10 Things I Learned from Traveling

By |2018-11-16T13:16:41+00:00December 22, 2011|Categories: Our Travel Life, Packing Tips, Resources|11 Comments
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 on the aisle 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 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.”

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

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 any 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. Would it kill you to learn “Please” and “Thank you”? Terimah kasih.

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 fasts ones like the AVE in Spain and the TGV in France.

7. Geckos on your 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 Turkey and Chile where they’re actually trained and take pride in their profession and knowledge. Our guide at 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.

Happy Holidays.

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

Sign up for our newsletter

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit


  1. 50+ and on the Run December 22, 2011 at 11:21 pm - Reply

    All good to remember (especially the socks); packing tonight for Antarctic trip–man, that stuff’s bulky. Happy 2012!

  2. Tom Bartel December 22, 2011 at 11:29 pm - Reply

    Ok, Nancy, for you I’ll add #12. When you would otherwise wear flip flops, wear snow shoes. Have a great trip and stay warm.

  3. Ronda December 23, 2011 at 11:21 am - Reply

    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.

  4. Emily June 19, 2014 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    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. =)

    • Tom Bartel June 20, 2014 at 12:55 am - Reply

      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.

  5. Emily June 20, 2014 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    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. =)

    • Tom Bartel June 21, 2014 at 3:35 am - Reply

      It certainly was an awesome game for Costa Rica. The country must be pretty energized.

  6. Sheila Todd January 16, 2016 at 10:13 am - Reply

    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.

    • Tom Bartel January 16, 2016 at 10:27 am - Reply

      Gee, Sheila. You’re welcome. Stay light on your feet, wherever you go and it will be great.

  7. Marc January 16, 2016 at 11:02 am - Reply

    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.

    • Tom Bartel January 16, 2016 at 11:26 am - Reply

      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.

Leave A Comment