THOUGH THE TRAVEL season may be winding down, it’s never too early to plan your next vacation. Remember that right now, as you slowly lower yourself into a routine again, is the ideal time to think of another trip. Why not try a far-flung country this time? The popular foreign destination you’ve always fantasized about is waiting. Bookings and reservations are probably almost filled. You should get to work setting expectations. It takes only a drum-tight itinerary, a list of secret crowd-sourced insider must-sees, and soaring high hopes to immerse a modern-day traveler like yourself in another country well before setting foot inside its borders.
To avoid letdowns and disappointment, however, commit to memory this detailed guide to ensure that your beloved foreign nation adheres to the parameters you’ve established for it.
Naturally, you’ll feel disoriented upon arrival. Dizziness, temporary memory loss, flickering ceiling lights and the sense that you’ve stepped into a motion picture are all part of a typical—and entertaining—syndrome. Resist the urge to ask the officer in a futuristic hat if he thinks you might be hallucinating. Instead, take a deep breath and remember this is the customs window. Your sense that you don’t belong will pass, provided all of your papers are in order and you don’t have any fruit on your person. The officer will be blinking at you with an expression that you can interpret as enchanted. Take a picture of him, note the outright absence of vowels in his name, and check the first item off your list.
Tally the ways your hotel matches the travel literature. Disillusionment is common here. Plus, the adaptors for the hilariously shaped electrical outlets won’t be delivered any time soon. Avail yourself of the amateur cable television offerings. Taste the evocative tap water. These things are all wrapped up in the rich but gory history of this country and relates to those celebrated looser contemporary sexual mores. This will be evident in the overly affectionate greeting from front desk personnel. You’ll need to set a strict boundary of intimacy, though anyone would be flattered and, naturally, a bit weak in the knees. “What a culture! I’m never leaving!” you should post on social networks via the wifi connection that, given widespread infrastructure challenges, will be sluggish.
Then you’ll be famished. You’ll have no trouble finding most of the popular restaurant chains that you enjoy back home. Some of the combo specials will be mixed and matched, but the logo and the sauce accompaniments will be a warmed comfort. Save room for dinner though. The next restaurant, whose reservation you’re best making a year out, will be waiting patiently. You’ll want to take advantage of the regional cuisine, though it may not synch with the menu on the restaurant’s website. Pay a visit to the kitchen and provide tips on how your favorite celebrity chef cooks the local specialty in its jus. In the end, the dish won’t be half bad. Tell the cook that he’s a winner just for participating. Then kick back and enjoy the beverages everyone around you is imbibing. Absorb the packed wallop. This speaks to the legendary substance abuse problems and the beguiling world-weariness.
Next you’ll be talking to people. It’s important to remember that the language is not used in the same way you were taught in grade school. You can help locals by reviewing irregular verb conjugation. You’ll notice that the past perfect of their native tongue often trips them up. The stream of responding curse words should be interpreted literally. None of this means, however, that the country’s former literary glory is a thing of the past. Visiting the childhood home of a bygone-era poet will prove the contrary. Quote passages aloud from his odes to those fallen in battle. The parallels to the nation’s recent desperate military attempts at recapturing past glory, not to mention recurring fiascoes in a global marketplace, will be obvious but are best left unstated.
For a more happening sense of the country, arrange to visit the locales where films were made. Marvel that the apocalyptic set pieces everywhere still appear intact. It’s amusing to tape cue markers on the spots where the CGI zombies swarmed. Don’t inquire as to the whereabouts of the mysterious international- star lead who embodies the culture’s enduring fairy tales and devotion to cultish religious practices. Put yourself into the scene instead. The best approach is arms open, mouth agape. Don’t ask a passer-by to take the picture for you, as he or she could be a scam artist or double agent. It is acceptable, nonetheless, to request an autograph.
Here your schedule of events can be particularly strewn with dreams dashed upon the gum-pressed pavement. You’ll be convinced that the heritage monument before you is a lesser replica, not the actual thing. This, too, is normal. Quickly find the elevator that zips you to the very top of any of this horrifically diminutive landmark. High above the fray, the view will reassure you. Rotate yourself 360 degrees if you can. The feeling will be difficult to describe but the purchase of a souvenir commemorative shot glass may help articulate the emotions. All of this is possible, the teeming city and the millions of stories that stretch beyond it to form this miraculous, irrepressible civilization. Think of the cherished moments you’ll be able to freely embellish to friends upon your return. Remember too, it’s good—in small allotments—to be flexible. This country carries the impossible burden of its reputation, after all. Its fortunes are always falling and always rising. Its self-sustaining myths will also be your own, forever existing somewhere just out of reach. Realize then and there that the highlight of your trip, the true pinnacle of this exotic experience, will always be the year-long anticipation before arriving and that nothing embodies the unattainable ideals of the place like the outsized expectations you’ve worked so hard to build. So plunk your dollars down in advance. You may never visit these United States again.