Updated: Oct 19, 2019
I generally despise lists of conventions that masquerade as insider tips or shortcuts. In life, there are very few short-cuts, and the best one’s are earned not consumed in pop culture. However, what is the point of documenting your own experiences unless you can pass on insights that might make things a little easier on others inspired to do the same? With that said, below is my list:
1. Shut up! Be quiet, don’t talk so loudly. This is especially true for Americans, Brits, and Australians (Don’t ask me why), and yours truly. I guess English speakers are usually loud and proud, which is fine INCONUS, not OUTCONUS. A common negative stereo-type of Americans is that we are loud and arrogant. Try to negate at least one of these if you can.
2. Travel Alone – If you really want to test your strength and grow as a person, go it alone. The best part of this one is its far easier to travel solo than going as a group. Inevitably, if you rely on others, they will probably disappoint you. Sometimes they will cancel plans last minute, sometimes they will bicker with you, and sometimes they just suck at traveling.
3. Don’t do stupid shit! Put simply, plan for the country you are in. It is ok to stay in the touristy areas if the country or region you are traveling to is risky or dangerous. Better safe than sorry. If you are going to take risks, make sure they are calculated ones.
4. No money, no time, no problem – Years ago someone told me that when you have the money, you don’t have the time, and when you have the time, you don’t have the money to travel. Poppycock! Just pick a country, book a flight, pack your bags, and get airborne. You will regret it if you don’t.
5. Eat early and often. This one really should be higher. If you have a chance to eat, especially before a long plane flight, boat ride, or bus trip, do it. You just don’t know when you will find another place with a decent plate of food. I have made this mistake too many times to count.
6. Cash is King. Bring lots of local currency. It’s not because you are trying to launder money, it’s because most of the globe simply does not accept credit as payment.
7. Speak local words – Learning just a few local words puts you far ahead of the usual tourists. It also demonstrates respect, self-awareness, and the willingness to see the world differently.
8. Befriend locals – Don't just hang out with other expats or people from back home. The only way to really experience a new place is to go native and speak openly with the people who are there. Even if the conversation is halting or broken due to the language barrier, it is worth it. In my experience, building relationships with people from other cultures is far easier than building them inside your own, so give it a try.
9. Spend time in the places you visit. Don’t bounce around to check off your list. Choose a locale, immerse yourself in the scene there, and try to stay for a long time if you can. Find your spot, take in the new space, and relax. And for God’s sake, don’t embarrass yourself at every site by taking some gaudy selfie. No one cares if you were photographed in front of a national monument or architectural masterpiece.
10. People are different. No matter what PC factory you attended for university, never forget that people are different. They speak radically different languages, have different customs, values, and a world view that is likely dissimilar from yours. Assuming that all people are basically the same is the ultimate expression of ignorance, and it will not serve you well on your travels.