10 Skills Every Real Traveler Should Master

“People don’t take trips, trips take people”

John Steinbeck

Travel opens us up to both the joys and the discomfort associated with the unfamiliar. Far too many travelers stay on tried and true paths, never venturing far enough away from their comfort zone to experience the essence of a new destination or culture. Here are a few skills you can practice before your next trip to ensure you get more out of your travels and see your adventure through new, more confident eyes!

  • Study up

    Study up

    Do some research as you plan your travels. Certainly as our office helps travelers negotiate new destinations we talk about things like tipping, how to hail a cab, hotel and dining etiquette. We can provide you with destination guides and any number of research articles right here on our site. Ask us any questions at all and we will help you to better understand what to expect and how to be better prepared to walk about an unfamiliar destination. Understanding a few cultural differences before you go is the way the most experienced of travelers hit the ground prepared and ready to make the most of their trip.

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  • Learn a few words of the language

    Learn a few words of the language

    Many of us have little facility in foreign languages, but all of us can use a few words that will make travel abroad a bit more pleasant for both the locals and the traveler. “Please,” “Thank you,” “Good Morning,” “How much does this cost?” are all important phases with the smallest of effort you can learn to pronounce well enough to be understood. Your attempts are almost certain to be appreciated by your hosts!

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  • Learn to read a map

    Learn to read a map

    Map reading is an important skill for every traveler. Navigation skills are a must both for your safety and good use of time. On most maps, North is almost always at the top of the map. Locate North and then face North to help you get oriented. Most smart phones have a compass if you need some assistance in locating North and the GPS systems on most phones work well in major cities and even smaller ones. Get a good map, not one dedicated to advertising. Typically your hotel will be able to supply you with a free version. Identify major streets and landmarks and mark them on your map. Orient yourself several times a day with landmarks to stay in tune with your environment. Learn to use the street grid on the map and try to find one that is easy to carry about.

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  • Try new foods

    Try new foods

    Live a little. If you don’t have major allergies or digestive issues, try foods you don’t have the opportunity to experience at home. You don’t have to violate any common sense health guidelines to eat a bit of street food or to sample something a bit spicier than you prepare food at home. The boldest of you may find yourself munching on something exotic and, if you do, take a picture and send it to us!

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  • Experience public transportation

    Experience public transportation

    Again, remain aware of your surroundings, but consider taking the subway, a bus, local railways and even rickshaws or tuk-tuks for transportation. Yes, taxis are convenient and easy, but you can miss out on some unique and important experiences if you never Mind the Gap in the London Underground or speed through a narrow street in Bangkok on a Tuk Tuk!

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  • Meet some locals and other travelers

    Meet some locals and other travelers

    Chat up the locals! Whether your taxi driver, a shop keeper, your bartender or the couple sitting next to you at the pub, meeting your hosts and other travelers in new cities is a fun way of better understanding just how alike we all are, and you might even find a friend or two for life. It is almost always best to avoid difficult topics like politics or religion, but polite, friendly conversation with new people, even for the most introverted of us, gives great insight into your new environment. Local knowledge will often lead you to better food, prices and richer experiences.

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  • Read the local papers and watch the news

    Read the local papers and watch the news

    Knowing what is important to the locals is an excellent way of better understanding new cultures and destinations. In foreign cities there is often a local newspaper in English and while CNN is an option wherever you go, often the local television stations are by far better informed on local matters and far more interesting.

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  • Go to a play, a concert, a sporting event or a cultural museum

    Go to a play, a concert, a sporting event or a cultural museum

    Don’t confine your “To-Do” list to what every other tourist is doing! Take in a play or go to a soccer match, visit a small museum or find a concert. Local art and sports allow you to take in the cultural landscape up close and personal. You will also learn a great deal about the roots of the local culture, the formative elements of their social cohesion. You will return home with a deeper understanding of your destination.

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  • Wander about

    Wander about

    Don’t be too rigid in your schedule. Allow for a little happenstance. Again, being mindful of your surroundings, take a left instead of a right, strike up a street conversation, walk into the market stall. There’s a word for happy accidents, those series of unplanned events leading to good memories: serendipity. I am convinced the best trips are those in which we allow serendipity to go along for the ride. We do ourselves a real service, however, when we treat schedules filled with “must see and do” as more as set of possibilities and suggestions than as the essence of travel.

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  • Expect the unexpected

    Expect the unexpected

    We too often make ourselves miserable when everything does not go to plan. One of the certainties of travel is the unexpected is almost certain to happen. Plan as well as possible, but maintain perspective and don’t let the routine detour, the delay or the departure from plan be the gauge of your experience. The real journey takes place not on a map, but somewhere deep in the interior of our heads and hearts. It’s all an adventure!

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