Whether you are new to travel or you’ve traveled full-time for months or years, the travel attitude you bring with you when you are on the road really can make a difference to how much you enjoy your trip. Just as importantly – maybe more so – it will have a huge impact on how other people see you as an ambassador for other travelers from your country, and travelers in general.
We’ve been to over 40 countries each, and we’ve learned that your travel attitude matters just as much as the itinerary you create, the equipment you bring, and the money you have to spend.
Have a curious travel attitude
Remember the first trip you took to a place in a completely different culture? Everything looked so different. Those news ideas that you learned were so refreshing. You wanted to know why certain things happened that were different from what you were used to in the bubble you used to live in! You asked questions. Learned new habits. You were thirsty for more. Don’t ever lose that feeling. Every new day is different and you will always learn.
See a line of people eagerly waiting in front of a window? Find out what the line’s for! Is there a parade happening for a political rally? Without involving yourself too much in the politics, see what it is and what locals think about it. Interact with your surroundings and the people. The reason you’re traveling is to experience a different culture than your own.
Sometimes, you can learn one or two things while just sitting down on a park bench, watching how locals conduct their daily routines. Believe us when we say it is so much fun! Sometimes, we have just as much fun watching how the locals interact with foreign guests when we are at a historic site as we do actually exploring the site itself!
An example: Michael traveled to Borobudur in Indonesia in 2012 because he wanted to see this ancient temple. Immediately, he was swarmed by young children (and even adults) who simply wanted to get their pictures taken with him. Instead of brushing them off, Michael talked with them and answered questions about where he was from. They were just curious people who wanted to practice their English with a native speaker. It made both Michael’s and their experience richer!
Michael is always good with local kids. He has the patience to interact with them, and we do have a collection of his pictures with local kids everywhere he goes. He’s a kid whisperer!
An open-minded travel attitude is best
You will run into different ideas that you never even knew existed. Some of these might be completely different from what you have known your whole life. Listen to your conscience – and feel free to jump right in. Try local cuisines. Attend a festival or religious ceremony that is different from you are accustomed to.
Eat local food
One of the biggest parts of having a great travel attitude is being open to try local cuisine. Maybe it could be as easy as sitting down and having a bowl of pasta and gelato in Rome , a cup of ceviche in Chile, or even deep-fried scorpions on a stick in China. Have you tried durian? Michael thinks it’s disgusting. Halef loves it. But how will you know if you refuse to even taste it?
Learn a sentence or two of the local language
Even though it is not possible to become fluent in a new language in a short period of time, always try to learn a few important sentences. Know the pleasantries, like greetings and “please” and “thank you.” I write these basic sentences in my travel journals, and it always pays off – locals tend to respond well and even laugh with (and at) me with my new skills!
A patient and polite travel attitude comes into play here. It can be frustrating at times when things get lost in translation, but patience and politeness are important. Learn from Michael the Canadian: knowing how to say please, thank you, and even sorry when it’s warranted can score you tremendous bonus points with locals, who will appreciate that you’re trying.
You’re no better than anyone else
In a foreign country, no matter how hard you try to blend in, you will stick out like a sore thumb. You’re a guest in their home, but that never means you deserve to be treated like a royalty.
Even though we often don’t recognize it, most people in the west are tremendously privileged. It’s easy to believe we are better or deserve to do and have more than everyone else. After all, we see it every day on television, in the media, and in our own homes. But we are no different. People from other countries have the same desires and wants that we have. Theirs may be on much smaller scales, but everyone is just trying to do the best they can and make good lives for themselves and their families. Everyone wants to be happy, and even though their lives and jobs are completely different from yours, we all have the same goals.
Have you ever heard someone say, “He’s on Mexico time!” or “She’s on Asian time”? Well, that’s really a thing! Michael is a person who shows up at least a few minutes early to every appointment he makes. If he says he’s going to meet you somewhere at 3 PM, he gets very annoyed if he, or you, is late for it. He’ll be there at 2:50! But he has also learned that “[Insert country here] time” is real. Canadians are pretty laid back, but most non-Western cultures are a lot more laid back than even Canada. When you’re on the road and someone says she’ll meet you at 3 and shows up at 3:10, let it go! It’s just the way it is in some places!
In addition to that, you may be used to services being performed for you quickly. Your toilet is clogged in America. You call a plumber and the plumber is there within the hour. You’re accustomed to that. It’s not the same way everywhere. Don’t expect it to be. Sometimes, things break and you have to wait and deal with the consequences. It’s not fun, but it’s the way it is.
A smile goes a long way
As an Indonesian, I learn to constantly smile in all occasions: just like Thailand, we are from a land of smiles. Indonesians smile whether they are happy, sad, disagree with something, or are completely lost. In fact, it is said that Indonesians have a smile for every emotion. Smiles go a long way in a foreign land where you don’t speak their language and they don’t speak yours.
Plus, smiling makes everything feel better. Studies have shown that people can “see” your smile, even when you are talking to them on the phone. That’s not to say you should fake your happiness. Certainly, there are times when you’re just going to be in a bad mood. But wherever you can, keep that positive travel attitude and smile whenever you can.
(Sometimes) keep your thoughts and beliefs to yourself
Traveling to a foreign land should be a positive learning experience for both the traveler and the locals. But sometimes, we see things happening when we travel that we would never tolerate back home. Oftentimes, the places we visit are far more conservative than we’re used to. So, sometimes it is better for you to keep a conservative mindset when you travel. You might not believe what you’re seeing is right, but that doesn’t always mean you need to voice it. Ears more than tongue, as the saying goes.
Both Michael I have very strong opinions about how animals are badly treated in different areas of the world. Recently after crossing a border between Belize and Guatemala, our bus made an (illegal) stop to exchange some money and chickens with a guy in a pickup truck. I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying anything It was alarming to see how those small containers were overcrowded with chickens. They were really packed in and stacked so high. I wondered how they could breathe.
When we were in Petra, we saw a donkey that was being physically abused by its owner. We said something to the person with the whip, because we felt it was appropriate.
So, with the new positive travel attitude for traveling, you are ready to explore this wonderful world. Here’s an overused, but very appropriate, travel quote:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
H. Jackson Brown Jr. (often erroneously attributed to Mark Twain)