How to Be a Better Traveler

Travel Tips to Becoming a
Better Traveler

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Travel Tip #1: Morph from the tourist into the traveler. 

Don’t be satisfied just being a superficial tourist. Become a traveler and, better yet, maybe even become a true adventurer or explorer!

So, what are the differences between a tourist, a traveler, and an adventurer? There are no hard and fast rules. However, one relatively simple way to look at it is to think of it in terms of differences in the degree of involvement one has in the new culture one is visiting.

And being one or the other is not a good or bad thing, per se. There are times when you are interested in only being a relatively passive visitor who is only superficially involved in the country you are visiting or just passing through. Thus, you are a mere  tourist  or visitor. You are a travel light-weight, so-to-speak. And that’s okay.

Or, you may want to reap more genuine experiences with the people. You are interested in interacting with them, getting to know them a little more, and maybe even participating or involving yourself with them. You are immersing yourself more in the foreign or host culture. You are staying for a relatively longer period of time, although you are, technically, still a traveler to there, you are residing there for a while—maybe, say, as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Thus, by becoming more of a traveler than a tourist, you are learning from travel the deeper experience of ‘living’ and ‘experiencing’ a culture instead of just touring, surviving, and meeting only the most basic of your travel needs.

Aim to fulfill higher order goals and needs in life through travel, rather than just satisfying the most simple and routine basic ones (see Maslow’s needs hierarchy). That is, ‘live’ your travel-life to the fullest rather than just survive . . .

Safety and physiological needs are the most basic needs. Love, belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization are all higher-order human needs that if one combines and fulfills them during travel, the over-all human experience that results is far more rewarding.

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Travel Tip #2: Reduce your psychological baggage (as well as your physical baggage that you carry with you) . . .

A good adage here is to “leave home without it,” e.g., learn, appreciate, realize that ‘running blindly on automatic,’ just like being back home, simply does not cut it overseas.

You need to expand the envelope as well as your boundaries and open yourself up to new experiences, in order to get comfortable with new cultures, new perceptions, new ways of dealing with the verbal and non-verbal exigencies of new, strange, and different cultures.

Some things to think about are how you might be more open with people—

  • be more sociable; entertain and embrace diversity and differences;
  • pay more attention to the stimuli around you—in other words, take more ‘time to smell the roses’; learn to better communicate—learn a bit of the language; recognize subtle verbal and non-verbal cues.

Travel Tip #3: Understand and appreciate the reasons for culture shock (as well as reverse culture shock) in travel.

Culture Shock is the maladaptive inability to relate and cope at a deeper, more meaningful level within a new culture that you find yourself in long after the superficiality of just being an ‘outsider’ or a ‘tourist’ wears off.

You do need to understand the people and culture much better than you do, but because you don’t understand the verbal and non-verbal subtleties and cues of the new, ‘alien’ culture, you are caught in a downward spiral: you don’t understand things well enough, and you cannot communicate adequately enough in order to learn and, consequentially, adjust better.

Similarly, you may experience a bout of Reverse Culture Shock after returning home from a long stint overseas—after having been immersed for a time in a society so different from your own. The difficulty of re-adjusting and re-syncing back into your own, old home-culture may be debilitating for a while.

Travel Tip #4: Inoculate Yourself Against Culture Shock

Take practice “Staycations” nearer to home before doing an overseas trip; do some new and different sorts of things . . . Push / stretch your envelopes a bit more.

Recall the sorts of people experiences overseas that made them more memorable, e.g., meeting and interacting with locals in coffee shops; walking the street markets; interacting with the vendors; talking with the owners of small mom and pop stores. Repeat these sorts of experiences back home during staycations.

‘Innoculating’ yourself, by experiencing a bit of the ‘shock’ of the root causes of culture shock (long term psychological issues developing for people immersed in new cultures overseas for more than short times beyond being ‘mere’ tourists), may ameliorate the symptoms of culture shock.

This is why the Peace Corps as well as other similar organizations prepare their volunteers for overseas experiences by having them participate in training programs.

Travel Tip #5: Establish a reason, a purpose, or a goal to accomplish in travel.

Having higher order goals and achieving them is very rewarding, especially in the context of an exciting trip overseas. For instance, learn a new language; develop a view towards appreciating art more; be more of what you can be; build a collection of some sort.

Travel Tip #6: Strive to be a ‘beautiful’ rather than an ‘ugly’ American.

It helps to learn and do the sorts of things that make you more comfortable, less anxious, and more rewarded by appreciating multi-cultures.

The Actor

Try on a variety of newer roles—travel hats: be the ‘travel archetype’ ‘THE ACTOR.’ Try on—experience new ‘selves’, roles, new hats, etc– (see Michael Brein’s 14 travel archetypes in his book, Travel Tales of Michael Brein: My Best 100.)

Travel Tip #7: Do your own ‘Western Walkabout.’

Like young Australian aborigines who do walkabouts, participate in / do your own Western-Style Walkabout.

Just as Australian-style walkabouts, traveling for your first time on your own is a way to gain experience, mature, and grow up a bit. Early trips to relatively safe foreign destinations give you many opportunities to gain valuable life experience and insights. You experience; you grow. For instance, you learn to get a roof over your head, to score a meal, to communicate with people. And you get better and better at it. all the while developing more and more self-esteem and self-confidence by doing so.

If you are a parent, sending your kids to Europe for a summer, for a semester abroad, can give them a ‘walkabout’ to a richer, fuller, more rewarding life.

An international experience or vacation can be a path to a more rewarding personal understanding and capability in dealing with international / intercultural matters.

Travel Tip #8: Consider a variety of other psychological and motivational factors that may be useful in becoming a better traveler.

Nature vs nurture comes into play with all of these. That is, some factors we can probably modify through learning and experience; and others are more likely to be like tiger or zebra stripes or leopard spots with varying difficulty in changing.

Think about the following psychological factors and characteristics and imagine in your mind how these may affect your travel and how you cope with it. In other words, being high or low in these qualities, how might they affect or improve your travel-life? How would you become a better traveler? How would you answer these questions?

(Questions are posed below with simple suggestive answers that follow:)

  • Q. What is your general level of fear and anxiety?
  • A. The less fearful and anxious you are, the more excitement you can expect to have.
  • Q. How much of a risk are you willing to take?
  • A. Within reason and after carefully assessing danger, the more risky the experience, the more exciting it can be.
  • Q. What is your need for adventure, excitement, and adrenalin?
  • A. The greater your need, the more likely you are to travel, and, hence, the more adventure, excitement, and adrenalin you may be likely to experience.
  • Q. What is your need for novelty? How curious are you?
  • A. The greater your need, again, the more likely you are to travel and the richer your travel experiences are likely to be.
  • Q. How sociable are you? Are you an extravert or introvert?
  • A. The more people-oriented you are, the more likely you are to have deeper, more meaningful relationships with host nationals, and the more rewarding your travels are likely to be.
  • Q. How Independent are you?
  • AThe more self-directed, self-starting, and more independent you are, the more likely you will seek to satisfy your travel needs with more rewarding personal experiences.
  • Q. What is your activity or energy level?
  • A. The more energy you have and the more you want to get out and do things, the more rewarding your travel-life will likely be.
  • Q. How much do you have a need to achieve?
  • A. The more you have an aim, a goal, or something you want to accomplish, the more meaningful your travel experience is likely to be.
  • Q. How much are you into personal growth?
  • A. As above, the more you want to develop, mature, and grow, the more you will likely get out of your travels.
  • Q. What is your action tendency? Are you more a spectator than a participator?
  • A. The more you act and do, the more you’ll get out of travel.
  • Q. What is your comfort quotient? Do you need creature comforts, first-class, or luxury or are you okay in lesser comfortable environments? And third-world countries?
  • A. The more you are able to be ‘down in the dirt’ with people of the countries you are visiting, the more profound connections with people you’ll be likely to form, and, hence, the deeper and more memorable your experiences are likely to be.
  • Q. How travel competent are you? Are you more of a tourist, a traveler, or an adventurer?
  • A. The benefits of travel are increasingly more rewarding as you move from being a tourist, to a traveler, or an adventurer in that order.
  • Q. How great is your need for personal recognition?
  • A. The greater your need for achievement and accomplishment, the more rewarding will be the travel experiences surrounding accomplishment.
  • Q. How altruistic are you? 
  • A. The more you are able to accomplish by helping others, the more personally rewarding your travel experiences will likely be.
  • Q. How spiritual / religious are you? How does the mystical or the paranormal interest you?
  • A. Satisfying these needs through travel affords experiences that are found nowhere else.
  • Q. How spontaneous are you?
  • A. The rewards of spontaneous travel far exceed experiences that are planned down to the minute.
  • Q. Are you more emotionally / sensory oriented or intellectual / academic?
  • A. Your emotional / intellectual predispositions will determine how satisfying your travel life will be, in so far as you satisfy these needs.
  • Q. How much are you into love, romance, and sex?
  • A. Going to and experiencing the world’s most romantic places will result in the some of the most memorable experiences ever.
  • Q. How much are you into escape & relaxation?
  • A. If you like to laze around and soak up the sun, then, by all means, go for it. If that’s what you expect from travel, the happier you will be by achieving it.

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Putting the Passion of Psychology Back into Travel