Basic Guidelines for Global Travelers, or Long Live the Self-Aware Traveler!

travel guidelines

Those of us around the world fortunate to have the means to travel—that is, those of us privileged to be among the richest 1-percent of the world’s population, an honor which takes less than you might think—are traveling more than ever. Frequent travelers such as myself see it and hear about it from friends and family and, in general, can confirm it anecdotally, but facts and figures and graphs compiled by travel trends analysts and other industry peeps prove it.

Great. Wonderful.

I won’t go so far as to say “the more, the merrier”—there’s a direct correlation between my blood pressure and bigger, more frequent crowds—but theoretically, the more we travel, particularly to new, “foreign” places out of our respective comfort zones, be that London or Lahore, the more we connect with and understand our world, its people, its places, its ways of life… ourselves. At least, travel affords us the potential to do so, if we can just manage to put down the phone for a minute.

That’s a very good thing.

And yet, the more I travel—and the more I eavesdrop (because, ahem, it’s… uh… it’s just my job) on other travelers, watch them, see how they interact with places and people and everyday situations—the more I find myself wondering whether the world is traveling better, and smarter, and in a more conscientious way while it’s doing all this extra travel. In many instances, sure: I see gracious, wide-eyed, informed, polite, engaged travelers all the time.

Sadly, just as often, and perhaps with greater frequency, I don’t: waves of rude, self-centered, loud, disengaged, uninformed, boorish travelers are coming to an airport, hotel, bar, and restaurant near you, if you haven’t already noticed. Sorry to sound cynical, but just calling it like I unfortunately see it.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Well, people are people, and I know it’s asking too much of most people to appreciate what they have—that is, the means and opportunity to travel—but in the end, making the most of this elite traveling privilege isn’t all that complicated. In fact, it’s so easy to do that you can boil it down into every travel writer’s wet dream: a list!

Before we travel, most of us prepare some kind of packing and/or to-do checklist: shorts, jeans, underwear without any brown streaks, t-shirts that don’t make me look fat, shoes that make me look cooler than I am, black market Thai ambien, etc.

To that standard checklist, I propose a brief addendum, below, for all world travelers to consider and abide by, out of respect for themselves, for their fellow travelers, for those with whom they will interact whilst traveling, and for that 99-percent of the world’s population for whom leisure travel is all but fantasy. After all, with more people from more countries traveling more than ever before, traveling better can help make the world better. And hey, millenials, you’ll get more out of it for yourself, too.

These are just guidelines, and this is obviously not exhaustive. Speaking (unofficially) on behalf of the Perceptive Travel Blog, you have full permission to translate these guidelines into any language, widely distribute them to travelers in need, and to devise clever, cruel ways of punishing those who do not follow them; think “the Oldboy twist.”

Air Travel

Before You Travel

Have I read/watched anything about where I’m going? Lonely Planet guidebooks aren’t great for specific recommendations these days, but the “Understand” sections are still useful, sometimes interesting CliffsNotes-style introductions to destinations—read something like this at a minimum. Some writers don’t like to beforehand read fiction based in places they’re about to visit, but I do; bring a book or two along with you, too. Pair reading with movies and shows.

– Have I researched the tipping culture? Tipping isn’t commonplace everywhere and in all situations, but in some places it’s a crucial part of the industry and of hard-working people’s livelihood. Don’t be cheap, and know how much you should tip. Tip generously when the situation calls for it, and tip as expected even if your driver/tour guide/etc wasn’t all that great. This is particularly important in many (poorer) parts of Asia, and I’m not really talking about bars here. (Related side note: the “tip your bartender $2 a drink” trend in some parts of NYC is some horseshit.)

– Have I picked up some basic phrases in the local language? Just a few of the big ones is fine—you know, “hello,” “thank you,” “please,” “what the fuck is that?!” A few more is fantastic, and ones that surprise locals are the jackpot; like, “go shiso sama deshita” (phonetic spelling), or “it was a real good feast” after eating in restaurants in Japan. Yes, you’ll probably feel a little silly, but who cares.

– Have I packed the right clothes? By which I mean to say, will you be dressing appropriately? I’m talking to you, Hipsterella, rocking exposed side boobs and ass cheeks hanging out of high-waisted cut-off jean shorts in modest countries where that’s totally inappropriate (but you look great, the selfies provie it!). This goes for guys too, of course.

– Am I planing my own trip? It’s one thing to seek out advice from friends and family members who’ve previously visited a place to which you’ll be traveling for the first time–you should certainly do that. However, it’s another thing to say, for example, “I’m going to Portugal!”, with no sense of where you want to go, what you want to do, how long you have, etc, essentially leaving it on somebody else to plan the whole thing for you. It’s your trip–plan your trip. (By the way, after your friend/family member has taken painstaking time to send thoughtful recommendations and tips, thank them profusely for it.)

– Should I bring goods/gifts for locals? This only applies to certain destinations, but to more than you might think. If you’re visiting an impoverished place, bring along some small gifts to provide when appropriate—you’ll have to use your best judgement. For example, we once brought school supplies to a school located in a small village in northern Thailand; I gave a pair of lightly worn high-tops, which I’d planned to “drop” at some point, to a safari guide assistant in South Africa, who told me he’d give them to his son. I need to do a better job of this.

Da Nang Vietnam Cave

While You Travel

Have I thanked everybody? Have I been polite? Have I tipped when I should have tipped?

– Have I been a good sport, even when I’m not enjoying myself?

– Have I been patient?

– Have I politely asked permission to take close-up pictures of people before doing so?

– Have I respected the privacy of locals and their right to get on with their day?

– Have I respected the privacy of other travelers and their right to enjoy what I’m enjoying, too?

– Have I waited my turn without shouting/pushing/cutting in line/acting like a total fuck?

– Am I ruining the overall ambiance by shouting/talking really loudly/getting stupid drunk?

– Have I actually engaged with this place? How?

– What are one to five things, big or small, I learned about this place today?

– Am I taking too many pictures of myself? No, seriously, am I taking too many pictures of myself?

– Have I given back in some small or big way today?

– Have I not expected non-native English speakers to speak perfect English to me?

– Have I been keeping track of everything I’ve done on this trip? In a tweet or blog post or something somewhere referencing his travel journaling habit, Travelfish founder Stuart McDonald once said something to the effect that if you don’t record and remember what you did, what’s the point? You don’t have to be a writer to write down or type everything you do, from what you had for lunch to where you had drinks. I make detailed lists like this for my parents every time they visit me in Southeast Asia—there are few better souvenirs.

Have I thanked everybody? Have I been polite? Have I tipped when I should have tipped?

hoi an market

After You Travel

– Have I tried to hold onto that experience and that feeling as long as possible?

– Have I followed up on new things/foods/interests I discovered on the trip?

– Have I followed up on any worthwhile causes/charities/etc I discovered on the trip?

– If a friend/family member/coworker just returned from a trip they are really excited about, have I asked them about it? Have I expressed interest in it? Have I at least feigned interest? Or have I given them two minutes to talk about it, then spent the next 15 minutes telling them what they missed on The Walking Dead, which we all know probably wasn’t much?

Again, this isn’t exhaustive–feel free to add your own, below.

Long live the self-aware traveler!

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