Globetrotting is a lifestyle that comes with its own set of guidelines to follow and rules to ignore. As a traveler, there’s all sorts of misconceptions about how things should be done. In the end, living on the road is kind of like packing a backpack: the less weight there is to carry around on your shoulders, the easier it is to move around and the more enjoyable the journey is.
Travel already comes with its own set of befuddling dilemmas: How do I get from Point A to Point B? What language are the signs in? Why does this address not exist? What time zone is this conference call supposed to be in? Is sleeping in an insane-asylum-turned-hostel really a good idea?
Beyond the logistics, there’s a whole other set of moral and cultural aspects to consider. Is it possible to not look the tourist and still pair a neon hoodie with flip flops? Is it a sin to go to Berlin and not see Brandenburg Gate? Will your pilates teacher still talk to you if breakfast consists of fried dough sticks coated in sugar and dipped in chocolate?
Take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and relax.
Invest time and effort in something worthwhile, such as volunteering with underprivileged children or cleaning up the environment, and let your hair down when it comes to daily conveniences and guilty pleasures.
When you are traveling, follow your intuition and don’t ever apologize for:
1. Having a day in.
Sometimes, it’s hard to justify not going outside to play, especially when skies are blue and the sun is shining bright. I mean, how many times will you get an invitation from that brown-eyed model to go search for starfish on secluded Cuban beaches? Okay, maybe just once. However, there’ll always be an opportunity to do something, somewhere, with someone, just as there will always be more museums to see and underground bars to party in. So, don’t stress it if your body just wants to draw the curtains shut, stay in pj’s all day, and binge the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix (What has Lorelai gotten herself into now?). It’s necessary to recharge from time to time.
2. Pretending you’re a student when you’re not.
Most museums, cinemas, theaters, and national monuments are either too busy to spend time checking dates properly or get too intimidated to decipher foreign university ID’s. Student discounts tend to be quite significant abroad, so always ask if they are available and then flash your laminated card…even if you already graduated two years ago. We’re all students of life anyway, right? Meaningful travelers more than anyone!
3. Gorging on free samples.
What do farmers markets, Costco, new frozen yogurt shops, and the bread section of supermarkets have in common? One of the best things that exist on the planet: free samples. Go crazy with little bites of delicacies you know you can’t really afford and stretch your budget for that aperatif later.
4. Acting like a tourist.
Despite our best efforts to blend in seamlessly with the locals and not stand out as white-socked tourists, there’s moments when it’d just be plain silly to not take that selfie with a camel in the background. If you’ve flown halfway across the world to be in Paris, of course you’re going to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. While a meaningful trip should go beyond the monuments, there’s a reason that landmarks are landmarks. I mean, when in Rome…
5. Going MIA for a few days.
Keeping up with social media and maintaining an envy-inspiring Instagram account can take a lot of work. There’s times that you just want to stuff a piece of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte into your mouth and forget about arranging lighting and composition for that perfect shot. And that’s totally okay. Whether you’re on a weekend getaway or semester abroad, life is there to be lived, not recorded. Ditch the phone for a few days and dive in.
Friendly Tip #1: when going off-grid for a while, it’s good to post a notice before disappearing, or Interpol may be banging on your door while you’re deep in the middle of a meditation session on a remote island (trust me on this one).
6. Being comfortable.
While it is important to know local fashion and dress codes abroad (who wants to be turned away from the opera recital because they are wearing a t-shirt?), a degree of practical comfort is to be taken into consideration when planning for 12-hour train trips. Practice good hygiene and respect attire expectations of all religions, but pick shoes based on comfort, not height of heels. At the end of the day, travel is hard work; dress the part.
7. Eating dessert first.
Back home, there were morning runs, sunset yoga sessions along the river, and green smoothies for lunch every day. In France, the pain au chocolat at breakfast might be followed by juicy cassoulet at midday. You promise to make up for it with a fresh salad, but then you walk by the pâtisserie on the way home and all green resolutions fly out the window. It’s fine.
Food is an important aspect of every culture and it’s a bad idea to skip out on traditional treats.
8. Splurging on comfort.
When traveling, especially long-term, saving every centavo becomes a new lifestyle. Unless you’re a millionaire, this is great practice. However, balance all of those hot dog carts with a nice sit-in meal every few days and opt for the single room when you just want to hibernate in peace for a long weekend. Is it really worth saving $17.34 on flights if the trip is twice as long— especially if it includes a six-hour layover in some expensive Scandinavian capital? Allowing yourself to buy that red dress for a night out is just as important of a practice as is skimping out on transportation cards and exploring by foot. Don’t be afraid to #TreatYoSelf!
9. Entering shopping malls just to use the bathroom.
Of course there’s no more room in your backpack for that chic trench coat on display, but where else in Europe can you find a free toilet?
10. Moving into coffee shops for the day.
Whether you just arrived in a city you know nothing about and need to do some serious research before picking a hostel or you have a long layover in a town you have absolutely zero interest in, cafés make for great refuges. Protection against the elements, comfortable couches, wifi, bathroom access… any traveler’s paradise.
Friendly Tip #2: Look for tucked-away establishments away from the main plaza for less traffic and more authenticity. Bonus points for businesses that support the local economy and host cultural events!
11. Using people for your benefit.
If you have a long-lost aunt you’ve never met before in St. Petersburg, reach out and ask if you can crash on her couch. Does stinky Stephen from seventh grade live in the town you’re interning in? Maybe he didn’t upgrade the deodorant yet, but he probably has a good tip and some connections. Met a local you’re not really interested in until you find out that he owns a restaurant? Accepting a free drink and appetizer at his bar doesn’t mean you have to get married (or even go out on Date #2).
What should I apologize for while traveling?
However, there are a couple of big no-no’s that automatically get a red mark in the book. As any self-respecting traveler and responsible global citizen, do get ready to practice your pardon’s, lo siento’s, przepraszam’s, and beklager’s if you plan on:
1. Assuming that the rest of the world is like your hometown.
It doesn’t matter if you are from New York City or a little village from the Midwest; The world abroad is not going to be the same that you’re used to. With different places come different cultures, expectations, and mentalities. Maybe it’s not necessary to memorize the subjunctive form of irregular verbs or know the twelve layers of a jūnihitoe, but it’s commendable to learn at least basic phrases and know to cover the shoulders when visiting a mosque. As a guest in foreign countries, bring patience and leave entitlement at home.
2. Coming back the same person.
More than postcards and nights out, travel is about learning about the world and growing as a person. So, pass up on all those souvenirs and stock up on memories and life lessons instead. Whether it’s language classes abroad, picking up dance steps in the streets, or discovering host family recipes, take advantage of travel to keep learning on the road.
No matter the destination, purpose, or length of trip, balance respecting foreign cultures with recognizing your own needs. Get out there, cross comfort lines, taste strange foods, and try new things…but, at the same time, listen to what your heart and body are saying. There’s no need to apologize simply for being a human person.