I’ve been a fan of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” for quite some time now. It’s a book that has captured the imaginations of people ever since it’s release in 1865 and it has spawned numerous film adaptations and references in art, literature and popular culture. From Mad Hatter high teas to the plethora of beloved characters that are perfect for Halloween costumes, it is truly a story that speaks to many people on different levels.
I was thinking the other day about how it’s kind of the ultimate travel story too. Alice falls down a rabbit-hole and finds herself in a strange land with creatures who are very different to her and she must adjust and navigate her way through the many baffling events that occur. In a way, this is often what happens to us when we travel to a foreign land. We have to learn new customs, find our way in an unfamiliar setting and rely on ourselves in order to experience all that a destination has to offer. Not only is the novel a sort of travel narrative in itself but it also offers the reader some very useful lessons in how to adjust, survive and thrive in a new destination. The character of Alice, the other characters she meets and the situations and events she finds herself a part of, can give those of us who like to travel some great advice on how to get by while we travel in the real world! Some of the things that Alice in Wonderland can teach you about travel include:
Don’t be Afraid to Get Lost
The whole story starts with Alice falling down a rabbit-hole into a strange new land. Instead of being worried or afraid the young girl merely observes and takes part in the world she has found herself, often with a sort of detached bemusement. This is great advice to travellers, in that it reminds us not to worry about getting a little lost in a new place, but rather to look around, enjoy the place we find ourselves and embrace the fact that we are in unfamiliar surroundings so that we can explore and experience all that this world has to offer.
Try the Food
Alice very trustingly eats anything labelled “Eat Me” (or “Drink Me”), with quite surprising consequences. However, her willingness to be open to new and unfamiliar foods (and drinks) is great advice to take when travelling to a new place. Sometimes travellers steer clear of local cuisines in favour of more familiar choices but in doing so you are missing out on experiencing the culture of the destination, as well as some great food more often than not! Be like Alice and don’t be afraid to try something new.
Talk to the Locals
Another thing that drives the plot of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is her conversations with the local inhabitants of Wonderland. She takes the time to talk to, and listen to, the creatures she meets, who often have good advice for her while she navigates the strange new place she has found herself in. While she sometimes gets frustrated with the ones who spout nonsense at her, mostly she is polite and willing to talk to people who may seem strange to her. This is good advice when travelling, locals usually know the best places to go, eat and stay in a destination and it is always worthwhile talking to them even just to meet someone new or understand a different perspective. Alice even attempts to speak in the local language, which is also a great idea when travelling. Just be careful not to offend someone if you don’t really understand the language – or by just saying the first thing you can think of like Alice does!
Respect Local Customs
Another lesson that “Alice in Wonderland” can teach you about travel is the importance of respecting local customs. I often read about tourists landing themselves into hot water overseas because they have not taken the time to learn what is and is not appropriate when travelling to a new place. It is common sense to make sure you are not offending people when travelling, not only because you don’t want to get in trouble (with the law perhaps) but also because it is hard to make friends with people who think you are rude and offensive. So take the time to find out what sort of clothing is appropriate where you are going, what some of the local customs are and how not to offend the locals into wanting to take off your head!
Take Time for Tea
Sometimes when travelling we can get so wrapped up in seeing and doing everything that we end up needing a holiday to recover when we return home. Some great advice you can gain while reading “Alice in Wonderland” is to stop and take a moment to relax, maybe with a cup of tea, when you can! Not only can this give you respite from rushing from place to place, but it also gives you a chance to people watch and perhaps talk to locals and other travellers around you. And who doesn’t like to relax with a nice cup of tea (or coffee, or hot chocolate) and some sandwiches and cake?!
Go With the Flow
The character of the White Rabbit is always frantically dashing about worrying about being on time. In this case he teaches you what not to do in order to enjoy your travels more. Similarly to taking time out for tea is the importance of going with the flow, or being open to whatever happens during your travels. Sometimes things go wrong, or unexpected detours need to be taken, and getting all upset about it is only going to stress you out so that you can’t enjoy your trip. So instead of being like the White Rabbit, try to be more like Alice and simply be open to whatever experiences you might have on your travels. At the very least you may end up with a good story out of it!
Have an Open Mind
Just as important as being able to go with the flow while travelling is having an open mind. One of the reasons we travel is to experience different places and cultures, and often these seem very foreign compared to what we are used to. In order to enjoy your travel experiences you need to be able to suspend judgements and have an open mind so that you don’t miss out on things because of your own prejudices. No matter what happens in the story, Alice just accepts it and moves on. Talking animals? No worries. Vanishing cats? Not a problem. Changing size repeatedly? Annoying, but she deals with it. Alice’s acceptance of things ultimately stands her in good stead while exploring Wonderland, and it will for your travels too!
Here’s a lesson taught by my favourite character, the Cheshire Cat, and it’s pretty simple really; always remember to smile! This is good advice for life in general, not just travelling. A smile is the one thing that translates across any language, costs you nothing and can only help good things come your way. From the check-in desk at the airport to the kid on the street you want to take a photo of, having a smile on your face is the best way to not only connect with other people but also make them more inclined to be nice to you, help you out, or say yes to something you want. And of course, do you want to be remembered as the grump who was always unhappy and scowling or the lovely cheerful person who always kept smiling no matter what? So be like the Cheshire Cat and make sure your smile is the one thing everyone remembers after meeting you.
Embrace the Absurd
One of the best parts of “Alice in Wonderland” is the absurdity of the events and the language. Travelling can open your life up to sights and experiences you might never have had if you didn’t dare to leave your comfort zone and embrace all the weird, wacky and absurd parts of life around the world. One of the great things you can learn from Alice is to embrace the things that seem absurd and just enjoy the experience for what it is. Even if you don’t completely understand something just remember to enjoy it all, laugh and have fun with the weird and the absurd.
Usually when a story ends with the ‘it was all just a dream’ cliche, I get really annoyed. But in the case of “Alice in Wonderland” it’s not such a big deal. Maybe because it was one of the first popular stories that used the dream device, but for some reason it works. The theme is also explored in “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There”, and even touches on philosophies of reality. But the fact that her adventures might be just a dream doesn’t detract from the enjoyment readers have received when reading the books, and it also reminds us as travellers to keep dreaming of our future adventures as well. As long as you can keep dreaming, planning and travelling (and reading!), then you will be able to enjoy your adventures at home and while travelling to the full.
Ever drifting down the stream–
Lingering in the golden gleam–
Life, what is it but a dream?
What do you think, any other Alice in Wonderland fans and travellers out there that agree or disagree with these ‘lessons’? Or is there another book that you think has taught you a lot about travel? Let me know in the comments!