Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Home Front: Foreign cities

I'm very well traveled, I grew up being a lifestyle expatriate, having lived in 8 different cities across the world before I was 18, and visited many more on holidays. These days I travel mostly for work, and on occasion find myself in cities not-my-own.

For some people this might actually be a daunting task, for me it was how I grew up. Strange cities bring several challenges to first timers and seasoned travelers alike. I tend to go everywhere on foot when I am staying in the CBD Street signage and road rules is different from city to city, and can be jarring when you are trying to navigate, but with a decent street map that almost every hotel offers. One way to help get your bearings is to pinpoint tall well signed buildings and use them as landmarks. Something with 4 story high logos are usually works well.

Something that new cities present a traveler with is not knowing which neighborhoods are good, which ones are bad, where is fun and where is either trouble or boring. Simply having good situational awareness (something that is good to develop no matter where you are) and being able to present a confident demeanor has always gone a long way for me, and I've never had any trouble. Being bright and cheerful, polite and having an accent always helps too. It's in fact something that I have played up at times. I don't have a proper Aussie accent, by a long shot. Too many years in North America, an American parent and "the media" have graced me with what I call a "Generican" accent, even with 6 years of English schools, in the UK and the UAE, and living in Australia for the last 20 years. I can, however, "put it on" or at least say a few things to put me more in the "Aussie" bracket. In the event that that doesn't cut it and someone twigs that I'm "Gererican", and might want to cause trouble based on some poor foreign policy decisions in the last 30 years, my fall back plan is "I lived in Canada, eh!" cheating, perhaps, but true. Being a dual citizen has many advantages, but not being a target has more.

Knowing a bit about where you are going is key however. The geography, seasonal weather, local events and current affairs, and customs are all things that can be researched before arriving, and can for the most part be planned for. Knowing what you'll need to wear, both for weather and to fit in, or at least not ruffle any feathers is an easy challenge to meet. It's March, and cool and wet here in Wellington where I am right now. It was hot and damp when I left Melbourne. I've packed layers and it's working just fine for me. Wellington isn't prone to earthquake, but no one thought Christchurch was going to be hit as hard as it was last year either. It's not a high risk, but one I made sure I was aware of, so as not to be caught unawares.

If in doubt, I use some wilderness observation skills to make sure I have a good time. Go where the locals go, do what the locals do, eat were the locals eat. Getting a local guide can help a lot, but they're best when you know them already, even if it's a friend of a friend. Getting in touch with your network when going away, seeing who knows who and what there is there to see, do, eat, or on the otherside, what to avoid.

I love the chance to visit foreign cities, to see the sites and add those experiences to my repertoire.

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