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Big Sur Mailboxes
Colourful mailboxes along Big Sur, California, Photo by Michael Burm

No matter where, when, how or why we travel, there is always someone willing to give us unsolicited advice. What one piece of this “advice” (if any) have you listened to and carried with you throughout your subsequent travels? Please include why it has stuck around.

Chris Guillebeau

Art of Non-Conformity

A good friend tells me regularly, “Don’t forget to breathe.” When we’re first starting to travel, this is never a problem. Everything is new and magical and foreign. But over time, the foreign becomes familiar, and that’s when we forget to breathe. I can forget to pack almost anything or make almost any travel mistake—if you can name it, I’ve done it—but forgetting to breathe means that I forget to enjoy my surroundings.

I’m writing you from Minsk, Belarus at the moment, where it’s 2am local time. There’s a storm brewing outside my window and a small bottle of vodka on my hotel room desk. It’s my 150th country, but at the moment I can honestly say I feel just as excited as when I started. So far, the breathing is good.

Dave

The Longest Way Home

‘Never take expectations of a place with you.’

This is ten times harder to do in reality than in thought. Who amongst us does not plan about visiting a place, or expects to see something in particular? A year’s work tied up in the excitement of visiting Paris in the Fall, only to see the Eiffel tower or Notre Dame covered in scaffolding for repair.

It’s taken me years to try and keep my expectations low. It’s a very hard thing to do. When we travel to a place we can’t help but be excited. To see it quashed by events outside of our control can ruin a trip, and a memory.

Go in with an open mind, and you will be enriched.

There’s something to be said for not planning too much. But, still we go there for a reason. The way I’ve managed to really not take expectations with me is by knowing what’s there to see. But, by not expecting to see it.

Go in with an open mind, and you will be enriched. Turn your head to an angle and look at something from a different perspective. If Notre Dame has scaffolding on it, then no problems. Take photos of the people restoring history. And, make it something else to cherish!

Buddha
Buddha, Photo by Anthony Cobban

Michael Schneider

OtherGuy’sDime Blog

As I was preparing to leave for a teaching position in Kenya, a neighbor suggested I contact her ex-parish priest, Father George, who was working in Nairobi with the Missionaries of Charity, an agency run by the Nobel-prize winner Mother Theresa. She thought he could provide me with a perspective on the country distinct from those of travel agents, tour guides, and bus drivers. Was she right, as the day I spent with Father George (described in Father George, Poverty Tourism, and the Slums of Kibera) was one of the most emotional, enlightening, and transformative experiences of my traveling life.
Because of her advice, whenever I now travel or work overseas one of the first things I do is try to obtain names and addresses of locals in the host country, either through friends, family, or the Alumni Association at my school. Then I send email letting them know when I am coming, how long I will be there, and inquiring if we might get together to help me learn about local customs and culture.

For example, I just returned from a three-month job in Bhutan where I spent many happy hours sharing stories with and learning from a recent alumnus of my school, along with her friends and family. They provided an introduction to Himalayan Buddhist culture that was invaluable to my understanding of the country and its people. Spending time with locals is a wonderful way to start the process of integrating into your new home.

Andy Jarosz

501 Places

It’s up to me to decide when my desire to go [traveling] is strong enough to put the excuses aside and just do it.

I remember speaking to a travelling friend more than 20 years ago, and I was telling him about the places I was going to visit. He asked me when I would go there, and as a young student at the time, I mentioned that I needed to graduate first, make some money, pay off my debts and then consider my travels. He told me that however many years pass, I’ll always have a list of things that I can wait for before I choose to travel. It’s up to me to decide when my desire to go is strong enough to put the excuses aside and just do it.

And it’s so true. Settling into new job, sorting out the mortgage, the promotion, the new car, Christmas, the list goes on. There are always ‘reasons’ that can be applied to put a trip on hold. It’s only when I commit to going (yes, buy the ticket and tell people of my plans) that I start to see that those ‘reasons’ have never really held me back as much as I thought. It was up to me all along.

Anthony Bianco

The Travel Tart

The piece of unsolicited travel advice that’s always stuck with me was when I caught a ferry from Algerciras in Spain to Tangier in Morocco. Tangier is infamous for it’s hustlers. When I got there, I had to undergo a mysterious luggage and bus transfer procedure. A hustler approached me to give me useless advice that I didn’t request, need or want about this procedure, and I minded my own business. When it was time to go, the hustler demanded I pay him for his ‘services’. When I told him he must be joking and wouldn’t be receiving any of my hard earned shrapnel, he pointed his finger towards the sky and said “WELL THEN, I HOPE THAT MY GOD MAKES YOUR BUS CRASH AND YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE WHO DIES!’ and then went off the find another poor traveller to harass!

I thought this was the funniest thing anyone had said to me! Anyway, I’m still here, so his god must like me! I’ve never forgotten this experience, and his useless travel advice!

Jeanne

Soul Travelers 3

A year sounds like such a long time when one is planning a round the world tour, but you’d be amazed at how fast it goes by and how much time transit and getting oriented can take.

The very best unsolicited advice that we got before setting out on our open ended, non-stop family world trip in 2006, was from several folks who had done RTW trips for a year. ALL of them said that a year was just not enough time, they wish they had taken more time and spent longer in places to immerse and get to know it better.

That opened my mind and made me plan an open-ended world tour over many years. A year sounds like such a long time when one is planning a round the world tour, but you’d be amazed at how fast it goes by and how much time transit and getting oriented can take. We are getting very close to entering our fifth year of travel and even that time has zipped by. Travel keeps one living in the present moment, so one loses all sense of time, but one also becomes very aware that time is our most precious commodity and is the only true wealth that we own. In this fast paced world, we are so grateful that we have given ourselves this gift of time and I so appreciate that I was given this information before planning the details of our trip.

Carl Beien

Two Stops Past Siberia

“Traveling is a balancing act, it is a push and pull. We must always decide whether to deepen our experience in one place, or to move on and see more.”

This came to me from an Israeli man named Dotan in a hostel called Los Amigos on the island of Flores in Guatemala. He was one of those lone backpackers, the kind who wouldn’t have it any other way. He told me about getting stuck for 3 months in Varanasi. He said he’d never have chosen to do that, but in the end, the depth of his experience there led to his greatest travel experience ever.

Who hasn’t planned a short trip with every possible destination penciled in – only to find themselves exhausted by cities and ‘ruined’ by all the ruins? Inevitably, my solution to this mad dash on asphalt and rail has always been to just slow down, and see how much more there is to see by just staying put.

No Place Like Home
The Wizard Of Oz: There’s No Place Like Home

I’ve now been in Naryn city, Kyrgyzstan for just over a year, with about nine months more to go. In the Peace Corps, we say we’re not tourists, but that’s not true. We’re just long term travelers – temporary residents; what we’ve really done is made the decision to hunker down, and get as deep as we can.

Hannah Barth

Hannah in Motion

Mothers generally give the best unsolicited advice. Mine’s been reminding me since I first left home to travel at the age of 16 that, in the words of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home…”

There are a lot of travel blogs out there today about that moment when you realize you’ve been running from something. Once you face that, and face that the reason you’ve been traveling maybe hasn’t been 100% pure, you realize that home can be just as much of an adventure as any foreign land; sometimes more so.

Matt Long

LandLopers

Before leaving for my first trip to Thailand a few years ago, a good friend gave me just a few, simple words of advice. He said to slow down and look. At the time, I had no idea what he meant, but as I found myself navigating the tiny alleyways of Bangkok, I began to understand his Delphic statement. Before that trip, I was a frantic traveler, guidebook in hand and always looking for the next “sight.” While I was in Thailand, though I did take the time to stop and observe, to ask questions and to truly try to understand more about the country.

These words have stuck with me ever since and this method of slower travel coupled with engaging as many people in conversation as I can, has transformed my travel experiences. Rather than just ticking off “must-see” attractions from a list, I try to live in the countries I visit to understand what makes them tick. It is this process of cultural understanding that makes travel so special and has forever changed my own view of the world.

lisa Shusterman

One World – One Trip

Over the years I have learned to take unsolicited travel advice with a grain of salt. When I was younger (and thought I knew better than everyone) I took all of that advice and let it flow in one ear and out the other. What could anyone tell me that I didn’t already know? As I got older and came to accept that I didn’t know everything, I listened to what others had to say and learned to keep what I wanted and leave the rest behind.

When I was younger (and thought I knew better than everyone) I took all of that [unsolicited] advice and let it flow in one ear and out the other. What could anyone tell me that I didn’t already know?

I remember when my husband and I were planning our year-long trip around the world, people would freely offer their thoughts, opinions and ideas. Negative thoughts about what we were about to do were discarded without being given any energy at all. Positive thoughts were held onto and used to reinforce our conviction about the adventure we about to embark on. Ideas for the most part were ignored, as most people had no concept of the planning process we were in the midst of. But every once in a while, someone would say something that would spark our interest. A discussion at a local outdoor market one day lead us to disclose our itinerary in India. When my husband mentioned that we were planning on going to Shimla, the other person said, “Oh, you don’t want to go there; go to McLeodganj instead.” We went home and that evening looked into McLeodganj. It looked great and we decided to go there. It turned out to be one of our favorite places. There are often gems in what other people have to say (especially other travelers), you just have sift through a lot of crap in order to find it.

The one piece of unsolicited advice I will offer that you will hear again and again is to travel light. Pack light to begin with and then remove half of the contents of your bag. Now you’re ready to go.

Debby Lee Jagerman

Debby’s Departures

“Bring half the clothes and twice the money” was some unsolicited advice that my grandmother gave me well before I even had a travel bug. But fortunately, I listened, and I follow her advice where ever possible.

For example, I once did a five-month solo journey through Europe, and started out with a large backpack; and plenty of money in my bank account. I actually thought that I wasn’t bringing a lot.

For example, I once did a five-month solo journey through Europe, and started out with a large backpack; and plenty of money in my bank account. I actually thought that I wasn’t bringing a lot. But, after the first few weeks, I realized that even a large backpack was too much. It was heavy, and there were things in there that I just wasn’t using. So, I started shipping things back home to lighten my load, including the large pack itself. And, with my extra money, I bought a smaller pack, about half the size. It was so much nicer to travel this way. It was quite freeing.

The extra money also came in handy again, for example, in one country where it was actually colder than I anticipated, and did not have a warm sweater with me. So, I bought one. Now I have a genuine sweater from that country that I still have, and wear, to this day.

Thanks, Grandma. Your advise has made my travels much more enjoyable and meaningful.

Sherry Ott

Ottsworld

Before I left on my travels in 2006 I knew I wanted to take lots of photos. So I went out to buy the largest compact flash cards I could, thinking I wanted a lot of space to store my photos for the year and between uploads. However some kind person gave me a bit of advice when buying my CF cards – they told me to not buy just one massive one… but buy multiple smaller ones to add up to the space I wanted. I thought this sounded weird at first as I didn’t want to carry around a bunch of CF cards in my camera bag adding up to 16Gig. When asked why they suggested such a thing, they simply responded, “If you lose it – you don’t lose everything.” I still wasn’t completely sold on the idea, but I did by 4 different cards and took off on my trip.

While in New Zealand hiking the Franz Josef Glacier, a backpacking friend unfortunately learned that lesson the hard way. He had been traveling for 6 months and had all of his photos from the last 3 months on one card. While hiking he was changing out cards, lost his grip due to the cold and the full card fell down a crevice never to be found again. Three months of photos lost.

I actually have 6 cards now that I carry – and I change them around frequently just in case one of the cards ends up in a crevice!

Negril Chicken
Jamaican Jerk Chicken – Street Style, Photo by Diny Patterson

Jon Brandt

Travel Guy

I was once on a family vacation in Jamaica. Our guide from the hotel took us out on a random and strange trip to visit an abandoned house that was being built by Bob Marley until he died. No tourists were within 40 miles and we were told to try “Uncle Sam’s” fried chicken for lunch. It was a little cart by the water, [the chicken] cooked by an old toothless guy, and though the “kitchen” looked dirty, locals were crowded around. Sure enough, it was the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten, so golden and crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The moral of the story is, never be afraid to try the local grub, even if you’re away from sanitary conditions. It might be one of your best meals.

Editors Note: I would like to thank all of the contributors who have participated in this panel discussion. There is definitely great advice here from everyone. To the readers – take with you the advice which fits best and leave the rest. There will be another reader along soon who will find the “leftovers” useful too. Thank you again to all!

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Discussion »

  • #1craig | travelvice.com

    “…Back when I thought US$10/night for a hotel room was cheap.”

    Heard this when I first started traveling full-time, nearly 5 years ago & has stuck with me since.

  • #2Sam Daams

    Wow, some fantastic advice here to heed! They all ring so true. Especially like Andy’s: “It’s up to me to decide when my desire to go is strong enough to put the excuses aside and just do it.”

  • #3TheTravelTweeter

    Just Go. Years ago I was on a business trip to Japan and had an opportunity for a weekend in Hong Kong. Oh I thought at the time, too much trouble, too much to do, meetings on Monday, on and on. I didn’t go. It took 15 years before I actually got back to the area and to Hong Kong. It’s probably one of my favorite cities in the world! Even now though after having been to Hong Kong I regret not making the trip then, and I still do. Even more, you will regret the ones, you never get the chance to do again! I have never regretted one trip taken… not one!

  • #4cathy

    When I left home, a friend of mine told me: “Remember that wherever you go, you always take yourself with you”. I smiled politely, thanked him for the advice,and walked out the door, not really giving anymore thought to his words. Little did I know just how much those words would ring in my thoughts over and over again. It’s true. No matter where you go, you do take yourself with you; your thoughts, your expectations, your values, and your perceptions. I would say just be careful not to let them get in your way. Open yourself up to new experiences and new expectations. But at the same time, you can’t run from who you are so be prepared to deal with yourself in whatever place you finally land.

  • #5carolina

    Very helpful information found here. I’m wondering the net right now because of my first international travel and can’t leave this page without telling you MERCI :)

  • #6Expat in Germany

    Great advice! Can’t say that I’ve ever received advice that useful. I usually receive advise more along the lines of hotel, restaurant recommendations, etc.

  • #7Travel

    Hi, I like your article on:
    Please Leave Your Comments In The Suggestion Box

    I truly love when you mention about
    there is always someone willing to give us unsolicited advice.

  • #8Ryan Hamaker

    I think the best traveling advice I’ve ever had was “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. I’ve traveled to some countries where I had real safety concerns on the plane ride in but realized a few days later that all I needed to do was not stand out like a typical western tourist. If you respect the local customs and culture, you’ll have a much more pleasant experience. On the flip side, I always try to eat where the locals eat. I’ve found that I get free tips from the locals on all the best places to hang out. Not to mention, the food is always better off the beaten tourist path!

  • #9Carlos Ramos Jr.

    German proverb says: “If God loves you he will show you his world”.

    Respect the local customs and you’ll have a really pleasant experience.

  • #10Kellad

    Unquestionably believe that which you stated. Your favorite justification appeared to be on the internet the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people consider worries that they just don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  • #11GaryHansen

    Little did I know just how much those words would ring in my thoughts over and over again. It’s true. No matter where you go, you do take yourself with you; your thoughts, your expectations, your values, and your perceptions. I would say just be careful not to let them get in your way. Open yourself up to new experiences and new expectations. But at the same time, you can’t run from who you are so be prepared to deal with yourself in whatever place you finally land.

  • #12John Brabham

    As someone who is often reluctant to try new things, the most common advice I have been given is “you will love it”. And, I have to admit, that on a number of occasions, this has been true, for example, I was reluctant to go to Lapland on a ‘business jolly. having visions of reindeer’s and freezing cold temperatures. But, having relented, it was truly one of my top 3 excursions. Travelling across frozen lakes at up to 60MPH and only returning when I was too exhausted to hold the snow ski up, was a real thrill.

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