Tips for independent travel: Prep and enjoy

By Sequoia Schmidt

Kiwi adventurer Sequoia Schmidt gives her tips for independent travel.
Kiwi-born adventurer Sequoia Schmidt.
Kiwi-born adventurer Sequoia Schmidt.

Attire is a large part of a culture. In order to avoid standing out in a crowd or be constantly spotted as a "tourist", understand and match the local dress. This can help on many levels. Locals can spot a westerner from a mile away, and although this may make them more accommodating because of your foreign status, it will also mean they'll expect you to absorb the "tourist price".

When travelling, I will always cover my shoulders, no matter what my destination may be.

Unless I am in a bikini on the beach, my shoulders are covered. This is a good habit to get into as it allows you to be respectful and respected by the locals in the majority of countries.

Attire becomes a more crucial issue when your destination is a predominantly Muslim country. When travelling through Pakistan in 2015, although I used an old scarf from my wardrobe as a headscarf, I still stood out like a sore thumb. Within hours of my arrival in Islamabad, my local contact took me to purchase more appropriate attire, which allowed me to blend in with the crowds.

It is also important to study the finer cultural details. Not all headscarves are the same.

The hijab worn in Saudi Arabia is different from the style worn in Pakistan, for example.

And dress standards will not always be the same in each part of the country; the cities are generally less conservative than the rural areas. Respecting the local beliefs and standards should factor into your choice of outfit.

Kiwi-born adventurer Sequoia Schmidt.
Kiwi-born adventurer Sequoia Schmidt.


Respect cultural customs
Cultural customs can come in many guises and vary greatly depending on your destination. One road rule for me is to never attempt to shake hands in a foreign country if I am not aware of its cultural customs. I learned this for myself while visiting my mother in a small indigenous village on the border of Borneo and Indonesia. I was welcomed by a tribal leader, and put my hand out to introduce myself. The surrounding villagers looked insulted and my mother informed me that for them, it was not polite to shake hands. This was a life lesson for me - to never assume my way of greeting is necessarily considered appropriate in another country.

Be observant
This spans from observing your surroundings to observing mannerisms and behaviours. While writing this article, I am currently in Russia and it is very normal here to be pushy. If there is a line to get into the restroom and a stall opens up, don't hesitate - not for one second - or someone else will unapologetically take your place. It is very common to push and cut in Russia, and it is not considered rude. If you do not observe these social cues, it may cause inconvenience for you - and for others - when you travel.

Observation of your location and surroundings is also an important part of travel. I like to always know where my local embassy is in case of need, and I also make sure to be aware of the people around me.

Learn some language basics
Language can be a potential barrier, especially in countries off the tourist trail. Each country I travel to, I like to learn the basics of the language; you may be surprised at how far simple words such as "hello", "thank you" and "please" will take you in a foreign country. The effort of learning the basics is a good demonstration that you are at least willing to make an effort.

When locals see that you have an interest in their language, you may be surprised how it can influence the way they accommodate your needs.

Be open-minded
It's not uncommon to have preconceived notions about a country or culture and your subconscious can work overtime when fear is engaged. This is not always a bad thing - when travelling to a location off the beaten path it's good to have a heightened awareness of your surroundings.

However, it is important to arrive at your desired destination with an open mind to allow you to truly appreciate the beauty of exploration.

One of my favorite parts of travelling is being open to understanding an alternate perspective. Arriving in Guangzhou in October, I noticed that a number of internet and social media sites, such as Facebook and Google, were banned. While in my hotel, I struck up a conversation with an Aussie man travelling through China on business. "They use the internet to control their people," he told me. Later that afternoon, I was having lunch with a local friend and asked her about the "government controlling information". "I don't believe this is control," she told me. "These companies [Facebook, Google] are American companies; we do not want American companies having our information. Our government is protecting us".

Whether China is controlling information or protecting its people is not for me to say.

However, it is important to get both perspectives to any subject of interest. We shouldn't simply jump to conclusions without being open to alternative perspectives.

This open-minded perspective can be applied to many situations, not just politics. Keep an open mind when trying new foods, meeting new people and learning alternative perspectives of a country's history.

Travelling with an open mind will allow you to grow your international knowledge, leaving you ready for unpredictable and life-changing experiences.

The final thing to remember is that while you are travelling, you are a representative of your country - do your best to leave a good impression.

Fact box
Sequoia Schmidt is the daughter of renowned mountain climber Marty Schmidt and sister of 25-year-old Denali Schmidt, who both died in an avalanche on K2 in 2013.

Born in the Hawke's Bay but now living in California, Schmidt has released an autobiographical book called Journey of the Heart: A Sojourn to K2. The book chronicles her trip to Pakistan, where she climbed to K2 Base Camp to retrace her late father and brother's footsteps and to recover their remains.

From April 11, Schmidt will be touring New Zealand by bicycle to promote the book.

Cycling the length of the country and doing four adventure stops along the way, she will be conducting book readings/Q&As/signings at libraries in nine cities, starting in Queenstown and ending in Auckland on May 4.
journeyofheartbook.com

- Spy.co.nz

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