By no means am I an expert when it comes to every country of the world but I have found that no matter where I go, there are some universal things that travelers should keep in mind. Like for example, did you know that being an asshole is not socially acceptable in any country? (except maybe France). That was an obvious one so I won’t include it in this list. Anyway, here we go.
- Fam, Chill Out
Traveling, no matter what sort of traveling you’re doing, is meant to be relaxing and fun. Too many times I see people get furious and lose their cool when something goes wrong. Yes, it sucks, but if there’s nothing you can do about it, you’re only taking away from your own enjoyment by getting pissed off or worried.
My flight from Medellin to Bogota was cancelled once, and I was due to fly from Bogota back to Chicago the next day. I went to the airlines’ help desk and all hell broke loose. People were screaming, throwing punches, throwing bottles of liquor at one another all because they wanted to get on the next flight. Yes, it sucked, but hey, I got on a flight the next morning and made it just fine. If I wasted a bottle of rum by throwing it a person in front of me in line, would I have gotten a sooner flight? Probably f*cking not. When something goes wrong, calm down, appreciate that you’re on some grand adventure and all great adventures have mishaps and trials and tribulations.
2. If you’re in another country, respect their culture
Every time I go to Mexico, I see Americans running rampant. I understand that yes, you’re on vacation, but your two weeks of fiestas and tequila chugging does not negate the fact that you have a culture and its people to respect. Causing a scene when you don’t get your way just makes you look like an asshole, bro. Having that kind of mindset will eventually backfire. Believe me. You don’t have to understand everything that a certain country does, but it doesn’t hurt to learn something new while you’re traveling.
Okay can I get to the fun stuff yet? I just needed to get those out of the way.
3. Try to learn a little bit of the language of where you’re going
A little effort goes a long way. Attempting to learn a language shows that you are making an effort to adapt to a culture, and many locals will appreciate it no matter how hard you butcher the pronunciation. I’ve spoken to many locals in English and then ended the conversation with a “thank you” or “see you later” in their native language. You’d be surprised at how big of a smile you can draw out from someone with just a few words.
Aside from casual conversations, it’s so useful in case you get into a sticky situation and can’t communicate with anyone. Asking for directions or help or even the police can be made a lot easier with a little extra studying.
4. Stay off your phone as much as possible
I know your friends are totally dying to see the Eiffel Tower on your snap story, but I promise you, they’re not. Take a few pictures for Instagram, accept that not all of them will turn out perfect, and move on. I know I do social media for a living and work online, but even I don’t spend as much time on my phone as most of the tourists I see. Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing hordes of people with their selfie sticks with their backs turned to the incredible sights that they’re supposed to be seeing. No one needs to have their phone out constantly, and you don’t need 800 pictures of everything. At the end of the day, 800 pictures are not worth nearly as much as one meaningful memory.
5. There’s nothing wrong with a little solo travel
My first trip alone out of the country was just this past year, and honestly, it may have been the best trip yet. I love traveling with friends, but there is just so much about solo travel that I think is better. I could write an entire blog post (I probably will soon) about how awesome traveling alone is, but I can narrow it down to a few main points. The biggest one is freedom. You can do what you want, when you want, and you do not need to wait for anyone else to just go on a trip to your dream destination. I’ve had conflicts with the people I’ve traveled with before, and all of those can be avoided as well. You get the option of being alone, or being with people you meet while traveling. I love exploring cities alone, but hate going to clubs or bars alone. It’s the best of both worlds by traveling solo.
6. If you want to meet people, there is no better place than at a hostel.
I usually mix up my trips by staying at hostels, Airbnbs, and the occasional hotel. However, there is without a doubt no better way to meet people than by staying at a hostel. Everyone there is a fellow traveler looking to meet other people and have as much fun as possible. It isn’t for everyone, as you likely have to sacrifice privacy, comfort, and a lot of sleep. Still, if you are traveling alone or traveling on a budget, hostels are your best option. Keep in mind, though, that hostels often serve as a “comfort zone” and might take away from the full experience of traveling. A lot of people get sucked into hostel life, and you’ll find at least a few people who literally never leave the hostel, choosing to play ping pong or pool all day before getting obnoxiously drunk at night. You meet people, probably Australian, but if you are looking to live locally and experience the culture, you will have to leave the hostel and your comfort zone.
7. Getting lost isn’t always a bad thing
Speaking of comfort zones… You ever notice when someone illustrates an example of an annoying tourist, they are always puzzled looking at a map? Put down the map. It’s good to know where you’re going, but if you’ve got time, why not wander? I remember my first trip out of the country without my parents. I was flying through Rome at a manic pace, dead set on hitting the major stops. After hitting the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, and Vatican City, I realized that I passed by at least four or five other landmarks that I did not even stop to look at. Nowadays, I won’t even bother picking up a tourist map from the hostel front desk (it’s 2017 now, we have Google Maps anyway you old turds) before taking off to explore a new city. A little bit of common sense and asking for directions works just as well as squinting your eyes at a brightly colored map highlighting “the absolute best places to go” (aka Pokestops for tourists). Take your time hitting your stops, and you might stumble upon some incredible places you never even gave the time of day to.
8. Even if you’re traveling on a budget, never neglect the value of time.
I’ll gladly take a 12 hour overnight bus if it means saving $100 on a flight. Would I do the same if it was a 12 hour bus ride during the day? Probably not. Time is precious, even more precious if you are traveling and have time restrictions. My latest trip to South America was over two months long, so I had the freedom to lose a little bit of time here and there in favor of money. However, if you’ve only got two weeks of vacation, why would you spent two or three of those days just getting from place to place? Traveling on a budget is something everyone should know how to do, but the keyword there is traveling. Don’t save too much money that you’re sacrificing amazing memories for a few extra bucks.
9. If you’re not having fun, change something.
There’s no single right way to travel. I’ve changed a lot over the course of my travels. I went from painstakingly planning every little thing to the point of being annoying to everyone to literally not planning anything (also to the annoyance of everyone). I’ve grown enough to realize that to have the most fun, you need to be able to adapt and be willing to change. Did you get a bad night’s sleep at the city’s best party hostel? Switch hostels for a day. Do you just literally hate being in a city? (cough La Paz cough) Get the hell out (just kidding about La Paz, it was alright I guess). It’s your life, your vacation, your adventure, etc. Don’t feel like you have to stick to the plan if your plan freakin’ sucks.
10. Stop waiting for the perfect time to travel. The perfect time is now.
Ask yourself the question, “what am I waiting for?” That’s the only question you need answered before you go on a trip. Stop making excuses like, oh, I’ll wait for a friend to come with me, or I’ll do a little more research before I go, and yadda yadda so on. Travel is one of the only things I can think of that people never regret spending their money on. Set your mind to it, make it happen, and just go.