While it’s undeniably true that travel broadens the mind there are some definite hurdles to overcome before it becomes a truly memorable and rewarding experience. It’s all too easy to visit somewhere, enjoy all the traditional tourist experiences and fill up a memory card’s worth of photos without ever really having any significant interactions with the people of the country.
But it’s only by getting to know at least a little about their culture and customs that you can truly understand a nation. Obviously, in many places language is going to be a barrier and, even when there’s a shared tongue, creating the kinds of situations where you meet people as equals can prove tricky.
However, there is a solution that doesn’t need a phrase book as, within it, it has its own international language. That solution lies in playing games.
There are many whose rules are known the world over and the playing of which will help you strike up immediate friendships. After all, play is what psychologists recognise as one of the earliest forms of socialisation in children so it works just as well for adults too.
As to what kinds of games are suitable, there are a couple of criteria. The first, obviously, is that they must be widely known around the world. The second is more practical. They should include simple equipment that can be carried around easily in a suitcase or backpack and which can be set out easily in places like in cafes, on trains and airport terminals.
A pack of cards is therefore a travel essential wherever you’re travelling. Most countries have their own games such as “botifarra” in Spain or “remi” which is an Indonesian version of rummy, but there are many which also have a truly worldwide reach.
Poker is just such a game and it’s very popular in some very surprising parts of the world. By far the most popular version is Texas Hold’em so this would be the natural game to play. Other advantages are that one you start playing with a few people others are likely to notice and want to join in. Before long you’ll have quite a few new acquaintances – and if you just play for tokens instead of actual money they’ll carry on being your friends.
The other great card game to play is blackjack or any of its variations including pontoon and vingt et un. It achieved its worldwide spread because it was supposedly the favourite game of British soldiers who exported it wherever they were posted. With simple rules and quick rounds it can also accommodate quite a few players in each game.
Although chess has not always been a game to bring nations together, for the traveller it can be a fantastic way to break the ice. The rules are universal and it’s a great way to while away time when you’re waiting for a flight or on a long train journey. Travel chess sets are also very compact so there’ll never be any problem finding space for one in your luggage.