OARs / Traveling Wisely?

Good Traveler. Bad Traveler.

The 'Golden Temple' in Bangkok.

The ‘Golden Temple’ in Bangkok.

If you’ve ever been traveling around the world, or just around your country, state, etc., then you have seen examples of travelers/tourists who are just embarrassing, and examples of travelers who are top-notch.  Seeing as we have traveled a bit, and now live abroad, we have as well.  Therefore, below we have compiled a list, by no means is it exhaustive, of stories and examples of bad travelers we have witnessed, along with examples/ideas of what our opinion of a good traveler would be.  Read on…

Bad Traveler(s): The large, beefy man stands in front of us at the Kota Kinabalu 7/11.  His large, beefy wife stands at his side.  In front of them, on the counter, is their take: at least six one-liter bottles of Coke and 7-Up, assorted bags of chips, a few massive handfuls of Willy Wonka candy bars, and a few bottles of water.  The clerks at the counter, failing to conceal there grins, work as quickly as possible to ring up every last item and put them into four large bags.  As this process is going on, someone from our left yells out that there is no more Coke or 7-Up.  Our heads, along with the crowd now assembled and waiting to check out themselves, turn to catch the sight of four more large human beings grabbing armfuls of drinks, chips and candy bars.  Their cohort, the woman and man in front of us, ask the clerk if there is any more 7-Up or Coke in the store.  The clerk, now almost laughing, tells them no, the store’s entire stock of bubbly refreshments has been exhausted.  Finally, the two in front of us are out of the way and go out to the street with their treasures to wait for the rest of their legion.  We, as quickly as possible, put our two 12 oz. bottles of water on the counter and flee while we still can.

Good Traveler(s):  Our above story is not to rag on a group of large people with equally large, and unhealthy, appetites.  Rather, what we are trying to show is a group of people who, seemingly, refused to try the local food in the place they chose to travel to.  Instead, they decided to dive into the comforts they knew from home and, thus, were familiar with.  This is a huge mistake if you are traveling to different countries and cultures.  One of the best ways, both for your mind and your taste buds, to explore and understand new cultures is through their local cuisine.  Food is an amazing gateway into the way people in completely different lands live.  Think about it.  Food is an artistic expression.  Food is a center around which much discussion is had.  Food is a taste-based tour of the local foods, spices, and cooking styles.  Food is amazing.  Good travelers do the best they can to avoid the comfortable and go for the different.  This doesn’t mean you have to eat bugs if you see them.  It just means you shouldn’t be scared to try something new, to try something different.  This, also, doesn’t mean that you can never have the old comfort foods.  It just means that if you must eat your own culture’s cuisine, it should be no more than a blip on the radar.  A good traveler seeks out new, culturally unique foods as much as possible.

Bad Traveler(s): The boat starts to lurch backwards from the dock as a light, misty rain sprays down on us.  We drift away from the dock slowly through the beautiful, fish filled water.  The island, now more or less empty except for the giant monitor lizards and wild pigs, and its white sand offer a last goodbye with the calming sounds of lapping waves.  A couple of young women in front of us take a couple of last drags on their cigarettes before flicking them out of the boat and into the crystal clear water.  The cigarettes sigh one last time before going out.  The two young women sit down and begin to chat with each other without a care in the world as their cigarettes begin their journey as useless trash being gently pushed along in a beautiful, yet endangered, paradise.

Good Traveler(s):  This one is obvious.  Good travelers don’t spoil the places they visit.  Good travelers care about the locales they are visiting, their ecosystems, their people, their cultures, etc.  The two young women above are more than just an example of careless, littering tourists.  They are an example of a growing, globalized trend of travelers who go to beautiful, unique places and treat them like amusement parks.  They are an example of an ethos that views the world outside of their homes as little more than a cigarette break from their normal life.  Traveling is a beautiful, eye-opening thing that cannot and should not be taken for granted.  Good travelers want to conserve the millions of unique places in the world and the billions of unique people those places hold for the future billions of people to enjoy like they did.

Bad Traveler(s):  The common room in the hostel sits in silence as eight heads strain their necks looking down at smart phones and tablets.  The only sound to break the silence is the occasional cough and the sounds of scrolling pages.  Every now and then a face looks up in a halfhearted attempt to make eye-contact with another human being.  Met with nothing but the tops of heads, the face turns back towards the internet enabled device, undoubtedly talking with someone on Facebook.  And, thus, the common room in the hostel becomes little more than a common place of worship for electronically-induced zombies trying their hardest to stay in contact with people through the touch screens in their hands.  If only they could just use their voices and talk to real people.  If only….

Good Traveler(s): This is one of the most frustrating things we have encountered recently.  Hostels are truly amazing places.  They are hubs where like-minded people from all over the world live under the same roof.  Their common rooms are, as a result, tiny chambers set for international discussions, story-telling, travel-information, and much more.  How can someone let all of the possibilities go to waste?  Good travelers take advantage of the unique, well-traveled people around them and learn more about themselves and others in doing so.  Good travelers utilize the hostels and their common rooms in an effort to reach out and connect with other real people who have real emotions, not just emoticons.  Good travelers sit down, have a beer or other beverage, meet new people, and, in doing so, broaden their minds and gain friends.

Travelers who miss out on the real thing: The tour group is led off the massive bus by a person toting a uniquely colored flag, stuffed animal, etc. on a long stick.  He/she is a modern day shepherd, ready to herd a crowd of sheep to a place they are told they want to/need to see.  Likely, the company he/she works for was paid to take their flock to certain places by the people who will undoubtedly be selling things at said places.  Whenever he/she stops, the flock stops.  Whenever he/she tells the flock to return to a specified spot, the herd abides.  Whenever he/she tells the herd not to go somewhere, or not to do something, the herd does not do said thing or go said place.  “Look here,” the shepherd says.  “Look there,” the shepherd says.  The tour group eats it up, takes pictures filtered through the lenses of cameras, is told to get back on the bus, and is shepherded to the next place to do the same.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Travelers who don’t miss out:  Certainly, there is a time and a place for tour groups.  Tour guides can be extremely informative and can teach you a lot about those places you visit.  Tours are also a good way to see many famous places and things in a short amount of time.  But, what we have found are the most amazing, best ways to travel and see the places we have traveled to is to get out and stumble upon certain things on our own.  Any information a tour guide can give you, you can get on your own through your own research.  Any famous places a tour can take you to, you can go to on your own.  The thing that is the most rewarding, though, is the journey to gain said information and go to said places.  There are countless amazing places and people that the sterilized tour groups just cannot show you.  There are also amazing amounts of real people who are both thriving and suffering in the places that you will never see if you go on a tour group.  Rather, what you will see is what you want to see: beauty and wonder without any the sadness and humanity that actually exist in the world.  So, again, if you are crunched for time and want a quick fix and some good information, take a tour group.  If you want to see the world for all of its beauty and blemishes, go out there on your own and stumble upon it.  You won’t regret the journey, we promise.

As was noted at the top, this list is in no way exhaustive.  It is also made up of our opinions formed from our experiences traveling and living abroad.  We have been bad travelers before.  We have also been, and try to be, good travelers.  In the end, we advise you get out into the world and see its beauty as well as its blemishes.  Try your hardest to be a good traveler, whatever that may be to you.  Most importantly, though, enjoy it.

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Please let us know below if you have anything to add or criticize.  We look forward to your thoughts and insights!

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2 thoughts on “Good Traveler. Bad Traveler.

  1. I think it is important to be aware of the way you hold yourself when traveling. I worked at a tourist hotel outside of a national park in Alaska, and found a lot of tourists upset or even belligerent by the remote location’s lack of amenities, like air conditioning in the summer or a grocery store. People expect, whether they are aware or not, a new place to be somewhat similar to where they are coming from.

    After working in hospitality, one thing I am trying to do for my own mental health is to stop judging others on the way they travel – like if they feel comfortable in a tour group or fancy hotel, if they are terrified of food poisoning and want to eat processed American food, that is their choice, and their choice does not affect my experience…. But, littering and destroying the local environment is just unforgivable.

    • We agree with you, and we do come off a bit harsh in the post because of the black and white idea of “good” or “bad”. We certainly realize that there are grey areas, but for the post it works better as just “good” or “bad”. I guess what we really feel like is that people are missing out. When you stay in a fancy hotel, go on tour groups, or cannot break a fear of food poisoning (even when you are poisoning yourself with the processed foods) then you are missing out on some of the most amazing and genuine experiences you can have while traveling.

      Thank you for the comment!

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