DON’T take travel advice to heart.
There are a lot — A LOT — of voices out there vying for your attention to tell you what to do, where to stay, what to eat, when to go. In our series of the same namesake as this article, we’ve even advised travelers what not to do. Of course, these were done in the vein of getting our readers to explore the more unknown sides of places (also playfully subverting the typical travel service article), not literally to discourage travelers from seeing the big and famous sights.
In any case, advice is just suggestions. No one writing it knows you; don’t treat it as gospel. Don’t lose your own experience trying to re-live someone else’s.
DO consider the knowledge of other travelers who have gone before you.
That said, there is plenty of value in what seasoned travelers have to say. You may find some of the advice you come across will save you, and you might follow advice that turns out to be horrible. If you find yourself confused by polarizing viewpoints about a particular subject, just remember that the truth generally tends to lie somewhere in the middle.
In the past I’ve always given the advice to new travelers to try not to see too many things in one trip. I learned this in my first travels abroad: a month in Europe with a 10-trip Eurail pass, moving around every 2-3 days. It’s easy to pass that lesson along, but not so easy to follow it. We never truly learn a lesson without experiencing it firsthand. Let your own reality be your teacher.
DON’T judge yourself or others on travel style.
“Are you a tourist or a traveler?” Who cares? The only people that care are those who want an ego boost by thinking what they’re doing is somehow more authentic, genuine, real — as if they’re better than anyone else. Worry about yourself, not what others are doing. Everyone has their own path in their travels; don’t let what others may or may not think dictate yours.
DO listen to yourself and be authentic to what your gut tells you.
Society these days is “noisy.” We’re being bombarded with information through news, websites, advertisements, social media; pulled and yanked in this direction and that direction. It’s enough to give you whiplash. It can be extremely hard to shut out the static and turn inward, into yourself to listen to what it is that you actually want. Go for a run; meditate; do some yoga; take a walk in the forest. Ask yourself questions and sense how your body reacts — your physiological responses like increased heart rate, a “funny feeling in your stomach”, a throbbing in your head. Your body knows before your brain does. Listen to it.
DON’T judge other cultures.
It’s pretty much a given that, at some point in your travels, you’ll come across people and cultures who behave in ways that go against your own beliefs. Or at the very least you find strange and hard to understand. Just as you grew up in your environment learning and knowing what you know, they did too.
DO practice empathy, compassion, and respect.
I traveled in Vietnam for a month a few years ago. I left that country feeling very bitter towards its people. I felt like I was constantly ripped off and lied to. I also heard from several other travelers who had similar stories. Back then I never stopped to consider why the tourism industry may have evolved the way it has. I never considered how I might be if I were in their situation. If I changed my perspective while I was there, I would have had a much better experience.
You don’t even have to understand why a certain culture is the way it is, you just need to respect that it is. After all, it’s still your choice that you’re there.
DON’T stay in your comfort zone.
The act of traveling is, for most people, something that already gets them out of their comfort zone. Out of their daily routines; out of the known. But even while traveling it’s easy to slip right back in there. For some it might be surrounding themselves with people just like them; for others it might be never leaving the hostel. It’s very difficult to grow as a person in the safety bubbles we insert ourselves.
DO test your boundaries.
I like what author David Deida said about fears. To paraphrase: Find your edge, then live slightly past it. Furthermore, he said that if you live too far beyond your edge you won’t be able to metabolize your experiences. In other words, if stepping outside of your house is a big ordeal for you, it’s probably not a good idea to head straight to skydiving.
Where does your bubble end?
DON’T feel bad if you want to just relax.
Let’s face it: We’re taught from a young age to always set goals, to keep progressing. Basically, to never be satisfied. In that kind of environment it’s extremely difficult to find contentment. This translates to traveling. You’re in a foreign country, an exotic locale — can’t waste your time being idle! There’s always something to see and do.
DO be good to yourself.
Even if your cohorts are urging you to join them on some “epic” adventure, if your body and your mind are pleading with your brain for some rest, listen. If you decide that you need to just sleep or watch DVDs all day long in the hostel lounge, don’t be hard on yourself for doing so. Life is about balance. There will always be “epic” adventures to go on.
DON’T go anywhere with preconceived notions.
I love that quote that goes something like, “when you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Perception. If you go somewhere expecting to see poverty / rude people / crime, that’s what you’ll see. This becomes especially dangerous in the hands of travel media producers who go somewhere with a specific intent or angle and closing off every other possibility, then passing that off to the general public as the reality.
DO leave your expectations at home.
How can you ever be disappointed when you have no expectations? At the essence of travel is the spirit of exploration. Take things as they come and adapt to the moment. It’s far less stressful than having your idea of what is supposed to happen not happen.
Of course, though, if you decide to ignore all this, I won’t judge you.
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Carlo is a Managing Editor at Matador and co-founder of Confronting Love. He blogs about travel, life, and creativity at Vagabonderz.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.