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The Good Traveler

Buzz Poole
06/12/2012 - 06:25
Andre Kucina, via The Good Traveler

The topic of being a traveler and not a tourist has been covered here before. I'm touching on it again not out of laziness but because it is an important distinction, especially when it comes to trips designed to give you authentic experiences. But just because it is a notion we should all keep in mind doesn't mean that the two are dramatically different. Obviously, if you travel somewhere searching only for experiences you could have at home, you might as well have stayed home.

Aric S. Queen, National Geographic's Good Traveler, has dipped his toe in this subject, recently posting "How to Be a Good Traveler in 10 Easy Steps." He writes: "I owe many of my most memorable trips to the serendipitous kindness of strangers, and am firm in the belief that you get what you give when you travel." I agree with this wholeheartedly and while some of his tips are pretty obvious, especially to a seasoned traveler, some of them are very much worth keeping in mind.

The first item on his list "Stop acting like you know" is of vital importance. In fact, it's a maxim that should be remembered most by seasoned travelers. No matter how many places you've been, a new place, or even a place you've visited before, holds in store the unexpected. Travelers are outsiders, the same as tourists in this sense, and if you burst into a place as if you own it or know more about it than the people that live there, you're bound to put off locals, which is never a good thing.

Along the same line, Queen also suggests "Be British." When I first read this, I immediately thought of the old American backpackers trick of stitching a Canadian flag on your bag to give the impression that you aren't an American. But Queen is really talking about something else: "One thing the Brits do well is self-deprecation. Be fully prepared to make fun of yourself, or your hometown. There’s nothing worse than a traveler who’s deadset on convincing everyone that they’re not a stereotype." This is also sage advice. No matter if a language barrier exists, some good-natured laughter can dissolve stress, tension or confusion. Whether it's a matter of a mix-up with a menu or directions, when you are capable of admitting that you made a mistake or simply do not know, you ingratiate yourself to locals, which will only lead to a more intimate experience.

Queen's final tip: "Go to places for the experience, not just to see stuff. You can see stuff at home." Words to live by indeed!

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