10 Things I’ve Learned from Traveling

japanese tourists
“Oh my God! Look! It's a cathedral!”

1. Flight attendant instructions on South American airlines are regarded as strictly optional. Here's how that goes: the plane lands; the tires have barely stopped smoking and you're still a long way from the terminal, but half the passengers have already stood up to get their huge bags out of the overhead compartments. You are still sitting in your aisle seat and the guy in the middle seat is trying to climb over you to be one of them. The flight attendants have pretty much given up by the time we reach the terminal.

2. Nearly every man on the island of Bali owns a taxi, which he hawks at you by saying, “Transport?” and when you keep walking, “Maybe tomorrow?” Change “Transport?” to “Turkish Carpet?” and you've got Istanbul. Oh, and these people are just trying to make a living. Be courteous when you say, “No thanks.” I once was tempted to buy a t-shirt in Cusco, Peru that said “Gracias, no.”

3. Good socks are important. And lots of them. I walked an average of 22 kilometers a day on the Camino de Santiago in 2011. If you do something like this, you will become more aware of your feet than you ever dreamed. Wear nicely padded socks. Change them once or twice a day and your feet will not try to kill you quite as frequently. You could profit from this tip even if you're just standing on hard museum and cathedral floors all day, too.

Louvre tourists Mona Lisa
Why is she smiling? Because Leonardo told her to say, “Cheese.”

4. Slow down. Your object is to see stuff and talk to people, not get somewhere and take a photo. At the Louvre, there were more tourists taking a photo of the Mona Lisa than were actually looking at it. I wonder if, when they get home, they realize that they only saw her through a view finder.

5. The language barrier isn't that hard to overcome. First of all, in a town of any size, someone will speak English. However, you will go a long way toward making yourself less of an ugly American if you try to speak at least a little of the native tongue. This is especially true in France. If you start with “Bonjour” instead of just launching into English, the French are actually quite nice. Would it kill you to learn “Please” and “Thank you” in whatever the local tongue? Terimah kasih works in Bali, for example.

6. When you have a choice, take a non-US airline. Of course, there are exceptions. Thank you Lan, AeroGal, Lufthansa, Iberia, Turkish Air, and Swiss for such forgotten concepts as comfortable seats, leg room, and drinks. Also, trains are good, especially the fast ones like the AVE in Spain and the TGV in France. And, don't forget Eurail.

7. Geckos on your tropical hotel room walls aren't necessarily a bad thing. They are fun to watch and they eat bugs. They're especially fun to watch when they catch a big dragonfly. The best of both worlds.

The Atacama Desert would have been a dry place indeed without the expert commentary of Catalina.

8. Sometimes guides are worth it, especially in countries like Cambodia, Turkey, and Chile where they're highly trained and take pride in their profession and knowledge. Our guide at the Turkish battle site of Gallipoli was an encyclopedia of the campaign and the site, down to knowing individual unit commanders' names and troop movements before, during, and after each battle.

backpacks camino
Travel light, wherever you go. You'll never know when you might be walking 500 miles.

9. Pack light. You really don't need all that crap. Really. When you see tourists with three huge suitcases with their pillow tied to one of them, it's okay if you laugh out loud when they realize that the porter can't carry their bags through customs for them.

10. Television is not a prominent part of the lives of people of other countries. That's what makes them much more interesting than Americans. If you're reading this in the United States, take this opportunity to unplug yours. See, you're more interesting already.

Free Bonus Number 11! When you're traveling, the internet connection can be sporadic. It will usually go out right in the middle of posting something. Like it did in the middle of this post. It will come back. Or you can move. Or both Or, you can read a book.

Update: As usual, my traveling companion has her own ideas.

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23 thoughts on “10 Things I’ve Learned from Traveling”

  1. Oh my gosh, you two are funny. People still can’t believe how light I pack. I remember my load dwindling the year I traveled. Rule of thumb is to pack whatever you think you can’t life without and cut it by 2/3. Dr Bronners and a good book is really all you need. I am having recollections of the internet going out right at the end of a well thought out email. (pre Facebook). Save draft is a beautiful thing. Asia was a bit different. I remember being at 12000 feet in the middle of no where in Bhutan and coming upon a small thatched home with a tv flickering through the window, and riding a train through the slums of Bangkok with satellites on top of every rickety metal roof. But the best was in Laos where about 50 monks were in an outdoor plaza area watching Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately, I accidentally tripped over the cord.

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  2. Very funny and so true about the TV. We’ve gone well over a year without television in Costa Rica, and we don’t miss watching other people live. Our life is quite interesting enough. =)

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    • However, I do admit to repeatedly going into bars to watch Spanish and World Cup football (soccer.) That’s a great way to socialize, btw. We spent a whole game talking to a Dutch man about alternative energy in Europe yesterday.

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  3. We watched an awesome World Cup game today in Costa Rica! But, we weren’t at a bar. We brought beer to a gelato place. =)

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  4. Tom and Kris I’m so glad I learned about your blog! While out with my book club on Andrea and Troy Brandt’s beautiful restored skiff craft we were pondering life and work and Troy told us about your blog. I’ve enjoyed your posts, photos and appreciate the reminders to travel light as we prepare for an upcoming Caribbean camping and sailing trip … I just wish my travels were as extensive as yours! Your work/travel business model lifestyle is truly inspiring – kudos and thanks for the entertaining and informative content.

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  5. Those are good tips and I am sure most people are not aware of. I have been traveling over 10 years now and I follow those well besides there are tons more that I follow simply because I travel with my toddlers now. Life is not as it looks when you don’t travel alone. Locals are part of my travels and I love to blend in and talk to locals to get the best info I can and each time they are helpful.

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    • Marc, we traveled to foreign countries several times with our children when they were young. Not exactly toddlers, but starting when they were 4 or 5. My best tip for traveling with kids is be sure they get enough sleep. And, be sure to keep your sense of humor.

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  6. You are so funny. Reading this made me smile do many times. It’s good to pin these lessons down on paper, read about them, and thank the stars for encountering them a lot as part of the class!

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  7. Yes, isn’t it interesting how much TV North Americans watch? I’m including us Canadians in with the Americans, as I have quite a few friends who watch far too much TV as far as I’m concerned. Live is for living, and TV is great, but I’d much rather get out there and experience the world at home and abroad. Thx for the great post.

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  8. Your description of Southwest is pretty much the norm for all airlines that we’ve flown in Europe. The behaviors of travelers seems to focus on wanting to both be the first on the plane or the first off. . . and too bad for the person that gets trampled in the process. I read an article once about what airline professionals call those who crowd and clamor the minute they think boarding is about to begin: gate lice. I now think of it often when flying.

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  9. A good laugh, but very true, even though we have not traveled that extensively.

    I enjoyed the comment about socks. Due to diabetic neuropathy and a very bad experience on a trip, I wear hiking socks and, generally, hiking boots when we travel. They are a total pain at airport security, but otherwise make most walks easy. Perhaps a tip for other “older” travelers with foot problems.

    It took us 3 years to get to “cabin luggage only”!

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  10. Always have offline maps of the city or the place you are traveling to; plan in advance what you want to do or see and try to stick to your plans; ask local people for advice when you want to try something new and not the common things everybody is writing about on travel blogs.

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  11. My biggest learning as I’ve gotten on in years and experience is that it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Travelling more slowly, taking time to meet people and learn the local culture, has given us so many rich memories.

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  12. haha you guys are funny. That has to be the most entertaining list of things someone has learned but I have to agree are all true. I just never thought about them in this way. Thanks for exploring and sharing!

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