Travellers come in all shapes and forms.
There are the weekend escape artists, the world-touring nomads, the restless vagabonds, the luxury high flyers, the daring adrenaline junkies… the list goes on and on.
No two travellers are alike, no two adventures provide the same experience and that’s what makes each and every traveller’s tale so very unique and interesting.
However, travelling safely and effectively is an art, and it’s an art that should be learned, as successfully navigating a city, county, country or planet becomes a whole lot easier when you’re enlightened to a few key skills.
Some skills are arguably more important than others to help survive assorted ventures in every corner of the big wide world, but regardless of the destination, I personally think the following five skills should definitely be at the top of every traveller’s “to learn” list.
Skill # 1 – Learn to Embrace Change
When you go travelling things rarely go 100% the way you planned them. Buses can be late, torrential rains can stop your journey midway, you could encounter a group of other travellers and end up tagging along with them for a while, you just never know.
However, change is something that that can be a very positive thing, even if it doesn’t seem that way sometimes and you should always try and see the positive in every situation.
I was travelling to Busan, S. Korea one time and had booked a hostel for three nights. Unfortunately, it turned out that the hostel was double booked for two of the nights, so I was moved to a sister hostel about 40 minutes away from the first one but closer to the city center.
The hostel I had initially booked was an awesome spacious high rise with beautiful bathrooms, an amazing view of the ocean and a totally banging community. The place they sent me to was cramped, had no air-con (in the middle of a heat wave!), the people didn’t really speak to each other and I wasn’t too impressed that I was still being charged the same.
Yet if I hadn’t been moved to that hostel unexpectedly I never would have met my fellow traveller Margo, and that would have been a crying shame as I wouldn’t have ended up exploring Busan city all night long, and into the early hours, with a ray of sunshine that I’m still in contact with today!
Skill #2 – Learn to Respect Differences
Different places have different cultures and whilst a cultural difference can be as small as a difference in language use (for example: Americans pack their car’s trunk whilst the British fill their car boots), cultural differences can also pertain to actions seemingly much more sinister (for example: Some countries like Burma, Bolivia and Afghanistan regularly use children under 18 as child soldiers).
As a traveller, you don’t have to like all cultural differences. You don’t have to agree with them or actively promote them either, but one thing you should learn to do is to respect them.
People are raised in different ways, which means that everybody has a different outlook on and understanding of events. By learning to respect differences, you can start to question these differences (politely) and you might just be surprised and find that what you think lies behind an action and what actually motivates an action can be two very different things.
Skill #3 – Learn to Use Your Smile
Remember Louis Armstrong’s song which said “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you”? Believe it or not the man knew what he was talking about!
When you smile, people can’t help but be invigorated by you and exuding positivity is one of the greatest advantages you can give yourself when you’re in a foreign place, with foreign people who know absolutely nothing about you.
When people see you smiling, they are not only more willing to approach you, but also more willing to help you out if and when you’re in a sticky situation.
People don’t have to know you or understand your language to comprehend a smile and very often it’s a simple carefree smile that will help strike up a conversation with a stranger and start fostering connections that can last a day, a week, a year or a lifetime!
Skill #5 – Learn to Listen
One thing that I’ve noticed about travellers (and I’ve been guilty of this myself at times) is that we often feel like our choice to live a nomadic life, makes our lifestyle somehow superior to that of others.
We don’t necessarily stick to the 9-5 workplace, we don’t all conform to the traditional go to school-get a job-find a partner-have kids-grow old together jingle and we’d most certainly feel offended if anyone dared to think of any of our conventions as “normal”.
Yet the truth of the matter is that without the “normal” people surrounding us every place we go, without those who spend their entire lives working on farms, in factories, in restaurants, in hotels, in management, in governments and all those other professions that demand years of dedication without necessarily leaving time for extensive globetrotting, we travellers would not be able to see and experience the diversity and beauty of cultures and cities built from the stability of those who love and raise them.
To be successful in our travels, we need to gain knowledge. We need to learn how to successfully navigate the places we have entered and the best way to do that is by getting to know those who live and breathe the areas.
We need to learn to listen to the “normal” people who don’t jump around the globe, but who have a local network deeper and richer than any short-term traveller could ever establish.
They are the ones who can help us achieve almost anything we want to whilst visiting their kingdom.
Skill #5 – Learn to Cultivate Awareness
I’m a firm believer that as travellers we have a duty to share our experiences and knowledge of what we’ve seen and done with others.
I’m not talking about the “Yeah, so I’ve seen the Galapagos Islands, Singapore, Chile, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Romania, Australia, Russia……” kind of sharing, but the kind of sharing which gives back to our communities and helps breed understanding across country borders.
Less than 5% of the world population gets to travel internationally, so being able to travel regularly, especially long-term, is a unique position to be in. Yet it’s because of this that it’s so important that we continually work to raise awareness of what is happening around the globe.
Travellers are the ones who live and breathe experiences with foreign lands and people and it is also travellers who are most likely to understand both sides of a culturally split story.
Travellers are also very likely to have seen how very normal events have been approach in an unusual way. Take for example the building of houses from plastic bottles in third world countries.
Travellers are, therefore, people who have the knowledge to drive forwards positive change and understanding at home and abroad. We just need to learn how to do so in a constructive and effective way.
What do you think are the most important skills for travellers to learn? Is there anything you would have added to the list? Has any one skill come in particularly useful for you on your travels? Feel free to leave your comments below!