The ten commandments of travel

Sunrise on Lake Atitlan.  September, 2011.

Sunrise on Lake Atitlan. September, 2011.

1. Treat another person’s country as you would treat their home.  To travel is to be an unofficial ambassador of one’s home country, and therefore a shaper of that society’s reputation.  We play this role inevitably, whether we like it or not; there is no element of choice in the matter.   Nearly everything we do will have at least a small effect on the locals’ perception of our country and its people.  Whether or not they view our homeland in a positive light depends largely on the level of respect we show for theirs.  Sadly, this reality is often lost on a certain brand of tourist, and the results can be shameful. 

2. Bring a great book.  Some of my best travel memories are of times I found a pleasant spot and sat down to read for a couple of hours.  There is a slowness to reading that lends itself beautifully to becoming fully immersed in new and unfamiliar surroundings.

3. Explore alternative means of transportation whenever possible.  When moving from A–>B on a trip abroad, there will likely be a well established network of buses to take you where you need to go.  These buses will generally be cheap and easy, and at times even comfortable, but they will almost never make for a good story.  I’m a firm believer that travel is as much about movement as it is about arrival, and I’ve been well served to employ creativity in this part of the process.  Rather than clinging to what’s easy and fast (buses/airplanes), consider boats, trains, bicycles animals, hitchhiking, walking, etc.

4. Do your homework.  Take time to learn about each new place before you go.  No two countries are the same, and are, in fact, likely to be highly idiosyncratic.  Give yourself a primer course on food, music, religion, current events, politics, history, etc.  This type of immersion adds a deeply satisfying level of depth and understanding to your travels. 

5. Use the bathroom every chance you get.  This might be the most important of the ten commandments.  Not to be vile, but it needs saying- I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve almost peed and/or pooped my pants while traveling.  Dozens.  I was lucky enough to narrowly avoid disaster each time, but I know a handful of folks who weren’t so fortunate.  Never pass up a bathroom opportunity.  NEVER.

6. Pack light.  No matter how long your trip, no matter how diverse the destinations, everything should fit into one 60 liter backpack and a small personal bag.  Limiting your possessions in travel (as in life in general) has a remarkably simplifying effect.  At its core, travel is an act of minimalism, a whittling down of life to its essential components. 

7. Eat where the locals eat.  Authenticity in travel is more difficult to come by than one might expect.  Any place with a heavy influx of tourism will invariably be molded in certain ways by the demands and preferences of foreign visitors.  Sadly, the result is generally a watered down, distorted version of local culture.  Places like Siem Riep, Cambodia (home to Angkor Wat), which sees over one million tourists annually, end up being more a reflection of foreign visitors than local culture.  If this doesn’t bother you, feel free to continue on your merry way.  If it does, take solace in the fact that there’s always a way to escape tourist hell.  Quite simply- grab a friend, maybe two, find out where locals go to eat their meals, and go on an adventure to find it.  It’s that easy.

8. Slow down.  Perhaps the greatest luxury afforded to the traveler is the ability to take a step back from the usual frenetic pace of life.  Learn to sit quietly and watch.  Engage all five of the senses.  Small details that may seem mundane at home take on a fascinating hue when they belong to a foreign land and its people.

9. Make time to go solo.  Some of the fondest travel memories are made in the company of friends, but there is nothing quite like going out into the world on your own.  There is a sense of accomplishment, independence, and self-reflection that is entirely unique to solitary travel.  If you want to know your friends better, travel with them.  If you want to know yourself better, leave them behind. 

10. Have a conversation with one new person per day.  This may seem like a foregone conclusion, but it really isn’t.  It is remarkably easy, especially when traveling with friends, to go an entire day without meeting a new person.  There are endless opportunities to form new relationships on the road, but it does not happen passively.  Exposure to new people and their perspectives is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of travel, but we can only reap the rewards of these interactions if we are willing to make them happen. 

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2 thoughts on “The ten commandments of travel

  1. Pingback: Kimchibytes Welcomes Andy Bax | Kimchibytes

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