How to Be a Better Traveler
I am hardly a worldly guy. So figuring out how to be a better traveler was a stretch for me at first.
I just learned how not to be an asshole on the road over the past 11 years of circling the globe.
Ex-pats, tourists and locals alike swear, “Nah….you cannot be American! Must be Canadian.”, when meeting us.
Kelli and I dispel the Ugly American traveler stereotype because we are nice, kind, pleasant, grateful and accepting when we travel the world. Heck; a fair portion of other Americans are too.
We are not insane or deluded enough to believe the US is the greatest country on earth – what does that even mean? – nor do we feel America does everything the best.
Every country on earth is awesome in its own right. I love Thailand as much as I love the US because not being blinded by the arrogance of pride, I see that this big old world is a special, fun, fascinating place, and this has helped me be a better traveler.
Follow these 5 tips to become a better traveler yourself.
1: Do Not Judge
Guilty as charged on this one.
But I am getting better at not judging different countries, lands, customs, politics and governments.
All is as it is. People live how they live, even if said way of living is quite different from your hometown or home country.
Differences make us interesting. Living through military coups in Thailand or seeing women with only tiny eye slits cut into their burkas in Qatar or wondering why that guy tried to scam you in Costa Rica are all experiences. Not good or bad. Just experiences.
If you want to be a really good travel, shut the f*ck up and stop judging. Accept culture as it is, even if lying in the name of saving face annoys you, in Thailand, and even if the seemingly creepy guy in Sri Lanka is touching your girl friend in an inappropriate fashion. Be nice, be polite, and simply explain to the guy how he is not to touch your girlfriend in that manner, or embrace the face saving lying as how things are done in Thailand and never, ever ever take things personally.
It is not about you. Never has been. Never will be.
Do not judge.
Be a better traveler.
See fascinating experiences, interesting differences, and remember why you are traveling: to sample a different taste.
2: Live in Local Neighborhoods
We did a house sit in a village outside of Chiang Mai last year, up in the mountains, bordering Doi Suthep National Park.
The old Thai ladies prepping food throughout the day, the soi dogs lazing on narrow roads where maybe 1 car drove through every 3 days, and the immense wildlife was a full 180 from the Old City.
I love Chiang Mai center. But I love local neighborhoods about a 15 minute motorbike ride outside of the city even more.
Being in these spots makes you feel like you are in a foreign land. Which is the exact reason why you are traveling anyway, right?
3: Eat at Local Haunts
Eat at local haunts.
Step away from popular tourist restaurants.
The best food is generally the cheapest food located in spots off the beaten tourist path.
I have eaten at Tao in NYC yet the best restaurant on earth for me is a tiny Buddhist vegetarian restaurant we visit daily in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in a quiet Thai neighborhood.
We pay $2 USD – 70 Baht – for lunch for 2. Best food in the world. Tastiest food on earth. Best mushrooms in the Universe.
The most fun, delightful, inspired eating haunts are almost always well away from popular tourist traps.
No 5 star reviews, no endless praise on Trip Advisor; just down home, goddamn fantastic food made by skilled local folks every single day, until they became geniuses at their craft.
4: Honor Culture
Honor local cultures.
Get more out of your trips.
Be a better traveler.
In Qatar, Kelli and I kept our knees to shoulders covered when we went out in public. Muslim country. It’s what you do.
We honor the face-saving ways of Thailand. Face-saving culture. It’s what you do.
Research local cultures and regional customs before traveling anywhere. Honor the way of life. Be a good guest. Have fun. Play a different role, at least for the few days, weeks or months where you plan to spend some time.
5: Travel Long Term
You know I am about long term travel.
I mean, I have retired to a life of island hopping through smart blogging.
Tourists whiz through to check marks off of a bucket list. Ego deal, minus a little enjoyment and a few sweet selfies.
Long term travelers experience spots and step into cultures, making friends, and getting a deeper sense for what it feels like to live in a place.
Even if you spend 1 week somewhere versus 1 day, do it. Slowly add length to your trips for more memorable, special experiences.