Are you a Good Traveler?

Posted on June 2, 2009 by

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.

A good Traveler... by Just Add Light.

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.

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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

25 Responses to “Are you a Good Traveler?”

  1. Sherry Ott June 1, 2009 5:34 pm

    I think I"m a great traveler, and a bad expat! Being an expat really gives you practice at being open to other cultures because you are living among them; still working on that!
    Nice post. I have to say I'm not a fan of the book, but she did have some great quotes in it that I took my highlighter to!

  2. Amy @ The Q Family June 1, 2009 7:11 pm

    I have never read her book but I like your first definition of a good traveler.. Being an open mind and welcome any form of adventure, I think is a key to enjoying your travel. I believe it's too narrow-minded to just categorize one type of traveling to be better than another. Traveling is more like personal choice. So one person way of travel (being a backpacking, or luxury crusing) is different from another. So as long as you enjoy and happy during your trip, I think that's what the main goal. Any form of traveling is better than staying at home. :)

  3. Lilliy June 1, 2009 7:28 pm

    I never read that book but I read your post and loved the definition of a good traveler. I think I am of a middle of the road good traveler I can laugh it out but sometimes I just don't feel like it because I want it this way not that.

  4. Mary R June 1, 2009 10:33 pm

    I love this post! I think a good traveler is also someone one who can take a little piece of the places visited and incorporate into their own life somehow… otherwise, why travel in the first place? this could be anything from gaining some different life perspective on the trip to simply bringing home spices to cook with.

  5. Dave and Deb June 2, 2009 1:50 pm

    Beautifully written. I certainly try to be a good traveler, but I have a long way to go. I burn badly in the sun, both Dave and I have been very sick at times and sometimes I just can't laugh it off. I try very hard to learn the local language, but I am not very good I have to admit. But people always get a laugh out of my bad pronunciation. That is not to say that I am not great at other things. I love talking with local people, I love all adventures and I love to explore new cultures. Food, I will try anything set in front of me and I will try my hand at the traditional dance or meditation, sport or art. I love it all.

  6. Keith Jenkins June 17, 2009 11:18 pm

    Ok, reading the first half of the article, I thought… no, I'm probably the worst traveller! However, I felt much better after your points came up. Phew! I'm a good traveller after all! Another fab article from you! Thanks for sharing.


  7. Andi February 11, 2010 5:06 am

    EXCELLENT post!!! Wow, I feel like this should be the 1st page of every travel guide. I hope this enlightens some people. :)

    • admin February 13, 2010 8:27 pm

      Thanks Andi for your kind words, glad you enjoyed it!

  8. Sebastian November 10, 2011 9:34 pm

    Beautiful post!!! I always thought I would be a good traveler but since I live in eastern Europe I know that I am not. I still have a lot to learn! Thanks for this inspiring post.

  9. Heather November 17, 2011 5:52 am

    Great post idea! I of course am a huge fan of Elizabeth, Eat Pray Love was exactly what I wanted my life to be when it came out, since then I've been working towards my dream of being an expat! 6 months & counting, loving your blog!

  10. linda john December 28, 2011 3:32 pm

    great idea…

  11. John January 10, 2012 9:55 am

    Well said! While there are certainly no hard and fast rules of what makes a good traveler, I think respect (and you touch on this in a few of your points) certainly is the largest factor. Show common respect for locals, fellow travelers, etc. and you are already half way there.

  12. TravelShark February 28, 2012 4:19 am

    We keep a copy of "Eat Pray Love," among other travel guides in our office :) You gave a really lovely definition of a good traveller.

    We'd just like to add that a 'good' traveller isn't afraid to try things that scare him or her. They're usually not complacent and always up for the next adventure. Have you heard of traveller fatigue? Good travelers like you seem to be able to balance the adventure and stability really well; what's your secret??? Do share!

  13. Zara April 4, 2012 1:01 am

    I wouldn't think that researching a lot about a place before going there makes you a better traveler. Being open to learn things about the place and the people there once you are at the place, that yes… makes for a better traveler in my opinion! :)

  14. Jeremy Branham May 8, 2012 11:33 am

    I love this list. I try and do all of these. The one I have a biggest issue with is the last one. When things go wrong, I can't always laugh it off. However, with each trip I take I hope to be a better traveler! :)

  15. Laura May 31, 2012 11:00 pm

    I think the last point is especially important, not only is it important not to take yourself too seriously humour is a great force for bringing people together as well. Sometimes laughter allows us to break down the barriers that may otherwise trip us up as travellers. Keep up the good work!

  16. Lee Carter June 14, 2012 11:43 pm

    I like to think I travel well, I hope to be well recieved. I am much worse at staying in one place, I get itchy feet and bored easily.

  17. Prom Limo service June 16, 2012 4:28 pm


    Very nicely described that what are the qualities need to be have in a Good traveler. Like the way blog is written easily understandable all the aspect described in blog post. keep it up.


  18. Jonathan Look, Jr. June 21, 2012 7:57 am

    The trick to being a good traveler is having an open mind and not bringing your expectations on your travels. Over romanticizing a destination before arrival can be deadly for the experience. Under romanticizing upon arrival is also not good.

    • Nellie June 22, 2012 11:13 pm

      I definitely agree — over or under romanticizing are not a good way to experience a country. But then again, who doesnt have expectations before arriving at a place?

  19. thegrumpster July 1, 2012 6:06 pm

    I've discovered that the three essentials you need to be a traveler are a sense of wonderment, an open mind and a good sense of humor, all those fantastic experiences that you enjoy when you travel will follow on from there.

  20. @Mikeachim July 16, 2012 10:59 pm

    >>"Can you ever measure how ‘well’ one travels?"

    Perhaps we could if everyone travels the same way for the same reasons.

    So, no. ;) I don't reckon so. We all set our own goals, our own speeds and methods of travel, we all have different things we want – some want hardship, some want super-pampering, some want enlightenment, some want familiarity. (But for the record, I agree with your list. Those are good universal starting-points for anyone).

    But I reckon it's an individual thing, if we're speaking about how we ourselves define "good traveller" (and not, say, a Customs agent). If we're travelling in a way that we feel is making the most of our abilities, that adds something to the world and the people we meet as we travel instead of just taking something away from them, and in a way that makes us feel comfortable and proud to be in our own skin, we're good travellers.

    I'm a bloody *awful* traveller.

    Things go wrong ALL THE TIME, dude.

  21. Ashley September 24, 2012 7:50 am

    I remember reading the passage in Eat Pray Love and wondering if I was a good traveler. I think curiosity is the most important quality in a traveler… there's really no point in leaving if you're going to be too scared to try new things once you're there. Good language skills and perhaps a love for televised soccer help too.


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