Many of you ask about my travels, such as where I have gone or what I have done or seen. Rarely does anyone ask how I feel. Perhaps we should lend a bit more scrutiny to the traveler’s mindset.
To start, here is an “insider’s tip” on being a tourist from Tom Dichter of Quartz. “Keep in mind that travel is work. The origin of the word travel, most experts believe, is linked to the French word travail, work. Travel, as opposed to tourism or vacationing, is work; we take that as a given and own it. For us, perhaps like many people, we travel to get away from our everyday lives, but it is also a kind of research—to see how the world is getting along and to affirm and marvel at both sameness and difference. There will be moments of fun and joy, quite often in fact, but they are a by-product of the work, not the main objective for us. By embracing the idea of travel as work an escape from the crowds becomes possible, even in crowded environments.”
For me, when I traveled on business, it did always feel like work. Other than day trips to Southern California, most business trips involved an overnight at the least, and several hours on the plane each way, as well as a car rental. Having a secretary make arrangements was helpful, since it saved time, and the internet was not fully on board with travel in the 80s.
But after a few months, I got the “hang” of it, and decided I would rather book my flights and hotels. We had a deal with Hertz that guaranteed a car rental under any conditions. That is when I started the frequent flyer nonsense, and the hotel loyalty programs. Now that took work to manage that part of the travel, along with filling out an expense report.
The miles and points allowed me to take some wonderful family vacations for very little expenditure. Most companies allowed us to keep the miles and points since much of it was earned on our own time, such as nights and weekends.
The business part of travel was always separate in my mind. For one, I usually wore a suit, and carried a garment bag and a briefcase. For leisure travel, I never wore a suit, and left the briefcase at home! It was very easy to compartmentalize!
Fast forward to today. I have accumulated a “travel” wardrobe, mostly clothes that I wear only on longer cross country or overnight trips. These are things like pants with zip off legs, layering items like a compact down jacket, sink washable underwear and socks, and a special sling backpack for my tablet and camera.
Now that I have the proper mindset, what else can I do? “International travel has more than doubled in the last 20 years. About 1.3 billion people—nearly one fifth of the world’s population—are now traveling internationally, nearly one fifth of the world’s population. And while France and the United States remain the top destinations, tourists from almost everywhere are now going almost everywhere (Thailand, Belize, Cambodia, Chile, and Namibia have all experienced big jumps as destinations). Likewise, spending on international travel has shifted. It used to be dominated by those from the US and western Europeans nations, and Australians, but now the Chinese dominate. In 2016, they accounted for $261 billion or 20% of worldwide international tourist receipts.”
So, yes there are more people than ever traveling. But again, if you are willing to embrace the situation, rather than fight it, the rewards are numerous. First, and most obvious, is that you will meet some interesting people. Over the years, I have made many lifelong friends on my travels, people like Barry the V, Cesar, Jason and Chun, Angela, Dirty Pat, Wendy, Miller, Michael, Damon, Leicey, and perhaps you? But even the most casual encounters are mutually beneficial, like pairing up with others in a strange place like Tangiers, or a dangerous place like the Amazon.
Perhaps a more subtle benefit, is observing how others react when experiencing these breathtaking moments. On our flight over Mount Everest, I could not help but see and hear the excitement of the Japanese tourists. I wondered why they were so excited to see Everest. The same was true when we saw Victoria Falls in Africa, or Milford Sound in New Zealand.
One of his best observations is to always walk or take public transportation, rather than cabs or Uber. There is no better way to capture the “feel” of a city or place as walking up to it, rather than getting dropped off by a car. And for the record, the “King” of walking cities and towns around the world is none other than my travel buddy, Mr. Mike. Often times, he has the city scoped out before I can unpack my bag!!
Often, the so-called travel experts often tell us to skip a meal. But like the erstwhile travelers on the Travel Channel, the meals and beverages are a great way to learn the local culture and to meet people. Yes, a light lunch is a good idea, but a bowl of soup and a beer never hurt anyone. And you just might discover a hidden gem, or make a contact that leads to better experiences.
Trip Adviser and Yelp get a bad rap these days. But let it serve as a guide. Definitely stay away from the places where the reviews really pan the joint. But realize you do not have to spend 5 star dollars for a great meal. Use it as a guide, but not a must eat destination. I always ask a local, or at least someone who looks like they know how to fill their belly with good food and wine. Or just stand in the longest line!
Now, I love taking photos as much as you do. Why do the experts say to stop the photos and selfies? I would agree on the selfies, but along with capturing the moment in the hard drive in your brain, a gentle reminder of a photo is a great way to share your experience with the folks back home. And years from now, as your internal hard drive fades, you will be glad for the digital or print photo.
Finally, I say there is no best way for you or me to do things while traveling. It must fit the situation, your likes and dislikes, your budget, and most of all, your level of risk. Nobody has taken the “perfect” trip, despite what they tell you. But sometimes, the imperfections make for great experiences and stories.