In Elizabeth Gilbert’s biography of rediscovering life in ‘Eat Pray Love’, a particular paragraph evoked some thoughts in me, as she defines a ‘good’ traveler:
‘Truthfully, I’m not the best traveler in the world. I’ve met people who are great at it. Real naturals. I’ve met travelers who are so physically sturdy they could drink a shoebox of water from a Calcutta gutter and never get sick. People who can pick up new languages where others of us might only pick up infectious diseases. People who are the right height and complexion that they kind of look halfway normal wherever they on.’
‘I don’t have these qualities. First off, I don’t blend. Tall and blond and pink-complexioned, I am less a chameleon than a flamingo. I’m bad (or rather, lazy) at researching a place before I travel, tending just to show up and see what happens. And, oh, the woes that traveling has inflicted on my digestive tract!’
— Elizabeth Gilbert
Although Elizabeth’s wicked sense of self-teasing humor amuses me, I honestly don’t think you could define how ‘good’ a traveler one person is. Whether you are a long-term traveler, one who’s experienced or one who’s just taken your baby steps into vagabonding, there’s no measure to how ‘well’ you travel.
Can you ever measure how ‘well’ one travels?
Amusingly I fit her bill of a ‘good’ traveler, I’ve never suffered a serious case of food-poisoning despite the funky food I eat (Alberto was never this fortunate) and I have no problems picking up local languages and always manage to amuse the locals. I tend to blend into the crowd, and not stand out too much looking like a lobster-tanned tourist.
On the contrary, I am a careless absent-minded traveler, I forget my passport all the time, air-tickets, hostel key, anything you could think of. I have missed several flights in my life, mostly due to negligence (i.e. forgetting departure time, not bothering to double check). Like an elementary school child, I need Alberto by my side to check if I remembered my malaria pills or band-aid.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy myself getting lost in the night markets of Cambodia, or running through the busy streets of Cairo to catch our train to only miss it by a second. They become stories we would look back and laugh at. Similarly, a traveler who is too lazy to research on a place, like Elizabeth, enjoys her perks of uncovering secret alleys that most guidebook-reliant travelers might miss. A tourist who stands out as a foreigner, might get approached by the friendliest locals, and in turn experiencing something you might miss out on.
For one, if we could ever loosely define how ‘well’ one travels, I would say these points are what make a ‘good’ traveler.
(I am far from that perfection, but let’s just say, I’m working on it.)
A ‘Good’ Traveler…
Has an open mind and welcomes any form of adventure! I think this is quintessential to maximizing one’s experience while travelling. If you’re too afraid to try the local exotic food (grasshoppers!) or have qualms about visiting the Tannery (too smelly for you?), then you really might be missing out on some great stuff!
Respects other cultures and is genuinely interested in a different heritage. I have met many world travelers who surprisingly shock me with mocking remarks on certain traditions and customs they are unable to accept.
Speaks politely and blends in. You see them everywhere, the bunch of loud-mouthed teenagers talking at the top of their voices at the Piazza, the group of drunk Brits on the beach of Ibiza slurring loudly, they stand out like flamingos, and no the locals don’t usually like them.
Understands cultural differences and does not expect others to speak in her/his language. Many English-speaking travelers make the mistake of assuming that everyone speaks English too, and gets frustrated when they don’t. (I used to be one. Damn I’m ashamed.)
Socializes with the locals and not only fellow travelers. I’ve seen hordes of backpackers clustering together like a herd of sheep, yet they shudder at the thought of making a local friend. Learn to say ‘hi’ in the local language, and I’m sure you’ll be the talk of the town.
Is humble and modest. I believe traveling is a never-ending learning process, and everyone always has something new to learn. So stop being a snob even if you’ve seen the world, there’s always something you don’t know.
Can always laugh it off. Someone who doesn’t get too serious about life, someone who laughs at himself and can share her whimsical outlook of life with others, probably makes the ‘best’ traveler as she touches others magically.
- The Ups and Downs of a Nomadic Lifestyle
- Moving on: A New Life
- Why Should I Travel?
- 7 Steps to Sustaining Long-Term Travel