Planning International Travel Through Pen Pals

Nowadays, more people travel to interact with folks abroad. Media has given us a window to see how others live around the world, but traveling gives us the chance to leap through that window and experience how others live around the world.

The opportunity to travel might not come often, if at all, to many people. Common hindrances may be money, time, visas, and ignorance (lack of information). With proper planning, however, you can overcome these barriers and gain enriching experiences during your travels abroad. If you don’t know where you want to travel, research countries that offer activities you enjoy. If you want to surf, Bolivia isn’t ideal. If using chopsticks for every meal is something you want to experience, Thailand- though in Asia, might not be the best country. Once you’ve chosen a destination, research visa requirements to ensure you’ll be granted access into said country.

After confirming the country you want to visit, I recommend getting pen pals to learn how the society is and if it is indeed a place you should visit. There are several online pen pal websites where you can exchange messages with people from around the world. Please don’t give strangers your home address for snail mail- online chatting works just fine, plus it’s safer. I use Interpals.net to connect with people to get ideas on how much to budget, how long to stay in a country, and which cultural customs I must prepare for.

For my first solo trip abroad, I had decided to visit a South Korea and pursued connections with people from there; 99.5% of them did not respond. I understood that if people weren’t welcoming online, they certainly wouldn’t be in person. I reached out to people from Thailand and 99.5% of them responded to me, very excitedly too. I ended up visiting the country in the latter scenario and had an extremely meaningful experience. Online pen pals can give you first-hand advice on what you can expect if you visit their country. The preparation you do at home plays a huge part in whether you’ll have an enriching experience. To have an enriching cultural immersion experience you must make friends.

It is important to be friendly so you’re not alone on your trip and so you have someone to help bridge the gap between cultures and languages. If you have great judgment of people both online and in person, you can safely meet your online friends. Meet in a public place and get to know them before you go places with them. Your friends will not only be free tour guides, they will likely volunteer to pay for you during your excursions. Even if you say you can pay for yourself, they may insist so to not be rude, let them pay for some things. Don’t be devious and become friends with people just for free stuff. I’ve spent time with people abroad where I did not have to pay for room and board. Though I appreciated this- I was more thankful for the meaningful interactions I had with my friends and their families. You can make friends with people once you arrive in a country but it’s much safer and effective to vet people online for weeks, even months, so you know who it is you’ll spend time with.

There are several ways to plan travel abroad. You can search for tourist attractions, maybe even book the services of a touring company. But I believe the most enriching experience is one you make your own. Talking to a pen pal prior to your travels ensures you have a realistic picture of the country. Don’t go abroad as a tourist and solely do touristy things. Go abroad as a tourist but experience what life is like for the people living there. The most enriching experiences will come from genuine interactions with that culture, most of which you won’t find in the tourist areas of a country. Making friends you’ve confirmed are not crazy will allow you to experience things you’d otherwise not know about if you weren’t well connected.

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