Support systems and structures are vital to the survival of any living organism. Beyond keeping the organism alive, they protect the organism from attacks and other forms of stress. Likewise, it is important for us as people (distinct from the physiological parts of us) and organizations to have strong and robust support systems.
Since I left Vietnam in Apr 2011 with the intention of finding work back in Singapore, life threw its curves and I ended up staying in 23 different places in 15 different cities. While I’m grateful that I didn’t have to worry too much for the most part of it, I do wish that I had more robust support systems in place. The purpose of this blog post is to document lessons learned in these 16 months, and to consider what I would have done differently. I will focus on two key support systems today: Health, and social life.
There is a Chinese saying that highlights the importance of health in a revolution (身体是革命的本钱). This of course doesn’t necessarily just refer to revolutions, but can be used in the context of any endeavor. The first thing I noticed on my travels is that it’s extra tempting to sleep in. Bad move. This immediately starts the day off on the wrong foot and increases the likelihood of sleeping late, entering into a vicious cycle.
The other aspect is the lack of a social structure for me in every city that I visit. Going for dinner alone, visiting tourist spots alone can be fairly emotionally draining too.
I’ve found planning to be very effective at mitigating against such issues, and am writing this down as an SOP for future reference when I travel. Simply by planning activities with other people, I immediately sign myself into social contracts that make sure that I am not stuck in the hotel room. The below are some preparatory steps for a one month travel cum leisure trip.
- Two weeks before the trip: Make contacts at destination. Not everyone checks their email every five minutes, and getting to know another person takes some time. These can be done on the basis of interests (e.g. language exchange), professional activities, or on very practical needs (e.g. Couch Surfing). In my last trip to Beijing, I met up with about four people whom I knew via Couch Surfing, after glancing through over 230 profiles and sending out about 30-40 messages.
- One week before the trip: Schedule appointments to meet up with people. Look up places of interest in the city and keep the list for reference if you run out of ideas. I’m not a big fan of tourist spots, but it’s something to do together with a local. If you ask, many locals tend to be happy to bring you around a bit if they have the time. I love breakfast meetings as they help me start my day on the right note.
- Two days before the trip: Confirm appointments, ensure contact information is exchanged. If you’ve already got to know who you’re meeting to some degree, then prepare some conversation topics and do some research! This doesn’t need to stifle the conversation, but is a backup plan to avoid awkward silences.
- First day/night: scout acceptable restaurants near your hotel that look acceptable. These will come in handy when it’s 7pm and the last thing you want is to wander around looking for a decent place to eat. Take a few minutes out of your tired first day to mentally mark fruit stalls and other necessities, and the following days will be a lot easier. Identify suitable places to exercise. They will decrease the barriers to exercise when the time comes.
This SOP is certainly no magic bullet, but I’ve seen how the presence of people around made a huge difference to what I got out of the trip.