What started off as being kicked out of a coach bus into an unknown land ended as a day departing from the familiar and friendly.

On Feb. 26, 2015 my group and I were dropped off in the town of Dungarvan in Co. Waterford, Ireland. All we had in hand was an envelope with hundreds of euros, backpacks filled with clothes and toiletries, notebooks to jot down everything we were going to learn about the town and our individual abilities to try to survive in an unknown place for the next two days.

After several squeals of excitement and jumping up and down, we were off to start an adventure—one that would turn out to be one of the most exciting experiences I had during my study abroad semester in the Emerald Isle.

The quay of Dungarvan (Photo credit: Olivia McCash)
The quay of Dungarvan
(Photo credit: Olivia McCash)

Since I was 10-years-old, I have been traveling the world with my family, friends, school and teams. However, I have never been dropped off in an unknown place, told to fend for myself while learning about the people of the town, the history of the town and what makes the town…the town. Even with a passport full of stamps from over 20 countries, a plethora of photos, and memories to last a lifetime, there was not much I could take with me to prepare myself for this new adventure. This was unlike anything I had ever embarked on before. With that said, here are the top six travel hacks for navigating in an unknown place.

1. Rely on your travel companions and let them rely on you.

Travel Companions + 2 Irish Men
My travel group and the two Irish men we met during our Dungarvan adventure!

There is something so powerful about a group and the work that can be produced when it is
from the efforts of a few people. Having that in mind, when it comes to traveling it is a blessing to travel with a group! Although at times it can be frustrating trying to accommodate the needs and wants of each individual, a group brings a lot more to the table than an individual does. When navigating around a foreign place, rely on your strengths and try not to focus on your weaknesses. That being said, if you allow each member of the group to play on their strengths, then your weaknesses will either be worked on together as a group, or a member of the group may have your weakness as one of their strengths. In the end, when you realize what you are good at and not so good at, it can allow the traveling experience to be much smoother. For example, while on this trip I learned that I step up in conversational settings. I tend to initiate conversations with locals whether it is with people in a coffee shop or strangers on the streets asking for directions.

2. Try not to rely on your previous travel experiences when making present day travel decisions.

Let me start off by saying that this is hard. Super hard! While in Dungarvan I learned that I value and hold my experiences as ones that are useful in basing present day travel decisions on. With that said, when we were trying to figure out what our overnight accommodations were going to be, I wanted to stay in a hotel and thought that was the best option due to my previous travel experiences. I grew up with Marriott’s, Hilton’s and any hotel with a three star or higher rating. However, because of this trip I was able to learn how to value others’ opinions and step out of my previous experiences by learning to adapt to new ones—it is a wonderful feeling!

An Irish man telling us about escargot catching in Dungarvan. (Photo credit: Olivia McCash)
An Irish man telling us about escargot catching in Dungarvan. (Photo credit: Olivia McCash)

3. Don’t tell people how much money you are carrying with you!

Even after countless vacations to different countries and school trips across the globe, I cannot believe that I told a group of strangers how many euros we had in our backpacks. Bad move.Take it from me and never make this mistake! Whether you think you are a travel expert or you have never even left your hometown, be careful what you say when you open your mouth.

4. Be an intentional listener.

If you are asking for directions from a local or trying to pick an item off the menu that best represents the town’s local fishing market, listen to what the people are saying. Do not just listen for the answer you are expecting to hear, but listen fully to everything they have to say. You may end up discovering something fascinating about the town, the local people or even yourself. Intentional listening is important, impactful and meaningful when done right. So put your listening ears on and get ready to take in all that people have to say.

5. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

When traveling in a place you are familiar with, it can be easy to act like you know what you are doing. However, that is not the case when you are traveling in a foreign country or around a town in which you are unfamiliar. Although you do not want to stick out by looking like a tourist, don’t take yourself too seriously. Be willing to let your “tourist-guard” down and allow people to see that you don’t know it all. Trust me, by the clothes you wear, , the backpack on your back, the group you are walking with and the camera around your neck you scream tourist. Instead of trying to make people think you are from the area and know what you are doing, when you clearly are confused, let them help you.

My group and I tried the Full Traditional Irish Breakfast during our stay in at The Moorings in Dungarvan. (Photo credit: Olivia McCash)
The Full Traditional Irish Breakfast during our stay in at The Moorings in Dungarvan. (Photo credit: Olivia McCash)

6. Try new things. 

Whether it is food or going to a pub late at night to hang out with the locals, try new things. It is better to be outside of your comfort zone, constantly being stretched and learning new things, than to be stuck in a bubble and never learn anything new about yourself and the beautiful world you live in.

If you know these six travel hacks before your next escapade and then put them into practice while you are off exploring the world, you will be grand.

With a constant attitude and disposition of humble curiosity and these six tips to help you along the way, say goodbye to ethnocentric traveling and hello to engaging explorations.


(Video credit: Olivia McCash)

Feature image credit: Giovanna Albanese