Every journey brings with it an array of emotions. The stronger of these are the positives — the excitement, the sense of adventure, the feeling of seizing your own fate. Even as you churn ever forward, shoveling more coal into the engine, toward the goal you’ve planned your life to meet, well, naturally enough there are fears ever pecking at you, hoping to pull out the good bits. I have no doubt that my fears are not unlike those who set out on similar journeys before me, but that doesn’t make them any less nagging.
Fear of the unknown is undoubtedly the most common of all travel fears. Am I going to meet my fate by sleeping too close to a den of Iberian wolves? Will I be abducted by a vicious pack of non-existent female slavers looking to make me their man-servant for the rest of time? Well, the latter certainly seems unlikely, but you get the point. Every time you take even the tiniest step outside away from what’s comfortable, you necessarily risk something. Of course, without that risk, there is absolutely no hope of reward.
Offending the Locals
As a general rule, I hate going anywhere without being intimate with the native language; I find it disrespectful, and I have no interest in being that American travel who, in a lowland accident, demands of everyone he meets, “Hey, boy. Why don’t you speak ‘Merican?” Needless to say I won’t be “that guy.”
Now, this personal rule didn’t keep me from spending months at a time in Japan, but I remember full well the sting of making a hippopotamus-sized ass of myself during those days. The particular example of telling my host-parents that I thought nipple was delicious — it was really a simple mix up of the word for nipple with the word for a tubular fish cake — springs embarrassingly to mind.
Considering my Spanish proficiency, the chances of my not offending someone, or at the very least saying something painfully stupid, are virtually non-existent. Whether or not a slip of the tongue will land me in a cell, a newspaper, or on “Spain’s Most Wanted,” the fictitiously famous spin-off of “America’s Most Wanted,” remains to be seen.
Photo of Barcelona’s Basilicia Familia courtesy of Ivan McClellan Photography
Failing to Lose My Preconceived Notions
The very worst thing you can do when travelling to a new place is refusing to let everything you think you know about a place fall to the wayside. For example, I know that many areas in Spain take a siesta from their working hours in the mid-afternoon during the hotter parts of the year. In the States, we’re taught that European countries, namely Spain and France, take breaks because their socialist governments let them slack off. Carrying these preconceived notions, these stereotypes, with me is surely the best way to miss out on fully experiencing and understanding everything I find along the road from Madrid to Barcelona as it truly is.
I feel my departure date coming fast now. The pack is starting to feel a little lighter, the money is coming together, and I’m feeling all the support I need for a safe, memorable trip. These natural fears, perhaps only the worries of a tiny traveler in an infinite world, need only the smell of the Mediterranean and the taste of paella to abate.