Americans: We’re not all that good at relaxing and giving up control. We kinda suck at it.
It’s hard going from complete control at home over everything—the remote, exactly how many grains of Splenda the barista puts in our frappucino—to not even being able to ask for a cup of coffee in a foreign language. To go from being able to drive away in our cars whenever we want, to not being able to drive stick shift or on the left side of the road (or in some countries, weaving between cars on both sides).
The loss of control can either be terrifying of liberating. Some people can show up in another country and just blend in; some can enjoy the thrill of losing control like the thrill of skydiving. If this is you, congratulations. If this is not you, you know who you are. Now, know what you can do to avoid the stress:
Your itinerary is not a work schedule
You have no boss to impress here. Don’t be too ambitious, and it’s ok if you don’t see everything on your list. If you’re used to 8 hours of sleep at home because you turn into a kraken if you don’t get your beauty rest, chances are you’ll turn into one when you’re abroad as well. Don’t skip the sleep just to squeeze every touristy sightseeing spot into your day while you’re miserable the entire time. It may be that when you leave things off your itinerary, you leave an opening to experience the country according to its people, not according to Lonely Planet or Frommers. This is a vacation, not work.Bring a little bit of home with you
You don’t have to throw your old life away in order to experience something new. Keep part of your routine: morning coffee, morning jog, morning sex, morning paper, a clean room. If you can go without some of these things in order to experience something new, good for you. If you’re tentative, then keep the routines; they’ll give you a sense of familiarity in a country that’s unfamiliar.
Know your limitations
You’re not supposed to look smooth. You’re supposed to stand out. Your skin is different; your mannerisms are different; your language is different. It’s supposed to be a little awkward. The less you try to control, the less you’ll be disappointed. Imagine you’re sky diving. Scary? Yes. Loss of control? Completely. But that’s the thrill of it. That loss of control is why we get on the plane.
Recognize that a new experience isn’t necessarily all that different from old experiences. People everywhere still need to eat, sleep, pee, and get around in the day. Some things are different, but more things are the same.