If you asked me what I’d most want for you to do with your one, precious life, I’d say travel. Travel better by traveling in way that centers respect and curiosity and vulnerability and empathy. Go places that are far and unfamiliar and when you picture yourself going it fills you with that perfect 50/50 blend of excitement and fear.
Step off the plane and into dusty, tiny airports filled with locals who don’t speak English. Sit in sprawling city squares that have seen centuries of history unfold, and notice how you–like the birds–are really just passing through. Travel so much that your backpack feels like a part of you, an inanimate adventure buddy.
If you do travel, I hope that travel infuses your clothes and shoes and luggage with little memories and stories that make them hard to part with. I hope that travel helps you learn more about yourself, to know that your core is rock solid, and that most people in this life are good. I hope that when you get lost there’s a kind, helpful local who takes time away from their day to set you on the right path.
I hope that the best meals you eat in your life are those you share with friends in restaurants that you found by accident because you were so hungry from your adventure that you just had to stop there, in that place, at that time. I hope that you wander through museums full of artwork that transports you to other times and other places and prompts you to contemplate how alike we all really are across time and space.
I hope that, while on your travels, you make friends. I hope that you meet all kinds of friends, really. I hope you make friends for an hour with someone while waiting at a train station only to never see them again, leaving only a memory. I hope you make friends that you spend a few days with, grow very close to them very quickly, and then follow them on Instagram as your part ways, knowing that there’s only a small chance you’ll meet again.
I hope you make friends with people who become part of your life forever and change you and help you grow and support you. I hope that you travel with your closest friends and bond over how challenging and exhilarating and beautiful and rugged and spectacular the world is.
2. Manage Yourself
I hope that, as you travel, you get better at managing yourself. I hope that you learn how to pack lighter, to need less, to essentialize. I hope that you know that you can hit the road for an adventure with only the items in a backpack. I hope that you learn how to notice when you’re hungry, when you’re tired, when you need to rest, or when you need to share what’s on your mind.
I hope that, as you manage yourself better, you make more space for more adventure and collaboration and learning and joy. I hope that the less bogged down you feel by stuff and things and objects and needs, the freer you feel. I hope that you become nimble, but that you can speak up for yourself about the things you truly need. I hope that you take self-management on as a practice, something that you consciously work to improve on every day, and that it helps you to be happier when you’re home.
Related Post: How to Practice Self-Care While Traveling
3. Be Respectful
I hope that your travels help you gain respect for all of the other people in this big old world of ours. The more people you see and the more open you are to others’ experiences, the more you’ll start to see your own biases and the ways that you project your culture onto the world. I hope that you cultivate a deep respect for the differences among people, and for the ways that they live their lives that might be different from you. I hope that, when you get that familiar pang of irritation that comes when confronted with a different perspective, you get curious.
Have your first and foremost goal be to learn about the world, not to simply have a good time. Differentiate between traveling and vacationing; your goal when you travel is not simply to relax, it’s to learn and appreciate and experience. If, in the midst of your learning and exploration and adventuring, you find some time for ease, take it! The sort of mental and social and physical work that it takes to travel will almost certainly leave you feeling less stressed and more fulfilled.
4. Be Curious
Be curious about the world as you travel. Be vulnerable. Be genuine. Be flexible. Be discerning. Try replacing, “It’s so annoying that ___” with “I wonder why ___.” Google the history of the place you’re visiting before you go. Read a book from an author from that city or country. Learn a few words of the local language. Remember that every place has its own context with its own culture and history and economy and people. Remember that most people are very proud of where they come from, so do your best to honor and respect their home.
5. Be Conscientious
Just like you practice Leave No Trace when you enter the wilderness, work to be a conscientious traveler. Support local economies by researching before you buy. Eat at local restaurants run by families who have been there generations. Buy gifts and crafts from small shops and street vendors and boutiques, instead of the airport. Be gentle and kind to the people and animals that you meet, however and whenever you can. Try to let annoyances go. Celebrate the special, unique, beautiful parts of the places you visit by leaving them positive reviews on Google Maps so that other travelers can benefit. Be gentle to the land and leave it in just as good–if not better–shape than when you found it.
6. Be Observant
Spend time on every trip just sitting in one place and observing. Watch how people navigate daily interactions, and notice how it might be different from home. Notice the pride that people take in their businesses. Notice the way that traffic flows, or what everyone has for an afternoon snack, or how the prices vary from one part of a city to another.
If you meet locals or expats who speak English and want to talk to you, engage with them. Listen to their stories about how the place is changing or growing or contracting. Ask them about their lives and for insider tips and where to get the best meal. Notice how most people want to share their city with you, to help you see its best and brightest parts.
7. Be Vulnerable
While you’re traveling, be vulnerable. Be open to being wrong, to being corrected, to learning. Know that it’s OK if you don’t speak the local language, but make an effort. Learn how to say “hello” “good morning” “good evening” “thank you” and “please” before you set off for the day. Even if you don’t speak the language, most people will appreciate this gesture. Notice how people in your city treat people who don’t speak English, and empathize with them now that you know what it’s like.
If someone corrects you when you’re traveling, try not to respond in anger or haste. Acknowledge that the message might have been poorly delivered, but try to adjust yourself to fit in better anyway.
Try to experience new places like a local, rather than a tourist. When you’re in Paris, try to do things as the Parisians do. See what it’s like and how it makes you feel and how it changes your perspective. Try to shed rigidity and embrace flexibility, and notice when it’s challenging to do so. Remember that your cultural context is going to seep into everything you do, and sometimes you have to be willing to be uncomfortable to try new things.
8. Be Adaptive
If a place wants to change you, you may just want to let it. Your skillset and beliefs and communication style and knowledge may have gotten you this far, but sometimes travel asks more of us. Sometimes travel asks us to grow in new ways, to be more direct or to quickly learn a new skill. Things as simple as mealtimes can vary wildly around the world, as you may know if you’ve ever tried to sit down for dinner at 6:30pm in Spain.
9. Be Open
Plan your trips, but leave room in your schedule for the unknown delights. On a recent trip to Florence, one of the most memorable moments of the trip was waiting outside of a speakeasy with a Spanish couple. We had really wanted to see the speakeasy, but we got the entry password wrong and the host never seated us. Despite this setback, my fondest memory was standing with them and explaining prohibition, a moment in American history and an enduring piece of our culture that we got to share. Some of the greatest moments of any trip are the small, happy accidents.
10. Be Humble
The world needs your humility. Don’t assume that everyone you meet will want to know your story or hear about your culture, though be open to sharing if they ask. The world needs more people who take humanity seriously, with a respect for the dynamic systems in place in communities across each of the continents.
Embrace travel as a political act, knowing that the more you recognize the innate humanness of everyone else on earth, the harder it will be to be complicit in the bombing of foreign lands. Learn from every person that you meet that all of us on earth have an inherent dignity that is imbued to us only for being human.
Travel for the health of your soul, not for entertainment. You can do the same things, meet the same people, see the same things, but your intentions will always drive your experience. So, intend to grow. Intend to be immersed in a new culture, around new people. Intend to arrive home after a trip as a new person, changed by the experience.
Learn presence, and practice it while traveling. One way to do this is by, whenever you can, truly being in the place you’re visiting; don’t sit in Rome and spend hours looking at your friends’ Instagram feeds or watch the same TikToks you could easily see on your couch at home. This is the easiest way to shortchange yourself on a trip, no matter where you’re going or how long you’ll be there.
I hope that, on your next trip, we bump into each other at a tiny but beautiful cafe, exchange a small but knowing smile, and then go our separate ways. Travel well, friends.