Culture & Society

From Wordless Communication To Diverse Cultures, Here Are 3 Things I Learnt After Being To Over 50 Countries

Saania Saxena writes about her learnings from the people and places from her travels in more than 50 fifty countries across the world.

Photo: Getty Images

“Traveling. It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” 

– Ibn Battuta

As a passionate traveler, I have explored more than 50 countries. These travels have provided me with an education that I never attained during my snooze-worthy classroom education. Here are the three of the biggest things I learnt.

True communication doesn’t need words

Ah. Language barrier — the age old tussle for any foreign explorer. 

On my first solo trip to Istanbul, Turkey, it was no surprise I struggled. However, eventually, I learnt that the most important aspect of communication is in fact non verbal — the wink, the nod, the eye contact (emoji skills are universal, don’t even deny it) that together conspire to convey a message. 

So with little help of Google Translate and some bizarre facial expressions, I was able to navigate Turkey like a pro, even gobbling up a scrumptious breakfast of fruity Turkish delight, simit bread, velvety warm butter, and Turkish tea. (Hint: sometimes, a smile is enough for a Turkish bread man to figure out what you want!). 

Fun Fact: Turkish women could leave their husbands for coffee!

The beauty of having an open mind

Life is like a box of chocolates, right? Traveling is the same — unexpected and sometimes nuttier than a peanut factory. We’ve got to embrace the unexpected. When I was in Slovenia, my family and I had to stay at a student hostel for a day. But this wasn’t your everyday hostel. We were trapped in a capsule, and it turned out to be one of the coolest nights ever.

Despite the tiny ‘room’ and bathroom spaces as shared as a Netflix password, it was fun, cheap, and an experience packed with a punch of memories. 

Fun fact: The only living baby dragon lives in Slovenia!

Traveling teaches us to be spontaneous and enjoy experiences over things.

In Cuba, we visited its capital Havana (ha-ba-na). A town with such lovely people (and old fashioned cigars!). But away from the opulence of our home in Dubai, we had to ride on quaint, old, vintage cars from years and years ago. Here’s why: By 1919, Cuba was the largest Latin American importer of US cars and parts. However, in 1959, old friends became foes and there was an embargo placed on all US imports. This meant no modern American cars could be exported to the island anymore. So now, tourists (including us at the time) must ride on these.          

Photo: Getty Images

Didn’t come with A.C. Drove like a sloth. But was it cool? Off the charts.

We are all different and that’s okay, these differences teach us something

Zanzibar literally translates to Land of the Blacks. One serene evening, during low tide, I found myself in the company of some compassionate villagers who might as well have been from Mars—that’s how different our worlds were. However, they turned out to be navigators of the sea’s secrets, helping me find some of the most exotic sea creatures. It’s from them I learnt that sea urchins, those spiky, dicey looking balls, never mean us any harm. They are our friends! In fact, these ancient mariners are ocean cleaners who feed on algae and help keep marine habitats clean and thriving. (Just don't step on one—err, the spikes can sting). 

It's also interesting to learn about the kinds of things people from all around the world believe in. Ancient Egyptians, for instance, believed moldy bread was magic first-aid that heals infectious cuts and wounds!       

Photo: Saania Saxena

When I meet someone new, they are also meeting me. Travelling is a beautiful process of connecting and exchanging.

During my family trip to Denmark, upon chatting with natives, we stumbled upon the concept of Hygges (pronounced hyoo-ga). It loosely translates to “Cosyness of the soul”, a feeling of wellness attained from life’s little indulgences – things like leaving our evenings free to relax, having a family dinner, or staying indoors with a hot cup of cocoa. Walking down the streets of Copenhagen, I saw that every little café had blankets on the tables and fireplaces on the sides to keep us warm. Complete cozy vibes. But hey, why leave this only for the Danes? ​Let us all swipe right for this lifestyle, get our Hygge on! I’m in. Are you?

There is heaps more to talk about. The idyllic beaches of Cyprus, the (oddly delicious) blood pudding of Scotland, the pristine blue glaciers of Alaska, the vibrant colors of India, the glowing waters of Jamaica, even the mysterious Dracula’s Castle of Romania… but space is running out. There’s always a next time!

(Views expressed are personal)