I have half a week left in the Middle East, I wanted to distill what I’ve learned about having fun while traveling. Here are my three biggies:
- Understand that being independent is about finding your own people to be dependent on. Whether it is a taxi driver giving you bargaining advice or a friend’s family taking you to lunch, being an independent traveler almost never means getting places without help; it means choosing what help you need, and who to take it from. Maybe there is a way to travel through the Middle East without relying on anyone, but it seems like a waste of a trip.
- Every time you see something that seems out-of-this-world weird (touts in the souq trying to get you to buy imitation Omani hats), try to think of something similar from home (touts in China Town trying to get you to buy imitation Chinese hats). There is a strong temptation when abroad to put everything you see into the “other” box. I think this lessens the impact of traveling. One of the best parts of being in the Middle East this semester for me is the chance to compare my experience of the world with other peoples’. Trying to see nothing as strange (or everything) makes this easier.
- Learn enough about the country to avoid being joshed* by the people you meet. I’m purposefully not saying “scammed” because a scam implies one party got something and the other got nothing. In the scams I’ve been caught in–paying too much for a trinket, being driven the long-way, being directed to one shop rather than another–I have always learned something valuable. Most of the people I know who have tried to scam me are really teasing me. They’re trying to see if I’m paying attention, if I have enough confidence to tease them back. Learn a little of the language, check the guide books for cab prices, keep a keen eye out for new antiques, and enjoy the ride.
*This last experience happened Saturday in Oman, when a taxi driver wanted to increase my fair by 500 baises when I told him I was going to the Mutrah museum and not the souq. He was trying to convince me that it was another 10 kilometers, and the discount I had negotiated shouldn’t could anymore.
I smiled right back and, with my map of the city and a firm grasp (from my Lonely Planet guide and the advice of the clerk in my hotel) of how much that ride as worth (3.5 Omani Riyal), and I told him it was poor form to raise prices on a lady once she was in a cab. We spent the entire ride laughing about me getting overcharged for other things, and how much another driver had quoted me the day before. It was light-hearted, and though he was sort of scamming me, he wasn’t committed to it. He ended up offering to pick me up later if I needed (I didn’t, since I was meeting friends).
Don’t get defensive when you think you’re being scammed; get funny.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”–Anais Nin