or getting a haircut.
- Smile! Yeah… that sounds trite, but I tried an experiment a few years ago. As a tour guide, when I needed help – maybe at a hotel or at a restaurant – I’d make a point to smile and look calm at the group even if I wasn’t feeling that way. Other times, I forgot to do that. I noticed that the difference in people’s reactions, depending on how I approached them, was huge. If you are friendly, people respond in a friendly way. If you are stressed, it stresses them too and they are less open to you. So even if you think you’re having a crisis, appear calm and people will warm up to you and help out.
- Never forget YOU are the foreigner. If you are frustrated with the way things are in a foreign place, it’s likely because you just don’t understand the local ways. And not understanding them is fine; feeling confused is part of the fun. Eventually we figure things out, and that can be very rewarding. But whining that things should be different – when in fact, we are the ones who are different – isn’t just ignorant; it’s also a waste of time and energy. Allow yourself some confusion, and don’t be hard on yourself because you don’t understand the local rules. Don’t be hard on the local people either.
- Don’t let technology kidnap your trip. When I started backpacking in Europe in the 1980s, I gave people poste restante addresses where once a month, I could stop at a local post office and plow through a pile of letters, hoping one might be for me. Cell phones, e-mail and social networking can help us keep in touch, but some people get so frustrated when they can’t get a Wi-Fi signal or a good phone connection. In a faraway place, let yourself be far away. The world won’t crash down around you if you can’t read your e-mail for a day or two. Another thing that drives me crazy is people who travel with video cameras glued to their eyes. They’re losing out on the experience. When they get home, do they really sit through that many hours of footage? Take advantage of technology when it’s convenient, but don’t let it wilt your mood when it doesn’t cooperate, or drive a wedge between yourself and real life experiences.
- When you travel, things go wrong. That was the premise of my book, Getting Lost, and it’s been my number one travel rule for years. It doesn’t sound like uplifting advice, but when we’re out of our element, unfamiliar with the local “rules,” things are going to get wonky at times. When they do, try to find humor in the chaos, keep and you’ll probably have a great story to tell later.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our 4-part interview with Dave Fox, coming up next week. He’s got a lot of great info to share with us! In the mean time, check out Dave’s books and websites by clicking here.