I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good traveler lately, and usually those thoughts have gone into higher levels of personal philosophies and self-improvement. At it’s base though, no matter where we go there are a few things we should all know to not just make us better travelers, but better people. Here are a few I thought of, I’d love to hear what you think should be added to this list. (Also, where possible I’ve linked to resources to help you learn these skills. They haven’t paid me, they won’t pay me, I just thought it would be a good idea to offer resources.)
1. Wash clothes in a sink – All of us, from luxury to budget travelers will at some point have a laundry emergency and be forced to launder our own clothes effectively and probably quickly.
2. How to use needle and thread – I can’t sew, I’m the first to admit that but I do know the basics of threading a needle and reattaching a button. You never know how and when you’ll need to repair clothes or even luggage, so learn the fundamentals of sewing.
3. Where the nearest embassy is – If you’re leaving the country, this is a simple and important thing to know. You never know what will happen, from losing your passport to military coup (less likely) so just do a simple search for the nearest embassy. If you’re from the US, here’s a guide:
4. To keep an emergency stash of money – Trip can be unpredictable and I’ve heard far too many horror stories of theft and loss on the road. I’ve even had it happen to me so I know the importance of keeping a secret stash of money. Just don’t forget where you put it.
5. Art of haggling – Although for many of us the practice of haggling is an alien concept, it’s a vital skill to possess in many corners of the world.
6. How to say “No, thank you,” wherever they are – I mean this in two different ways. First, I literally mean you should take the time to learn this phrase in the local language. It will help you a million times from warding off salespeople to buskers. Second, I mean that you should be somewhat selfish when you travel. Don’t do things you don’t want to do or waste time on experiences not important to you. and
7. Drive stick shift (manual) – Many of us have been spoiled by automatic transmissions in cars, a feature hard to find in many parts of the world. Learning how to drive stick shift will open up new travel possibilities and will prepare you to travel anywhere in any kind of car, truck or van.
8. Trip light – I can’t say that I’m any great expert in this, but I am getting better. No matter where you go and what you do, learning how to be a more efficient packer is a very valuable skill.
9. Swim – Ok, this is more a life skill than purely a travel one, but it’s important. First, you never know when you might need to swim. Be it in an emergency situation or a fun new experience you want to try, swimming is an important travel skill everyone should possess.
10. The basics of geography – I think that to be a good traveler you have to be a smart traveler. Sure, idiots can (and do) travel, but armed with a little knowledge you can dramatically improve your travel experience. At the top of the list of things to know is basic geography. I’m not asking for you to be able to label every country in Africa, just know the major things.
11. How to use a compass – Granted, few of us find ourselves lost in the woods with only a pocketknife and compass to save us. But using a compass is such a basic skill and arguably important at times that I think we should all know the basic tenets of proper compass use.
12. Proper use of chopsticks – Chopsticks aren’t just relegated to use in Japan, they’re a popular utensil all over the world thanks to the massive popularity of both sushi and Chinese restaurants. Plus you look cool when you eschew the fork and knife in favor of two wooden sticks.
13. Importance of travel insurance – I was a late adopter to this one, but I am now a firm believer in the importance of being insured when you travel. First there’s the practical matter of travel delays and disruptions. There’s a lot we can’t control when we travel, so it pays to be prepared. Also, it’s always possible to have a medical emergency when we’re away from home and unless we have proper insurance in place, it can be a financially debilitating experience. Finally, theft and loss happens everywhere; pick a plan that will protect your fancy gadgets.
14. That local grocery stores are awesome – I’ve written about this several times, but one of my favorite ways to learn about local culture quickly is by visiting the nearest grocery store. Instantly you will learn what they eat and what importance they place on certain foods. The multiple aisles of olive oil in Madrid says something about Spanish culture. Grocery stores are also a great place to get cheap snacks, drinks and even meals. Cultural Immersion When you Trip
15. How to change a tire – Many of us will rent a vehicle of some sort when we travel and the chances of getting a flat tire somewhere, anywhere is pretty likely. Instead of being held hostage to roadside assistance, take some time and learn how to change a tire yourself.
16. Sleep anywhere – I wish I could master this skill, but even though I haven’t succeeded yet I know how important it is. So many times we find ourselves in cars, planes, trains or wherever and a few minutes of sleep could mean the difference between sanity and going nuts. If you can tackle this skill, you are on your way to being a travel master.
17. Three good jokes – The ability to add levity to any situation is a great skill to have, even if some things may be lost in translation. If you’re not a naturally gifted joke teller, take some time to learn a few and keep them in your travel arsenal.
18. Exercises you can do in a hotel room – Staying healthy on the road is difficult, but given how physically taxing travel can be it’s vital to be as healthy as possible. If you can take even ten minutes a day to do yoga or exercise in some way, it will make your travel experience infinitely more enjoyable.
19. Basic first aid – You never know what will happen or where, which is why it’s smart to be prepared. Take a local first aid class or simply research on line how to do simple things like offering CPR or the Heimlich maneuver.
20. Take a decent photo – Almost everyone takes photos when they travel, but not everyone takes good photos. You don’t have to have a fancy camera or be an expert to come home with quality photos, so take a few minutes to brush up on the basics.
These are just some things I think every traveler should know – what would you add to the list?