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8 months ago now, my partner Mark and I left the UK, our jobs, families and friends to go travel the world for a year, maybe 2. Me, at 36 and Mark at 41, had never backpacked before and had always had relatively ‘normal’ holidays. We did independent travel usually but we’d never not had basic home comforts. And we were leaving our very cosy home and good life. It was nerve wracking to say the least. So, we started things a bit easy with Fiji and then onto New Zealand and Australia, where language would be little problem. We have since moved on to what could be perceived as more challenging travel in Asia – to Bali, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam so far. Nowhere has been tough or scary, as I may have thought, because even if people can’t understand each other, a smile and a friendly approach will always get you a long way.
A smile says please, it says thank you, it says ‘I know how you feel’, I guess ultimately it says I respect you enough to make the effort to smile and be friendly and THAT says a heck of a lot for any international relations.
I’ve accidentally put the theory to the test in the past and am always proved right. I am not a morning person. I take a while to wake up and before that I’m just not what you could be described as chatty. So, travelling in the morning I’m generally not at my most receptive. Our first trip on public bus in Thailand was to be 5 hours and we needed an ongoing ticket on a ferry for another couple of hours. We were up very early to get a ticket at a bus station – a government bus station in Thailand!?! Surely a recipe for disaster and chaos? I was nervous, it was early and I was getting a bus and ferry when in my old life, my budget would have allowed getting a flight to be there in just 2 hours. I prodded Mark to the ticket booth and predicting disaster stood with a face like thunder suspecting the woman behind the counter was going to put us on one of those notorious killer mini-buses I’d heard so much about. We got the ticket and I hissed under my teeth at Mark to make sure with her that it’s the right thing with the ferry included and she wasn’t just fobbing us off. He did so and she assured us abruptly that it was and ushered us away. We then luckily got on the correct bus as the stand she had told us to go to was the wrong one. Now, it’s not that I think she ushered us to the wrong stand on purpose but I realised afterwards that if we’d been more smiley and less defensive she probably would have been more relaxed and would have taken more time to direct us. Possibly not, but it couldn’t have hurt either way. It turned out that the journey was hassle free and straight-forward, but since then, whenever buying tickets, no matter of my mood I will stick a smile on my face and be attentive and everyone has always been super helpful, often going that little bit extra for us.
Of course, the added bonus of all this smiling is that by switching on my smile, probably a lot more than I would do at home, means that grumpiness gets hit on the head a lot quicker. You can’t be smiling at strangers for hours and keep turning around scowling in between. Well, you can, and I have, but you can’t keep it up for long!
So having found this international language of the smile, it has made me think that this probably isn’t just the secret to world travel it’ll work just as well in every day life at home as well, maybe there’s just too often not the incentive to make the effort. I have made a pact to increase my smile production by at least 50% – so let’s see what that gets me in feel good profits!