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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