Hello all! I would like to share with you, if I may, my experience of beginning my adventure in Montenegro and I hope that if you are thinking of having an adventure of your own, wherever in the world that may be, that it proves useful in helping you prepare and finding your feet once you’re out there!
Most travel blogs start with listing the highlights of a trip, or describing an idyllic scene of natural beauty and supreme tranquillity, but I’m going to start by describing a difficult portion of our trip. Me and Megan had a very smooth flight from Manchester to Tivat Airport, where we found the weather to be gloriously sunny without being overpoweringly hot. The host we were staying with picked us up promptly from the airport and took us to our nice, incredibly reasonably priced apartment and then we were able to amble around the Bay of Tivat enjoying the weather, the views and the food. The next day, we were picked up by the driver from Playworking‘s Adventure House and taken there, which we would be using as our base of operations for the rest of our in Montenegro. So far so good, right?
I’m sure you all can remember a time where, even though things are going great, something just knocks you off kilter and you end up heavily doubting yourself. For me, that happened the first time we went into our local town of Radovici to do some shopping and get the lay of the land. I found myself confused at where the local hiking routes were, unfamiliar with the products on offer at the market and feeling unable to get clarification or assistance due to the lack of English-speakers in the area and my extremely limited grasp of Montenegrin.
We just about cobbled together some food that would maybe last us a day or two but I wound up questioning myself: why was I paying for accommodation and food all the way out here when I was doing just fine back home? Why hadn’t I learnt more Montengrin or done more research about the area before arriving here? I was in such a state of doubt, I wasn’t appreciating where I was. However, by the next day, I had completely turned myself around and was getting stuck into adventures left, right and centre (which I’ll write about in a later Highlights of Montenegro piece).
For now, here are four things you can do to get over the jitters that are usually part and parcel of going on a big adventure somewhere new:
Break through the language barrier
(Photograph from rawpixel)
As a general rule of thumb, it’s always a really good idea to learn a few words and phrases for wherever you’re visiting. If you are a native English-speaker, you are in a very privileged position since many, many places across the world, especially ones frequented by tourists, have at least some English-speakers. This can take the pressure off a little bit when we’re travelling, but it can also make people complacent if there’s an expectation that everyone should speak English. We all know the stereotype of the obnoxious British tourist who, when they’re not understood, just repeats themselves louder and slower and leaves negative reviews on TripAdvisor because a waiter at their hotel in rural Thailand didn’t speak perfect English. Don’t be that person, English is one of many, many languages in the world. If you’re in a country where the primary language is not English, and the locals are speaking English to you, they are doing you a favour. Also, if you’ve learnt many foreign languages, you may quickly learn just how weird and non-sensical the English language can be. Give them a little credit for giving it their best shot!
Conversely, if you can learn a few basic things like ‘Hello’, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’, you may not be able to have full blown conversations just yet, but it will allow you to communicate on a basic level and show gratitude and friendliness, which is usually appreciated. We found in Montenegro, it was quite common for people to speak English in the cities and other tourist hotspots, but in the countryside and the smaller towns, less so. It’s always nice to see someone’s face light up a little when you say a quick ‘Zdravo’ (Hello) to them as you pass, or a quick ‘Hvala’ (Thank you) when you’re buying something at the store.
A lot of Western European languages are quite similar to English in that they mostly originate from Latin, meaning that there are a surprising amount of words that are basically the same. For example, if you need to go to the hospital in Spain, simply ask for ‘el hospital’. There are a lot of quick crash courses you can do to quickly pick up a few basics before you go. Here’s a couple I can recommend:
- Duolingo – A free resource which can be used through its website or through its app and provides quick fire exercises to help you learn quick.
- Michel Thomas – his courses come in audio book form, which you will need to pay a modest sum for, but I found this a much more comprehensive way of learning a language and feels more like having your own language guru. I can personally vouch for his lessons as they allowed me to progress to conversational French and Spanish very quickly in my teens!
However, less widely spoken languages like Montenegrin are a bit more of a challenge. Neither Duolinguo or Michel Thomas can help you with Montenegrin and, not being Latin based, it is a completely different language to English. We mostly used The Lonely Planet Guide to Montenegro to look up key phrases and used YouTube to listen to how the words were actually pronounced, and this might be the case if you are visiting other locations where the predominant language isn’t widely spoken around the world.
All this said, when you don’t quite have a grasp over a language, that can be a great opportunity to get creative with your communication. We met many people on our travels in Montenegro who didn’t speak English and we didn’t know enough Montenegrin (or Russian in some cases) to have a coherent conversation, but that didn’t stop them from connecting with us! When we were on our first day hike on the Lustica Peninsula, we met a lady who was able to suggest where to go and where to avoid through a variety of hand gestures and intonation. At the Adventure House, we were staying with a friendly Russian called Andre who would always very warmly greet us in his native language, recount our day in charades form, share photos and improvise new kinds of handshakes together. A language barrier doesn’t have to be a communication barrier!
Get orientated quickly
(Photograph from rawpixel)
One of the big things that threw us on arrival was getting so turned around that we weren’t sure where everything was from us. During our stay, we wanted to explore the Lustica Peninsula and had our eyes on various other locations along the Montenegrin coast and further inland, and not knowing where those places were in relation to us was a source of some stress as we had our little trip to the shops. That is why when we got back to the Adventure House, we made it our mission to get orientated.
We sat down on a balcony overlooking the surrounding area with our laptops and smartphones to figure this out. Using a ‘Gyrocompass’ app on my iPhone I figured out what direction everything was from us, and using Google Maps, we were able to get a much better sense of where everything was and which direction we needed to go to get there! If you’re on a holiday where everything you do is done through tours and transportation, this might not matter to you, but if you’re hoping to find your own way around, I’d highly recommend doing something like this.
If you are hoping to go off on your own, another app I’d highly recommend to help you find your way around is a trails map called ‘maps.me’. When you get to a new country, or region, you can download a detailed map of major roads and trails while you have an internet connection and once you have done that, it will be fully functional offline, pinpointing exactly where you are on the map via GPS! However, like many satnav applications, do keep a healthy connection to what your surroundings are telling you, as well as the app itself. Sometimes the trail you see on the map might not be as well defined in reality (though, like us, you may see this as a challenge to overcome!) and conversely there may be some glorious trails that you find that aren’t on maps.me at all! Though if that’s the case, asking around and checking out local maps can help you verify whether these trails are passable or not.
Remind yourself why you’re there
When you’re doubting yourself, sometimes it’s easy to think that the way you feel in the moment is going to last forever. However, it’s important to remember that you’ve probably had doubts in the past, which have felt paralyzing in the moment and then looking back, you realized it was just a passing thing. When you’re feeling these Day One Jitters in the moment, it can be tempting to want to time travel a few days forward so you can just get passed this awkward part and start enjoying your holiday. But since you can’t do that (and if you could, you’re basically saying goodbye to a chunk of your precious holiday) try thinking back to when you were deciding you wanted to go on this trip; in particular what motivated you to do this, and what excited you as you begun your planning!
Were you wanting to go on some grand hikes, visit historic wonders, climb the highest peaks, catch some surf, see some culture, make new friends, or eat tacos on the beach? Whatever reason (or reasons) got you out there was important enough to temporarily say goodbye to the familiarities and comfort of home life. Remind yourself what it was that you were excited about doing or experiencing on your adventure and also that the nervy sensation you’re experiencing is temporary, just let it run its course. Unless you have something like a tour pre-booked for the first full day, this part of the holiday is normally about getting yourself orientated and settled and that takes time. My suggestion; take it easy, have a bit of an explore of the place you’re staying and the surrounding area, talk to your hosts or other guests, maybe even have a lie down while you ground yourself in this new place.
(Photograph from Playworking)
It may be that being anxious and having doubts is just part of the journey you’re going on, in which case, it will pass. But my advice is to start seeking out fun, exciting things to do once your head has stopped spinning, and in the meantime, trust that these good times will come more naturally once you’re feeling more settled. Those great things you were hoping to do, if you can do them now, start doing them! If not, start planning them, ask around to see if you can make it happen! And remember, even though it can be scary finding your way around an entirely new area, you’ll only experience this place for the first time once, so enjoy the awe and wonder that goes with that! Chances are being awed by a new place was part of the reason you’ve decided to go on this trip!