The Value of Protips

Occasionally, I get in over my head. I like to try new things, so sometimes I apply, sign up, and volunteer for things I am not necessarily prepared for. In some cases I can figure out what to do and adapt, but in others my lack of experience causes problems.

On one adventure, my youth group went to a ropes course for our fall team-building retreat. One activity involved climbing up a ladder and walking across a cable about 30 feet in the air while being belayed by the rest of the group. The cable was about 35 feet long with ropes above to hold on to for balance. I watched a few friends cross and decided to go myself. When I got to the top, I froze. I felt dizzy. 30 feet was much higher from above. Every falling scene from every movie and nightmare I’d ever watched rushed through my head. My hands were sweaty and I could feel my pulse speeding up. I didn’t know what to do. There was no way I could cross the cable, even with my friends on the ground preventing me from falling. And then the person who had gone first yelled up that I should grab the rope above my head and use it to guide myself across. Another person called out encouragement. Someone else suggested turning my feet so that more of my shoe would be on the cable. I took a tentative step, and then another. In the middle, I lost my balance and slipped off the cable, but my team talked me through how to climb back up and finish the activity. I survived, but I would not have been able to finish without help from those who had already gone and could advise me.

When I don’t know how to handle a situation, I’ve learned to ask someone who does. When I found out that I would be going to Brazil, I realized that I knew very little about the country or travel in general. I was stressing about everything: travel, forms, having to learn a new language, and being far from my family for the first time. So I started asking for tips. A Brazilian friend agreed to help me with my Portuguese: “No, you say ‘Obrigada’ because you’re a girl.” An older friend with travel experience gave me advice about how to handle a crisis: “If your stress relief is yoga and music, make sure you have access to yoga and music.” I got advice on everything from staying safe in cities and making sure I drink clean water to whether or not to take a malaria drug, and if so, which I should choose. My experts helped me climb back up and keep going.

My top ten protips so far:

1. Bring some powdered sports drink packets. Most travelers get sick at some point. Drinking Gatorade or something similar helps keep a person hydrated so they can recover faster. The powdered form is light and easy to travel with.

2. Keep sanitizer and/or wipes with you. You never know what you’re going to encounter. Killing germs can keep you from getting sick.

3. Know who your people are. This includes all your points of contact, your host family, your friends, and the members of your group. Who will look out for you? Who can show you around? Who can you ask about things you don’t understand?

4. Be aware of your surroundings. Knowing what is happening around you can help keep you safe. Learn what behaviors are suspicious and watch for them.

5. Know your stress habits. Everybody has bad days sometimes. Know how you handle them and make sure you have whatever you need. Mental health can be just as important as physical health.

6. Do your research. Know what sort of electricity there is and make sure that you have an adapter for your plugs. Know the exchange rate of the currency.

7. Think about how to communicate. Beyond language difference, how are you planning to talk to others? Texting? The internet? Calls? Skype? Figure out how to talk to people in-country and at home.

8. Learn to use the public transit system. The more you can get around on your own, the more you can explore. Being able to use the subway/bus/train makes you more independent.

9. Learn about the culture and customs of your destination. What is considered offensive? What is complimentary? How should you greet new people? Learning about customs and culture will make social interactions go more smoothly.

10. The social commodity changes based on location. At home, social status might be defined by symbols like iPhones and brand names, but when a group of people goes to a new country, the social commodity tends to be integration. Who can speak the language best? Who knows what to ask for at a restaurant? Those people can communicate better, so they have more social capital. Knowing how your interactions will change can help you adjust.

Sometimes it helps to have an expert talk you through things. Thanks, mentors.

Have a protip? Leave it for me in the comments!