Friday, July 17, 2015

Travel Lessons

What makes a good traveler?

1.  You are open.  You say yes to whatever comes your way, whether it's shots of a putrid-smelling yak-butter tea or an offer for and Albanian toe-licking to remove volcano dust.  You say yes because it is the only way to really experience another place, and let it change you - the mark of a truly great trip.

2. You venture to the places where the tourists aren't, in addition to hitting the "must-sees".  If you are exclusively visiting places where bus-loads of Chinese are following a woman with a flag and a bullhorn, you're not doing it.

3. You are easygoing about sleeping/eating/comfort issues.  You don't change rooms 3 times, you'll take an overnight bus if you must, you can go without meat in India and without vegan soy gluten-free tempeh butter in Bolivia, and you can shut the hell up about it.

4.  You are aware of your travel companions, and of not being contrary to their desires/needs/schedules more often than necessary.  If you find that you want to do things differently than your companions, you happily tell them to go on without you in a way that does not sound like you're saying, "This is a test."

5.  You can figure it out.  How to read a map, hot to order when you can't read the menu, how to find a bathroom, a train, or a castle.

6.  You know what the trip is going to cost, and can afford it.  If you can't afford the trip, you don't go.  Conversely, if your travel companions can't afford what you can afford, you are willing to slum it in the name of camaraderie. 

7.  You are aware of cultural differences, and go out of your way to blend.  You don't wear booty shorts to the Western Wall on Shabbat.  You DO hike your bathing suit up your booty on the beach in Brazil.  Basically, just be aware to show the culturally correct amount of booty.

8.  You behave yourself when dealing with local hotel clerks/train operators/tour guides, etc.  Whether it's for selfish gain, helping the reputation of Americans traveling abroad, or simply the spreading of good vibes, you will make nice even when faced with cultural frustrations and repeated smug "not possible's".

9.  You are able to go with the flow in a spontaneous, non-uptight way if you stumble into something amazing that will bump some plan off the day's schedule.

Special notables:
* Don't book expensive trips if you want to meet fun, interesting people.
* Attractive/single/fun people almost exclusively stay at dumps.  If you're looking for them, don't go posh.
* Don't over-plan.
* Welcome the possibilities changed plans bring.

Lessons I have personally learned and experienced, articulated well by Kristin Newman.