When I started this thing called “independent traveling,” I really wish that I had been given this list beforehand, as it has plenty of practical wisdom and insight that every traveler should keep in mind the next time they find themselves abroad:
There’s no such thing as being lost. With exception to situations depicted in Miroslav Holub’s poem of the
Strangers are not your enemy. Wonder why so many people are obsessed with trekking the globe? I guarantee you they don’t do it not talking to anyone. Almost universally, the best travel experiences start with, “…and then I met this [girl/guy/group of people] in [some place] and they [helped me out/offered me a meal/changed my life]…”
Your country count isn’t a race. Plenty of travelers try to hit dozens of countries in a single trip (guilty!) without ever feeling the ground. Additionally, as much as you’d like to count your countries visited (it’s OK if you do), you don’t need wave it around like you’re keeping score (unless you’re on a very specific mission like
Just because your tickets are booked doesn’t mean your plans are fixed. Plenty of variables spring up when traveling independent: new friends, weather/political situations, and having your passport stolen are sure-fire ways to hone your improvisation skills on the road.
Learning even a handful of phrases in the local language can help immensely. Imagine someone walking up to you and starting to rattle off in a language you didn’t understand, and then being frustrated that you didn’t understand. Oh, right, and to top it off and you’re in your home country. You’d be a bit put off, wouldn’t you? Don’t be that person.
Putting your camera down every once in a while is healthy. It’s easy to take so many pictures of a place that you forget to just be in its presence for a while. Call it what you will, every place has its energy—but you have to attune yourself to it, and it’s easier to do that without your finger on the shutter button.
Travel can make, break, or solidify a friendship/relationship. Even best friends can have different travel styles, and even the most hardcore travelers can find themselves in stressful situations. Being stressed together can bring out the best and worst in all of us.
If you have to ask, you probably won’t need it. I like how Susan Heller sums it up for us: “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” My backpack typically stays around 35 lbs. for a two-month trek, or a little heavier with my camera gear.
Your guidebook is a reference, not a series of footprints to follow. Guidebooks share indispensable wisdom in the form of maps, cultural notes, and destination advice, but if you adhere too strictly to its regimen, your spontaneity muscles can atrophy.
A two-week paid vacation is not really a vacation. This one speaks more to U.S. citizens (myself included), who are conditioned to believe that a job that guarantees two weeks of vacation time per year is a really great thing. Unfortunately, psychologists have found that it takes a
What’s something that you’ve learned from traveling that you wish you’d known at the outset?