It's easy to benchmark everything against what you consider normal in your hometown. You've spent years compiling a compendium of normal. You know what you like. You know what you love. You know how everything works.
But, wait. This is called the comfort zone. It's a complacent little bubble that disregards the splendid variety of our marvellous planet. It's a home for routine and complacency. Do you hear that? It's screaming to be burst wide open. Travelling will burst that bubble. Never mind being Tango'd, the slap you get from travel might just leave a tingle that stays with you forever. You open yourself up to new sensory pleasures, spontaneity, and an expanded idea of what normal is.
Are you guilty of trying to normalise your travel experience? Hungry and exasperated, have you ever asked: "Why isn't there anything normal on the menu?" Or have you ever been frustrated that the weekly boat has been cancelled, effing and blinding that transport actually runs dependent on the tide? Or perhaps you're so used to ordering a skinny white latte with hazelnut whipped cream that when you find out they only have coffee: black, you spontaneously combust?
I call these people normal seekers. They lament the lack of choice when it comes to their preferred toothpaste (how can there be only one brand to choose from?!); they are outraged by the lack of seats on an oversold bus; they despise being short changed in the local currency after paying with US dollars; they wonder why the locals don't speak English. But normal seekers miss the point: we live on a planet with an incredible and diverse collection of peoples who live differently, and we travel to explore that, to immerse ourselves in it. To burst the bubble.
The beauty of travel is that it knocks us off our homogenised normal perch. Once we land on terra firma, our body and mind can be open to new languages, foods, arts and cultures; our experiences can begin penetrate multiple layers of our previously one dimensional sensory capacity; and we can receive the education that we never had at school (about how the world actually functions). But if we benchmark everything against our own narrow idea of what is normal, we miss all of that.
Can't find anything normal by way of street food in Mexico? Not a menu in site? Try something new. Anything. Try that thing you can't even pronounce. What a great travel story that will make; that time you ate fried grasshopper tacos and didn't even realise it. I challenge my gluten, wheat, yeast, dairy, meat -free diet when in developing countries, and am often surprised that the purity of the foods there means I can expand my palette again. Being a lifestyle vegetarian for digestive purposes only, this is a noteworthy coup.
That cancelled once-a-week-boat departure to San Juan de Nicaragua screws up your entire trip because you're flying home in two weeks? Sit back and enjoy the serendipitous events that occur as a result. You get to feel rather than think: what do I really want to do? You actually have the space to make it up as you go along. At the very least this could this portend a crazy night of ron y fresca, laughing with new friends over the idiosyncrasies of travel. An unanticipated change in your itinerary means only one thing: spontaneity. It's time to go with the flow.
You can't find a Starbucks anywhere in Dalaman, Turkey? Oh my, this means you might, for the first time ever, taste real coffee. Without all that sugar, whipped cream, and milk, your taste buds come alive for the first time. Rich, dark, silky, lustrous Turkish coffee, aswirl in your mouth. A taste of Turkish heritage, history and culture in a cup. Step into their skin for a moment, enjoy what they have tasted for centuries, and you might not miss that whipped cream after all.
There's only one brand of toothpaste, because, really, do you need any more than that? Check the label; all the same ingredients. Amazing tip: baking soda is a great alternative for clean, white teeth that sparkle, and can be bought everywhere.
The bus has been oversold because they only have four old yellow school buses traveling back and forth between points A and B and this is their only form of transport; the proceeds go towards funding the local school because they don't receive money from the government. So if you're wedged in between a goat and someone's armpit for four hours, ponder this; for them this is a way of life, their version of the daily commute.
It's taken me a while to figure out why you're short changed in the local currency, but it's a great reason to actually pay in the local currency. Dollars are awesome, but can awaken the green eyed monster in many people whose family lives on fifty pesos a day. You might be flashing an ipad or an iphone so they figure you can afford it. Some people simply don't know the currency exchange rate, yet alone can they do the math in their head when education is not a priority. In Cuba when you pay in US$ you are subject to a 10% commission tax. That's just the way it is.
And they don't speak English simply because they were born in [insert country].
Are you ready for the slapping of a lifetime? Hit the road and get ready to have the normal knocked out of you. You'll see brushing your teeth, commuting and your daily coffee hit in a whole new way.