Go to college, get a real job, save for retirement. Like so many of you, I got very sound advice life from my parents when it came to living a secure life. When it came to travel, not so much… Go where it’s safe, don’t spend all your money, and then the hammer dropped: “Shouldn’t you just stay home?” I love my parents, but their travel advice wasn’t the best. Here’s what I wish they told me:
Go where there are no guides
If someone tells you how to see a sight, experience a city, or connect with a local, then you’re not traveling – You’re checking things off a list. You’ll be a tourist, and probably not a very good one.
Go to where the locals hang out, where they’re more likely to be relaxing instead of trying to sell you a ticket for yet another sightseeing package. Whether it’s at the neighborhood chai walla in India or the parques in Colombia, you’ll likely meet locals who are proud of their country and are happy to share their favorite restaurants, hikes, or weekend getaway.
Get lost, then ask for help
Want to see a city? Put away the map and walk down the streets that look interesting. Wander to sights, smells, and sounds that pique your interest. And don’t be afraid to linger, ask questions, and take it all in. Even if you can’t speak the language very well, locals usual appreciate your efforts to learn their language – that brings us to the next tip.
Getting laughed at is the start of a powerful connection
Try to speak the language. Communicate even if you can’t conversate. Act out or draw your intentions if you can’t do so with words. When they laugh at you, laugh with them. You’ll connect in ways more powerful than words.
Never turn down an invitation
I don’t care what time your bus leaves, where your next reservation is, or what time that museum you are dying to see closes. People make the place, so if you have an invitation from a real person, take it. Experience people in the moment and change your plans.
Leave the places you experienced cleaner and better than when you found them
Pick up trash. Help a stranger. Donate to a local nonprofit. Volunteer your real skills to support local change, whether it’s a one-day activity cleaning up a local park or a multi-month project to increase an organization’s capacity.
Stay up late to see the stars, wake up early to see the sunrise
Most people wake up in the morning and go to bed in the evening, so it goes to follow that sights are the most crowded during these hours as are the streets, viewpoints, and eateries. But there is more to explore. The same sights change character in the dead of night. Views look better when painted pink. The same local bar attracts a different crowd late at night and early in the morning.
Be flexible and don’t let the little things get to you
Recognize that you’re in a different country with different cultural norms, expectations, timelines, etc. Buses will not always be on time, hot water may not be available, ideas of personal space may be too close for your liking, and yes, people will stare at you. It’s okay. You’re not traveling to experience things you’ll see and do back home.
Realize you’re a privileged little S*&T
If you’re one of the millions that can travel the world every year, you are privileged. The vast majority of the world’s population doesn’t get to travel. Ever. Which might not be completely terrible because travel has some really bad side effects on the planet. As you’re packing for your next adventure, keep this mind: 1. You’re fortunate, and 2. You’re not engaging in a very earth-friendly activity. So you better be thinking about how to give back. Here are 10 things you can do to make the world better while traveling around it.
What else do you wish your parents told you about travel? Let us know in the comments below!