Friday, May 4, 2012

Be a Good Traveler

Next month marks the five year anniversary of my first audition trip to Europe.  I am writing this from my tiny hotel room in Antwerpen, Belgium on yet another audition excursion.  I was thinking today as I arrived groggy and dry-mouthed, about how much easier travel has gotten now that I do it all the time.   Going to Europe used to feel as though I was journeying into the far corners of the world and now it seems closer to me than California.  I guess I should really change my earlier statement.  Travel hasn't gotten easier as much as I have figured out how to take care of myself while traveling.  For you youngsters getting ready to brave the European audition circuit, here are some tips:

1. Drink as much water as you can the day before you fly and abstain from alcohol the day before, day of and during the flight.  Trust me on this one.  The voice is a delicate little thing and flights are drying enough as it is. Alcohol only makes it worse.  Save it for the flight home as a treat!
2. is a great website for booking hotels.  I like it because it has a search option where you can find hotels near certain popular tourist destinations.  I click on the filter to find hotels in my price range near the opera house I am auditioning for or near the train station if I'm catching a quick train after the audition.
3.  Pack light.  Seriously ladies.  I did a three week audition tour in the fall and had one carry-on bag and my purse.  I carried my wrinkle free audition dress, shoes, and three outfits.  Since you are going from city to city no one sees that you wear the same thing all the time.  Just bring enough underwear and socks and you are good to go!  I travel with my audition shoes, a pair of sneakers, and my black leather boots.  You can wear black leather boots with anything these days and you never know what kind of weather you will run into. Best to be prepared.
4. Download workouts as podcasts to minimize expenses in gyms.  It also is a handy thing to have because I don't like being out after dark in new cities all alone.  This way I can go out and see a town and come back to workout in my hotel room and not be caught in risky areas.  I was caught in a risky area once all alone in Italy and have never forgotten it!  Jogging in a new city isn't an option for me for this reason.
5.  Get an e-reader.  This is a no brainer.  It is worth every dime you spend especially if you are an avid reader like me.  I remember when I first came to Europe to audition 5 years ago and would buy books and leave a trail of them behind me because I didn't have the space in my luggage.   It's so much better now because we can travel with all our favorite books and magazines.
6.  Take out a lump of cash at the ATM at a time to avoid every transaction having a processing international fee.  Those fees really add up.  You may also be able to find a bank that has low fees.  Don't forget to tell your bank you will be traveling out of the country.  Several times I have forgotten and after the first transaction the card is tagged for possible fraud and then you are stuck with having to deal with that ordeal from overseas where it is difficult to get a new card.
7.  Don't tell the passport agent when you enter the foreign country that you are in town for an audition.  People don't understand what this means and all of a sudden you will find yourself being asked to show a work permit for a job you don't even have.  Until you get the job, it is best to be traveling 'for pleasure'.  I was once very honest with a London passport agent, telling her proudly I was in London to audition.  SHe then demanded to see my work permit for said 'audition'.  I tried explaining to her that I didn't need a work permit to enter the country to 'try' to work.  She was snarky and said, "How do I know you won't get the job and just stay here to work without a permit."  In my tired crankiness I said, "I guess you don't.  You'll just have to take my word for it."  She took my word for it but she also stamped my passport preventing me from entering Great Britain for six months to work.  Ouch.  So, if you are are on a pleasure trip.  When you get the job you can say you are there to work and the company you work for will have submitted you for a work permit which you will have to show the passport agent.....unless you work in Italy, and well, that is another story all together.

These are just a few of the things that came to mind today as I was reflecting on my audition travel.  You will learn your own things and you will figure out what works for you.  Here are some good tips on being a good traveler:
1.  You must have patience and be open to change.  Things don't go as planned so be very grateful for when they do.  Flexibility is the name of the game.  I've slept on the floor of the Madrid airport and on a string of three chairs in London Heathrow with a high fever.  Accept it, fall asleep, get comfortable.....raising hell doesn't fix it.  I always see people getting all worked up about things and the truth of the matter doesn't fix the problem.  It only adds to the frustrated energy permeating the boarding area.  Find a good spot and hunker down.  Go to sleep.  Drool.  You'll get there eventually.
2.  Know that you can always get whatever you need most anywhere you go.  So, don't feel obligated to bring everything and your kitchen sink along with you.  Aside from specific medication that you have a prescription for, most European pharmacies have everything we have at home. 
3.  Be kind to people and polite.  This throws some Europeans off because they think you are fake or crazy but it's always good policy.
4.  Talk to strangers.  I've met many interesting people in SAFE PUBLIC places by doing this and I have wonderful stories from chatting up strangers.  I met my husband in the Atlanta airport!
5.  Be curious and unafraid to get lost.  You can always turn around and ask for directions.  Getting off the beaten path is part of the fun.
6.  Try to speak the native language and even when you can't,  ask politely if they speak English.  Don't just assume they do. 
7.  Bring your own shopping bags.  This is big in Europe.  They charge you for plastic bags and who couldn't use some savings?
8.  Be more patient than ever with TSA agents.  This is mainly a personal reminder.
9.  If you get on the wrong train.  Don't panic.  Eventually it will stop and your mistake can be corrected.  Hopefully, before you exit into another country!  (I could be speaking from personal experience here.)
10.  Learn about the history of the place you are visiting.  You don't need to be a scholar, but when you take the time to learn about the group history of a people, you can see their perspective and really get to know a culture.  Educate yourself.  It fuels your art.

Bon Voyage!!!

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