A few weeks ago, when I arrived in Hanoi after 35 hours of traveling, I ate a snack and then slept for more than 12 hours. It was glorious. Once up and out, after figuring out the lay of the land, the first significant adventure was performing in an improv show with The Rotten Grapes – an improv troupe comprised of international players that were all strangers to me. However, despite suffering from jet lag and traveler’s stomach, and, being surrounded with a room full of new faces, the vibe in the room was strangely familiar. Starting off a big adventure halfway around the world with an improv event grounded me, and, helped me embrace the improv mindset moving forward. In doing so, I was reminded that I was a visitor in a culture different than my own and that a spirit of discovery would guide my journey, helping me to avoid being an a** hole. Unfortunately, not everyone starts off a travel experience with an improv event. In those cases, this five-step guide is a great reminder of how we can avoid the “a** hole” trap.
Me with The Rotten Grapes improv troupe
1. Put on Your Pants
It is hot in Cambodia – very hot. And, there are temples in Cambodia – lots of temples. Imagine visiting Angkor Wat — a Cambodian temple complex that is the largest religious monument in the world – and being very, very hot. Now think about wearing a tank top, short shorts or even worse – see through pants with a thong on underneath (yes, I actually saw this last one). If you do, you might be stopped and asked to purchase a scarf or a skirt because although you may be a tourist/backpacker/atheist/whatever, many others are visiting the temples for religious purposes. Bottom line? Just because Lonely Planet rated Angkor Wat as the world’s number one site, it was not created to be a tourist attraction.
Improv wisdom: It’s not about you – it’s about the community.
2. Say “See Ya!” to Selfie Sticks
Wearing my pants in Angkor Wat
Of course we take selfies to document our adventures. And, maybe we can do so without the sticks? One memory that is etched in my brain is the day I saw someone take a selfie – with a selfie stick – inside Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum with photos of people affected by agent orange in the background. No, no, no! Many parts of Southeast Asia are crowded. Many parts of Southeast Asia are poor. And, some parts of Southeast Asia have had very difficult histories due to war and ethnic cleansing and don’t need your selfie stick waving around showing disrespect. Instead show kindness and compassion.
Improv wisdom: Play while you travel – to the top of your intelligence.
3. Practice Being Pizza Free
Sometimes when you’ve been on the road for a while, you just want something that tastes like home. I get it! I craved cheese really bad about ten days into this trip. However, if you aren’t traveling for an extended period of time, why not try to embrace the local flavors for a more authentic experience? One evening, our group ended up in a tourist trap (think the Southeast Asia version of TGIF) on Pub Street in Siem Reap (bad). My husband ordered a pizza (really bad). Then the pizza turned out to be so horrible it was replaced with a second pizza – equally as horrible (really, really bad). Cambodia isn’t known for pizza. Save it for when you get home – it will taste even better then. Use the time in Southeast Asia to learn to use chopsticks while none of your friends are watching!
Improv wisdom: The scene begins when the first unusual thing happens – step away from your ordinary when dining.