Being Mexican-American, I've traveled to Mexico throughout my life, but the first time I boarded a plane to get to another country, its final destination was Turkey. A place I never thought I'd visit, my arrival in Istanbul brought on mixed emotions: amazement, confusion, and partial fear. I was on a traveler's high the first 24 hours and then I realized that I didn't know as much as I should've.... Here are some tips that may help you avoid a few of my mistakes!
LEARN THE BASICS
Whether its a bit of the language (please, hello, thank you, help) or researching what is deemed offensive or inappropriate behavior, learning a few of these things may help you out a lot in the long run. I don't enjoy fish, so when my group lunch was serving it, I thought I had politely told the server that I didn't want it but it was seen as extremely offensive behavior and disrespectful towards the chef's ability to cook.
Don't bring Crap
Before I left my house, I knew I had more clothes than I needed, but I couldn't leave anything behind because I kept on justifying every questionable piece by asking "what if x weather condition started," or "maybe we'll do y activity," or "there might be z occasion." Did I need to bring four formal dresses? No. The three pairs of sandals to color coordinate specific outfits? Negatory. The oversized hat that wouldn't fit inside my suitcase? Nope (especially considering that I lost that dang thing in the first week). Bringing all those unnecessary items only made it difficult to carry my own luggage, impossible to buy souvenirs, and breaking my suitcase when I didn't care that it was too heavy and overstuffed.
Don't buy crap
Please, whatever you do, do not buy tacky souvenirs that will break along the way, or that have no purpose whatsoever. Oh, the money I've spent on buying cheap shot glasses that only end up breaking in transport. Try to collect something that can define you (i.e. if you're musical, purchase small instruments or buy local albums/music), or things you'd be proud to display (luckily, I have learned to buy more decorative pieces). I just framed this ebru painting today and it adds so much flair to my boring wall (if you don't know how this process happens, check out this youtube video).
It's All Gonna Be Okay
If you ever get lost, repeat to yourself, "I will find my way back, or I'll find someone that can help me get back." Sometimes we get carried away with our navigational talents and guide our friends in the completely wrong direction for a mile or two (sorry, Faythe and Brianna!), or you're like my friends and follow someone who thinks they "got it" when they definitely don't! Don't fret, it'll all be okay and you'll probably end up finding something cool that you didn't even know existed (or maybe not, sorry again girls). Regardless, don't stress out! Just find a private place to take a look at your map - or hand it over to someone else in your group.
Smile, but not too much
Maybe you're so happy to be traveling you can't help but smile and feel completely happy. In some places, smiling can be considered as flirting. Maybe you're in one of those countries. To some people, that may mean you want to be given roses and added on Facebook. Maybe you've been given a rose and requested on Facebook. Be nice, respectful, and friendly, but make sure you draw your lines very boldly, people! Things get lost in translation, especially if he's using Google translate, so make sure to be clear and express your interest on a solely platonic level.
Hopefully you won't find yourself in any of the above predicaments but if you do, just make sure to write them all for the world to laugh at and reminisce on them! Did you travel somewhere and wished you had known something beforehand? Please share it in a comment!