Susan is touring blogdom this week talking about her latest release, “Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven." Susan’s new memoir is a hilarious and harrowing journey, a modern heart of darkness filled with Communist operatives, backpackers, and pancakes.
In 1986, fresh out of college, Susan and her friend, Claire, yearned to do something daring and original that didn’t involve getting a job. Inspired by a place mat the International House of Pancakes, they decided to embark on an ambitious trip around the globe, starting in the People’s Republic of China.
Susan joins us today to talk about why she recommends youth today in their 20’s go on a journey such as she did. And where she recommends them to go and why.
Absolutely: Go! Travel! See the world! And do it now! Certainly, it’s likely to be cheaper than the cost of living in a major American city for six months – especially if you’re unemployed. Never again in your life will you be so unencumbered, nor think it’s great to sleep on the flea-ridden floor of a youth hostel in Bangkok for only $6 a night.
You will have the rest of your years to build a career, harness yourself to a mortgage and kids, use guest soaps, and settle down. At this stage, you should have a magnificent combination of morbid curiosity, energy, and innocence, combined with a heightened threshold for physical discomfort and insomnia.
Exploit this. As soon as you get a job promising a whopping two weeks’ annual vacation, you’re screwed. So get a backpack, defer the student loans, and carpe diem.
As for where to go, I’d say go anywhere, barring war zones and places for which the State Department has issued serious travel warnings. Figure out what your comfort zone is, then step outside of it a mile or two.
That said, do some homework beforehand. Be smarter than I was in Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. Read about the culture, history, and current political system of wherever you’re going.
Women in particular: be aware of how we’re treated and regarded there. (Generally, it’s a good idea to leave the shorts at home and get some gauzy cotton blouses to throw over the tank tops). Leave the astrology books and collected works of Friedrich Nietzsche at home, too (trust me on this), though if you play the guitar or harmonica, kudos. Take ‘em along.
Above all else, learn a few words of the local language. Please and thank you alone work wonders. Making any effort to communicate -- no matter how foolish or entertaining it appears to the locals -- will be enormously appreciated as a sign of respect.
To be a traveler is to surrender. To go abroad is to forfeit control over your environment and your ability to navigate it. This always creates great anxiety within me – and it might with you, too. (Or not. Everyone reacts differently.)
But if you find yourself freaking out, know that this is normal and it’ll pass. If you “go with it,” as they say, you may find yourself feeling more liberated than you ever did before. Certainly you'll become smarter, gutsier, saavier, and more thoughtful than you ever dreamed. Above all, keep a sense of humor. You’re in for the ride of your life.
Thank you Susan for guest blogging here today. Your recommendations sound intriguing and very helpful for anyone thinking of traveling abroad. For more information on Susan, visit her website at http://www.susanjanegilman.com and you can also listen to an except of "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven" here.
What are your thoughts on traveling abroad? Have you gone on an adventure similar to Susan?