Today we became rich. We drew out 1 million Mongolian Tughrik from the ATM and held it in our hot little hands for just moments before handing over 700,000 of it for our next trip. Before you get too impressed, keep in mind 1,000,000 Mongolian Tughrik is the equivalent of $753.00.
Still, it makes the transition into the country a little bit softer by imagining ourselves as high rollers.
Not every country is so gentle. Each destination means calculating a different exchange rate, learning a few new phrases in a foreign tongue, and navigating the cultural differences. We have to learn where to find the grocery store, the bank, the pharmacy, and the laundry. If there is public transport available, we learn how to use it.
Since change is our only constant, we’ve become pretty damn good at it. If you are not yet a pro at change and happen to be in the midst of one, here is our handy guide to navigating your way.
There is always more than one way to do something, and this is what generally paralyzes most people. Too much choice means no choice at all because there is simply too much information to process.
We research the major ways to arrive at our destination, and then compare them to our budget, available time, and tolerance level for aggravation. Sometimes this means taking a business class flight, and sometimes this means hitching a ride in the back of a pickup truck.
How this applies to you: Find out how to get started and then take the first step. Don’t waste your time problem-solving things that might come later or you’ll never begin.
Example: If you want to run a half-marathon for the first time, you need to sign up for a race. Don’t worry about your training schedule or what shoes to buy until you take the first step and register. You’ll get a lot of help and information by simply taking that first step and you won’t have to figure it out on your own.
Learn the local lingo
We get a better reception than some travelers because we make an effort to learn several phrases in the local tongue. Even knowing the basics – hello, goodbye, please and thank you – will go a long way in making you a welcome visitor in a new place.
We carry small notebooks with us to write new phrases as we learn them, and residents are typically happy to teach us a few words. When someone knows you’ve done a bit of homework to fit in, they are more apt to help you out along the way.
How this applies to you: Learn the vocabulary of your situation so when you ask for help others will know you are serious.
Example: Someone interested in writing a book should know industry terms about writing and publishing and the roles of the various players in the process so agents and publishers will take their pitches seriously.
Convert the currency
We once congratulated ourselves for finishing up our time in a country with no leftover currency to exchange. We crossed the border into the new country later in the day, expecting to find an ATM to withdraw money in the new currency. What we didn’t anticipate was having the ATM be down in a one-horse town. We had to pull out our emergency US dollars and convert them at an ungodly rate at the hotel just to pay for a room and the next day’s bus fare, all the while hoping the next town would have a usable bank.
The lesson is that we always need to keep a little cash on hand to exchange at the border, even though the rate is not as good as the bank.
How this applies to you: It is always easier to transition rather than to make an abrupt change.
Example: You don’t have to quit your job to start a new business. Freelance work could eventually be your ticket to freedom if you start now and build it over time. You may work more hours overall now but with steady progress and less risk.
Find the landmarks
We find the town square first and orient ourselves to it and the various landmarks. There is typically a tourist information office where we can get a free map. This helps us navigate the city later on when walking or using public transportation and to ward off taxi scams to drive us around the block for $20.
Next comes the grocery store, bank, and pharmacy. We also figure out how to get back to our hostel.
How this applies to you: When you know the parameters of your situation or the major steps you can better navigate within it.
Example: When working toward a big dream, keeping a budget is crucial. You must know exactly where you are in relation to your financial goal to keep moving in the right direction.
Once we have those other steps down, exploring becomes easier. We have arrived, know how to communicate in at least a basic way, have money in hand, and know where we are in the whole scheme of things.
We learn the subway or bus system, where to find a reasonable taxi, and whether it is easier to take a bus or a train between cities. We discover the best restaurants and street food and spend hours exploring the museums and other cultural places. We have a comfort in branching out because our basic needs have been taken care of.
How this applies to you: When you know how all the moving parts work, you are more apt to move yourself.
Example: Working as a volunteer at an event will give you the background knowledge to become a participant next time.
Change from within
When you go about navigating change in a systematic way, it makes even the scariest parts easier to manage. It’s the ‘not knowing’ that will get you every time.
And you don’t have to be a Mongolian millionaire to figure that one out.
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