What follows is a brief guide of travel tips I have picked up in twenty-five years
or so of international travel. I haven’t been everywhere, and I’ve never exactly
had the perfect trip, but each one of my journeys has brought enrichment, education,
and fulfillment. It is in the hope of helping you obtain the same (even if you are
a seasoned traveler yourself), that I present you the following collection of travel
1. Have a good attitude. Other people are not like you, other cultures are not like
yours, and in no situation are these truths more obvious than when traveling internationally.
Remember, you are invading their territory, not the other way around. Have a positive
attitude, be grateful for the chance to be out wandering, and stay flexible. Everything
will not go as planned. That’s just par for the course, so don’t overreact or freak
out when every little thing doesn’t go your way. It’s to be expected. As I always
say, “No guts, no story!”
2. Study up ahead of time. Even if you’re not a big student of history, do a little
reading ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the country, people, culture,
art, and background of where you’ll be going. It will deepen your context for and
appreciation of what you see and experience. Trust me. This is a big one!
3. Get a good map. One of the first priorities when traveling someplace new is to
obtain a good map of the territory. I know, we’ve all got GPSs on our smart phones,
but that doesn’t count. What I’m referring to here is the good old-fashioned foldout-style
paper map—one you can write and make little notes on. I put checkmarks next to towns
and/or attractions visited and write little notes in the margins. This is not only
a travel aid, but it’s also a big help in remembering later where you went and what
you did, which can enable you to pass along valuable travel advice to a friend who
wants to take a similar trip in your footsteps later.
4. Get a good guidebook. There are tons of these on the market, but I like the color
ones with three-dimensional drawings of main attractions. Once I get encamped in
a certain location, I’ll tear out the relevant pages for that town and stuff them
in my shorts pockets for easy reference throughout the day. (I hate carrying around
too much stuff, such as a big book.) Then, I’ll simply insert these back into the
book at the end of the day’s traversing. This might seem messy, but it works for
me. And usually, I can learn my way around a foreign town in almost no time using
5. Pace yourself. Don’t try to see too much too quickly. It is sometimes better
to go deep than to go wide. Sure, you can rush around and make a bunch of checkmarks
on your “gotta see ‘em” list, but how much can you really take in when you’re in
a race? Slow down a little and see less, but more thoroughly. I promise it will
be more rewarding. Another little trick I’ve happened across, if you can manage
to arrange enough time to make it happen, is to tour one day and rest the next.
This gives you time to absorb what you saw mentally, while giving your body time
to recuperate physically. It also provides ample downtime to plan a meaningful tour
for the next day. If you have children, they will love this approach, too, because
usually they have as much fun on the down days swimming in a pool (or whatever)
as actually seeing the sites their parents keep telling them they should appreciate!
6. Go off the beaten path. Although there are many excellent arranged tours, and
these can serve a huge purpose for the first-time traveler of a region, at some
point, I highly recommend you get out on your own. Strike out in any direction you
choose and just see what happens. Sometimes having no agenda is the best agenda
of all. Don’t be afraid to get lost and discover something new. In a manner of speaking,
invite serendipity to pay you a visit!
At the risk of repeating myself, below is a copy of a blog posting I made some time
ago. Most of the information below can add nicely to what you’ve just read. Enjoy!
I hope it helps!
I came across a statistic the other day that shocked me: only about 10% of U.S.
citizens have a passport. While I know that Americans are often criticized for ignorance
about the rest of the world, I didn't realize just how little we get out and about!
I know of very few things that can provide the genuine education and adventure that
comes with international travel: the fascinating views, the unfamiliar smells, the
undecipherable languages, the unidentifiable foods, and the interesting people.
It is almost a cliché to say that travel broadens one's horizons, but sometimes
clichés are as true as they are literal. Myopic, insular, narrow views cannot but
be blasted by the wide vistas of the rest of the world "out there."
I will not try and convince you, however, to dust off the suitcases and buy a ticket
to somewhere. Instead, I would like to present to you my random list of things to
know so that your international travel is the best it can be. It is my hope that
in doing so I will tear down whatever walls of fear or inertia have been holding
you back from experiencing more of the world.
1. Don't travel like everyone else; suit your own style. What this means is that
there are many different ways to travel. There are pre-packaged trips, organized
tours, mainstream routes, structured adventures, luxury or rustic, city or country,
etc. The first rule of travel is to thine own self be true. Don't take someone else's
trip; take your own. Know yourself, what you like, what you must have in terms of
accommodations, and make it fit YOU. A trip is like an extension of your personality;
make sure it's authentic.
2. Prepare without becoming rigid or locking yourself in. It's the little serendipities
that make travel so rewarding. Be sure to allow enough flexibility in your time-schedule
and your attitude for the unexpected to happen. Remember: you can't plan wonder;
you can only discover it. Your trip should be one of discovery if it is to be anything
3. Pre-learn: read up on the areas to which you will be going. Study maps for geographic
reference and understanding. Put a little history into your noggin so you will have
context when you get there. Also, it NEVER hurts to learn as many little bits of
the language as you can; locals will always be appreciative of your efforts to speak
to them in their tongue. This goes for customs, too. Learn how they bow, shake hands,
and any other important little norms that can make or break your ability to connect.
4. Go off the beaten path. At least once on your trip wander off. Go somewhere you
haven't planned. Take a walk, or rent some type of native transportation so you
can get away from the worn grooves tourists have made through the same exact routes.
In essence, you want to make your way through the lives of the locals.
5. Make meaningful contact with local people. Try to initiate conversations and
make friends. With the Internet, it is easier than ever to stay in touch. This prolongs
your travel and continues the learning experience. It is also enriching and provides
6. Travel light. Let me say this one again: TRAVEL LIGHT!!!!! You really don't need
to take as much along as you might think. There is no sin in wearing a set of clothes
more than once, or taking the smallest sized toiletries you can buy. Trust me, the
more you have to lug that baggage into taxis, through train turnstiles, around airports,
and up stairs, the more you'll come to hate your material attachment (this becomes
a great metaphor for life, by the way).
7. Take a lot of pictures. When you get back, especially with today's technology,
there are endless ways to continue enjoying your experiences. Digital photos are
nearly free, and can be displayed and enjoyed and shared endlessly. Don't slack
in this department; you really can't overdo it.
8. Keep a daily journal. This is a great way to wring the most out of your experiences,
stimulate deeper thought and introspection, promote learning, and provide a record
of dates, times, names, and events which may be useful later.
9. Seek first to understand. You don't know what you don't know, so act accordingly.
Be inquisitive, curious, and open to learning new viewpoints. Travel as a student
and not a critic; be a participant and not a judge.
10. Stay flexible. Detours, re-routings, inconveniences, and little frictions of
all types will confront you as you crawl your way around unfamiliar lands. Remain
easygoing and understanding. Don't demand your rights or place your own personal
comfort at the top of your priority list. No matter what happens, it may be helpful
to realize that even if what you are experiencing is uncomfortable, unfair, or a
little bit scary, you are gaining a great story. As the saying goes, "No guts, no
11. Always have money. One of the best insulators against travel troubles is money.
It allows you to travel lighter, knowing you can buy what you need when you need
it. It can fix problems or procure accommodations when plans fail, and it can even
grease palms when and where it might be needed. A little tip here and there can
work wonders in many parts of the world. I would also recommend having at least
some of a country's denomination on hand before you get there (otherwise, you might
end up in France without even enough euro to pay for the public restroom for your
toddlers—true story! I won't bore you with the details). Also, have credit cards
of many different types. However, credit cards aren't nearly as popular or widely
accepted in most parts of the world as they are in the U.S. In many, many places,
cash is your best bet. Paying in correct change is also highly recommended; otherwise,
you will end up with huge pocketfuls of heavy coins (according to a cashier I met
in Japan, it is a strictly American trait to pay in rounded off sums of cash instead
of in correct change).
12. Keep your passport on you at all times.
13. Take time to notice things, to ponder, to think.
14. Find a way to contribute. Figure out a way to become a blessing to the people
or places you go. Is there a charity underway in that area? Is there a relief organization
that could use donations? Is there a youth that could use an international pen pal?
In other words, take pictures but leave a part of yourself.
15. Buy gifts. Don't forget to expand the impact of your trip by including others
back home. This may be as inexpensive as an email, or may take the form of trinkets
and keepsakes. However, make sure any gifts purchased are small and travel-durable.
It's the thought that counts.
16. Go "Dark": What this means is to take an intentional fast (at least for a portion
or portions of your trip) from electronics of all kinds: television, video games,
smart phones (the average American checks his/her phone 150 times a day!), Internet,
iPads, etc. Have the guts to truly unplug. If I were a betting man, I'd wager this
will be one of the biggest benefits of your trip.
I hope this ramshackle list proves helpful. However, it will be much more fun for
you to construct your own list based on your own experiences. Let me know if I've
And don't forget: It's three euro for the public restroom in Nice, France.