It happens to the best of us, sometimes when we are least expecting it. This is a travellers must read.
When my sons were 12 and 13 I took them on a three week taste test of Asia. We only visited three countries; Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia but it was a great introduction for two kids who have grown up in Australia in suburbia.
I was somewhat affected by the sights, smells and sounds but put on a brave face for the boys. However my 13 year old was a mess just from the short trip from getting off the plane to getting to our hotel. He got out of the hotel transfer car white as a sheet and shaking.
The traffic in all its crazy glory and near misses was too much. And within an hour of that he was googling all the nearest hospitals, the location of the Australian Embassy, refusing to eat and coating himself with hand sanitiser.
I was really unsure of how to manage it, we had a couple of chats, but I didn’t want to make a big deal of it and make him feel bad or make things worse. Kids are resilient, and luckily by the next day he was crossing Ho Chi Minhs crazy streets like a local and eating street food with no concerns.
It’s not a sign that you are not meant to travel and explore the world if you suffer from culture shock, it happens to the best of us!
But what are the signs, and what can you do to ensure you still have fun on your trip?
So what causes culture shock?
- Language barriers
- Unfamiliar environment
- Illness such as travellers’ diarrhoea
- Being faced with unusual sights, sounds and smells
- Limited experience travelling or being exposed to other cultures
- Different living conditions
- Buying food
Of course, there are many things but those are the most common reasons travellers find they don’t feel like their usual self.
If you start to suffer from the following you may be suffering from culture shock:
- Start to think negative thoughts about the country, culture and people
- You drink and eat more than usual
- Your personality changes as you start to feel angry, frustrated and uncomfortable
- You don’t want to do the exciting things you had planned
- You start to feel anxiety, stress and confusion
So what can be done so you can enjoy the trip you’ve been planning endlessly?
- Do some research before you go – Learn some easy phrases and find out the local customs. This will help you communicate on a basic level and give you some understanding of the locals.
- Read as many reviews as possible about your location or accommodation so you know what to expect when you arrive.
- Explore the area and interact with the locals. You’ll find a couple of haunts that you are comfortable with and maybe make a few new friends who can help you explore further afield.
- Find some expats or other travellers. You can talk about home but most importantly they have probably felt the same way as you at some time and may be able to provide some insight into how they managed their feelings.
- Keep a journal. Let it all out!
- Keep in contact with friends and family back home. Just because you are travelling doesn’t mean you have to isolate yourself from your support system.
- Look after yourself. Make sure you are sleeping enough, don’t drink excessively and eat well.
- Do something familiar regularly. It may be as simple as finding a restaurant that has a menu like home, going to the gym or participating in a hobby you did before you started travelling.
Culture shock can sometimes hit unexpectedly, but by recognising the symptoms hopefully you can prevent it from ruining your travel plans.
If you feel you are experiencing severe anxiety, stress or depression you should seek advice from a medical professional.