My father and I couldn’t be more different. He’s conservative and traditional, while I’m a creative “free spirit.” He introduces himself to everyone, and I’m more reserved. I yearn for faraway places, and he’s a homebody.
We share a certain stubbornness, which is what kept me from listening to his advice for so many years. In your teens, your father seems like someone whom you can’t relate to, who’s trying to cramp your style and social life. In your 20s, you start to understand where he’s coming from.
Some might call him a redneck, but I call him Dad. And his Southernisms / words of wisdom are always lingering in the back of my mind when I’m on the road — whether I choose to heed them or not.
1. “If you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough.”
Think that last tequila shot is a good idea? Or drunk Skype-ing an ex? Or inhaling a late-night kebab from a dodgy stand? Or getting busy with a hostel employee? You definitely won’t think so in the morning. You might be in pain, but you’ve made your bed. Be responsible for your own decisions and don’t complain.
After I stupidly decided to go on an all-night binge in Munich, even though I knew I had to take a train early in the morning to Innsbruck, my dad’s words haunted me. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed and die, but I put myself in the situation. It was time to drink some Gatorade, eat some crackers, and suck it up for the train ride ahead.
2. “I’m not here to make friends every day.”
We all want to be liked, but sometimes you have to make the tough decisions that don’t make people happy. This is particularly true if you’re anyone’s boss or manager. You have to be the one who gets stuff done, not the guy who tells people what they want to hear.
It’s also true when you’re a solo traveler. Following along with a group of fellow travelers can be nice, but not if you’re missing out on what you really want to do.
During my year-long working holiday in Australia, I made friends early in a solo trip and ended up traveling with them for a month. It was nice to have a group, but I wasn’t doing what I enjoyed, like going to museums and seeing the sights, because they wanted to stay out all night and party. In the end, I decided to part ways in favor of the things I was fired up on, like touring the XXXX Brewery in Brisbane, and taking a scuba diving course in Cairns.
3. “It’s the right thing to do.”
There are some things we do not because we particularly want to, but out of duty. This includes going to family members’ funerals, helping people move, driving people to the airport, and sending flowers to a sick friend. It’s a quality that others will admire in you and that sets you apart. (At the same time, don’t be a pushover.)
If you see a fellow traveler who’s obviously lost or needs help, it’s important to look out for members of your tribe. Help them carry a bag or offer directions. We all need some good travel karma at some point. After a 15+ hour overnight bus to Toronto recently, a lovely Canadian couple gave me directions and their contact info, offering that I could call if I needed anything.
4. “Just because he’s nice doesn’t mean you need to date him.”
It’s taken me 24 years to understand this one. In my family, we use this statement to explain our emotions about nice guys we don’t have “the feeling” for. It’s easy to lead someone on because you like their personality, even though you aren’t attracted to them. We’ve also adapted this phrase to say, “Just because you love him doesn’t mean he’s the one.” Being in love with someone right now may not mean you’re going to spend your life together.
I got into the ultimate travel trap — falling for someone I met abroad. I had these grand visions of our vacation romance turning into something serious. And while it did for a while, it went on far longer than it needed to because I didn’t listen to my father’s advice.
5. “You can’t fix stupid.”
This one’s along the same lines of “bless your heart,” a very Southern, borderline condescending way of saying you’re not too smart. And while people can fix a lot of things about themselves, a lack of brains isn’t one of them.
There’s always going to be that person you meet on your travels who doesn’t listen. If a sign says “don’t press the red button,” they’ll be the first to press it. If the zookeeper tells you not to pet the baby seals, they’ll be the first to get their arm bitten off. One guy on my first European tour got so drunk on New Year’s Eve in Paris that he woke up outside the Louvre without his wallet or passport. See #1.