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Feeling Embarrassed Is Part of Traveling

Years ago during a visit to Singapore, I walked straight into a closed glass door while attempting to exit a coffee shop.

When I say walked into, I mean I crashed into it. It was not subtle. I didn’t see it coming at all, until the moment of collision!

The whole situation was incredibly awkward and embarrassing. A crowded room full of strangers stopped whatever they were doing and looked up. I could hear the conversations that started a few moments later. “Is that guy okay??” … “Oh my God, did that just happen?” etc. etc.

It wasn’t fun, but what can you do? (Reader: you can lower your head in shame and then walk out as discreetly as possible. Or at least, that’s what I did.)

I could walk into a glass door anywhere, so perhaps that’s not the best anecdote for the lesson. Let’s try another.

I’ve been posting on Threads a lot this week, and when I mentioned I was writing this post, I got a reply from an international teacher living in Romania:

The other day at a rest stop in Serbia I ate a salad with my hands cause I was too shy or hesitant in that moment to ask for a fork. Maybe in Serbia they eat salad with their hands? 😅 Lady came over half way through and said in English “what are you doing?? Why didn’t you ask for a fork?!”

Isn’t that great! I loved this example because this has been me many times all over the world. If I was in that situation, I’d do exactly the same thing, likely experience the same result, and then have a good story to tell afterwards.

And this is the key: moments like these are a KEY PART of the traveling experience. As embarrassing as they may seem at the time, they’re almost always worth it.

The Joy of Awkwardness

The interesting thing is that the awkwardness is kind of the point. If you don’t ever find yourself in disorienting, even uncomfortable situations, you’re missing out!

One thing I used to do a lot was go out for a run in new cities without my phone or a map. The obvious challenge was: try to get back unassisted.

Sure, if you run only in one direction and then turn back, it’s usually easy enough.

Most of the time, that’s not how it works, though. Even if you go mostly in one direction, there are usually some twists and turns and forks in the road over the course of a few miles. So each time you encounter a turn, you think, okay, there’s the big tree … there’s the cell phone tower … there’s the beer billboard and so on.

But you might forget! Or you might get it wrong. And that’s the fun of it: having to find your way back in an unfamiliar place, potentially needing to ask for help from strangers.

Like I said, I used to do this all the time. Now I do it much less, because I’m mostly going to places I’ve been before, and I usually have my phone with me. But in Croatia a couple weeks ago, I went out and got purposefully lost, running five miles without having any real point of reference.

I have to admit I felt a little scared on the way back. Not really, actually scared, just “scared of feeling embarrassed and having to ask for help in a strange place.”

Which, again, was the point. Put yourself in these situations, because you usually learn something through them. If nothing else, when you inevitably find your way back (or get a fork for your salad), you can laugh at yourself.

By the way, if you don’t ever feel embarrassed or disoriented while traveling, I don’t want to say “you’re doing it wrong” because I try to never say that about anything. You should do what you want!

But I’ll also say that you’re missing out on something, and it’s a little scary but usually worth it, and if you haven’t tried it before—maybe you should.