10 Things We've Learned on Our Travels

10 Things We've Learned on Our Travels

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Cambria Bold
Aug 28, 2015
(Image credit: Cambria Bold)

There are many great things about traveling: beautiful sights, great food, one-of-a-kind souvenirs, funny moments we tell around the table for years to come. Then there are the things we learn — about ourselves, about others — while abroad; the cultural and culinary habits and traditions that make such an impression on us we still think about them years later and, in some cases, even start doing them at home. Here are 10 examples.

1. We're all turtles.

Remember that no matter where you go, you are still your own person, with your own joys and sorrows. Being in a new city doesn't change that. Live the experience as honestly as you can.

I've been thinking a lot about how we're all turtles — we carry whatever we have on our backs; there's no getting away from whatever and whoever we are... A week in Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower out one window and Sacré-Coeur the other, and a boulangerie downstairs, is a sweet treat that doesn't change the fact that I'm still just me, and there are pressures and stresses and difficulties that I'm struggling with in my own ways.

— from 5 Things Paris Taught Me About Travel

2. It helps to learn the vocabulary.

You might not have time to learn an entirely new language, but a few well-rehearsed, choice phrases will get you far at a local farmers market.

Mûr (ripe), pas trop mûr (not very ripe), bien cuit (well-done), pas trop cuit (less done), croustillant (crispy), pour aujourd’hui (for today) — if you simply ask for a roasted chicken, a baguette, or a melon, you will be given the one on top or closest to the front. If you have a preference for riper peaches, or want an avocado ready to eat with today’s lunch, just ask. They are more than happy to oblige.

— from An Insider's Guide to Navigating a French Farmers Market

3. Buy a paring knife if you visit E. Dehillerin in Paris.

Look for the best souvenirs in each city at the most iconic stores, ideally something you'd use in the kitchen all the time — like a sharp knife!

No kitchen is complete without a small, extremely sharp French paring knife. Or so I told my husband when he worried about how we would transport it safely (with a cork covering the tip, wrapped in multiple plastic bags, in a pocket of my checked luggage). This one, stamped on one side with Dehillerin's name, is made of carbonized steel and I was advised by the older gentleman who sold it to me to oil it after each use. I follow that advice, of course, and feel like an accomplished pro every time I do it.

— from My Favorite Kitchen Souvenirs from E. Dehillerin in Paris

4. Always share your traditions.

Don't ever, ever be embarrassed to share your family and table traditions — social, cultural, or religious. They are what define you, and may move, surprise, or delight others in an unexpected way.

In honor of their culture and the traditions they grew up with, they recite kiddush before the meal and pass around the kiddush cup to all their guests. It reminded me that no matter what your individual dinner customs are — washing your feet before a meal, singing a thanksgiving, giving long toasts — they should always be shared. You never know how it might touch someone, how it might stay in their memory for months or years to come.

— from 3 Memorable Ideas I Picked Up at Summer Dinner Party in Tel Aviv

5. Tahini can be eaten with every meal.

Ingredients you never really paid attention to can surprise you when you're abroad, like tahini. You may know it just for hummus, but it's good for so much more.

The biggest surprises (and delights) of my eating experiences: small salads with almost every meal piled high with fresh vegetables, grains, toasted nuts, and a variety of herbs, served alongside green olives and marinated fish. Did I mention tahini? It was the star ingredient at every meal, often served raw or with olive oil, a sprinkling of herbs, and warm pitas.

— from A Taste of Israel: Photos from a Food Tour

6. Appreciate the most delicious way to eat an avocado.

Likewise, sometimes you'll discover while traveling that a favorite food at home needs next-to-no embellishment when enjoyed in its natural habitat.

I sliced them in my palm, smashed them inside fresh tortillas, then drizzled them with avocado honey and pinches of Mexican sea salt. I had four of these sweet avocado tacos. My travel mate claims she had six. Entirely possible.

— from Mexico Through the Avocado Lens

7. Don't forget the nuts.

Fun traditions need not be left to the country you visited, especially if it's a lovely or smart idea you can implement in your own home — like always serving nuts with alcohol!

The mixed nuts served in Lebanon are not simply a plain blend of roasted, salted nuts, like those usually served in American bars. Instead, they might include smoked almonds, crunchy chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, and other nuts and seeds with varied textures and flavors. The variations have inspired me to mix up my own blend now that I'm back at home.

— from Drinking in Lebanon: Don't Forget the Nuts!

8. There's good reason to have a smokehouse in Alaska.

Witnessing a century's worth of family food traditions can forever change how you view an ingredient.

When all the fish was filleted and skewered (a process that probably took about 45 minutes), we trudged through the rain to the smokehouse behind her home, a small shed with wires hung beam to beam, a wooden stove in the middle, and stacks of chopped alder wood along the left side. The air smelled smoky — that wonderful firewood smoke, not the black, nostril-stinging char you get when you burn food on the stove. It lingered in the air, and infused into the very structure of the shed.

— from From the Ocean to the Smokehouse: Preserving Salmon in Alaska

9. The end-of-day aperitif is a very civilized tradition.

The loveliest vacation habits can become your home habits, too!

Alcohol or no, the practice of sitting down to a drink at the end of the day while dinner cooks, or before going out to dinner, is a great way to place some punctuation between the work day and the evening. For a few summers now, my aperitif of choice has been an Aperol Spritz, and this trip to Rome only reinforced my love for this cocktail.

— from 5 New Cooking Habits I Brought Back from Rome

10. Soaked artichoke ends make amazing appetizers.

Let yourself be surprised by food, and by ingredients used in interesting, unusual, and wonderfully delicious ways!

We've all had marinated artichoke hearts, usually chopped into bite-sized wedges. But this was the first time I had seen artichokes prepared this way [bobbing in water]. Big as saucers, with the meat of the artichoke exposed and ready to eat, these artichoke bottoms make great appetizers, and apparently they are a specialty of Venice. I've seen them here, there, and everywhere — in the groceries and on menus.

— from Scenes from a Venetian Market: Fondi di Carciofo (Artichoke Ends)
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