When I think of a ‘good traveler’, I think of my best friend Paul. A tough kid from Jersey, Paul makes an excellent flight attendant and world traveler because he can roll with the punches if plans change, mingle at a red carpet party in Hollywood, or charm my grandmother at a family reunion. He is willing to try sea urchin in Spain or ride a camel in Dubai. Most importantly, Paul has a strong sense of humor. He can ‘find the funny’ in nearly any situation. Paul exhibits all the traits of a good traveler- flexibility, cultural awareness, eagerness to try new things, thick-skin, and a healthy sense of humour.
I’m not always the easiest person to travel with mainly because I can be indecisive. Paul will agree. We were planning a trip to Oktoberfest in Munich. First, I couldn’t decide when we should go; then, I couldn’t decide where we should stay. Finally, I wavered on whether I could even afford to go or not. Paul stayed patient and flexible (though I don’t know how). When I finally committed to going, all the hotels and hostels were fully booked. So we ended up camping, in October, in Munich. It was cold and uncomfortable. But we made it work and enjoyed Germany and the Bavarian festival. Because of Paul’s flexible attitude, that remains one of our favorite trips.
2. Cultural Awareness
I’ve read that there are degrees of cultural awareness. The lowest level is the “my way is the only way” belief. The highest level is the “Our Way” mentality. This way of thinking brings people from different backgrounds, cultures, and languages together to create a shared understanding. Through general life experience and also through traveling, anyone can develop cultural awareness and be the better for it. Paul’s appreciation of not only people who are similar to him, but also of those who are different be it age, ethnicity, or background has taught me how to be more culturally sensitive and aware. I know that I can take Paul anywhere from fashion show in New York City to a pig pickin’ in North Carolina and he always finds a way to bring people together and encourage everyone to laugh and generally enjoy life.
3. Eagerness to Try New Things
Most travelers will have this in common. They are eager to try new things in new places. It’s part of what pulls people to travel in the first place. Traveling pushes you out of your comfort zone, daily routine, and natural habits and habitats. Some people do this reluctantly, but some do it with vigor and enthusiasm, like my shining example, Paul. Within weeks of starting our job as flight attendants, Paul was itching to take full advantage of our benefits and explore somewhere new. He had never been out of the country before, and his first trip was to Thailand. There, he tried authentic panang curry, rode an elephant, and swam in the Andaman Sea all for the first time. There are some flight attendants we refer to as “slam clickers.” They get to their hotel room, slam their door, and click it locked, never to be seen until the layover is over. Over time, they have lost that eagerness to try new things, or perhaps they never had it to start with. But I argue that this characteristic is highly important and deeply ingrained in good travelers.
Travelers need to have thick skin. I’ve been insulted while traveling both purposefully and unintentionally, but either way, it’s something that I had to let go or learn from. I’ve been treated rudely simply because of the country I’m from or my accent, and Paul has been insulted for being gay. While at Oktoberfest, Paul and I joined a large table at a bier hall. The table was filled with a group of Germans who obviously knew each other and were there together. We did not want to be intrusive, but from our understanding, you take seats where you can find them even if it’s with strangers. The group of friends quickly made it clear that our presence was not welcome and we could tell that they were talking about us and laughing at us. Since we followed the cultural norm for the festival, and because there was absolutely nowhere else for us to sit, we let their rudeness go and laughed it off as a learning experience. Though we did originally ask if we could join the table, we thought perhaps next time we’d get a more enthusiastic “yes” before we took our seats.
5. Healthy Sense of Humour
This is my favorite trait in any traveler, hell, any person. Humour has the power to defuse tense situations, lessen differences, and make people feel good. This is why Saturday Night Live has been on the air for forty years. A good traveler needs a healthy sense of humour for many reasons. Traveling can be stressful. It can be lonely. It can be awkward. If you take yourself too seriously, this lessens the chance that you will enjoy your time traveling. If you can learn to laugh at yourself and the way you bumbled through ordering a croissant in Paris and the leer the bakery owner gave you even though you tried your best to speak to her in french…then you’ll still have a good time and good croissant (they’re not overrated, though Parisians may be). I love Paul best for his sense of humour. He is never mean or cruel, for that isn’t funny and it takes no wit. Paul is clever and quick-witted and he can find the humour in the most drab of situations, like jury duty. I received numerous text messages referencing Forensic Files, Jodi Arias, and Nancy Grace during Paul’s jury duty selection process. Life can get overwhelming, heavy, serious. Developing a sense of humour will lighten the load. It’s a traveler’s greatest tool.
Of course there are numerous traits and characteristics that go into making one a ‘good’ traveler, but these five are some of the most useful and easy to cultivate. Work on developing these traits and skills, and your travels will be deeper and richer for it.