10 Things I Learned in 20 Years Of Travel Writing
CHEFCHAOUEN, MOROCCO – NOVEMBER 14: A ventilation shaped as a mosque is pictured in the blue city of … [+] Chefchaouen, Morocco on November 14, 2018. Chefchaouen also known as Chaouen, is called the “Blue Pearl of Morocco”, and is a popular destination located on northwest of Morocco. (Photo by Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images)
I’ve been a travel writer for 20 years.
My first trip as a travel writer on assignment was to Bali to cover the newly opened Four Seasons Sayan—a palatial property in the artist community of Ubud. Since then, I’ve visited close to 100 countries—and many of them twice or more.
I’ve had the opportunity to fly economy, business, first-class and private jet. I’ve trekked, trailed, flown, walked, hiked, swam and eaten my way around the world. As travel has come to a tragic pause during Covid-19, it seems an opportune time to share some wisdom from the road.
One. A great tour guide. Someone local who stays with you for more than one day.
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JUNE 16, 2018: Tourists listen to a tour guide at Belorusskaya Station on Line 5 … [+] (Ring Line) of the Moscow Underground during FIFA World Cup Russia 2018. Sergei Petrov/TASS (Photo by Sergei PetrovTASS via Getty Images)
The importance of a great local guide is probably the most essential aspect of a trip where you are not familiar with the culture or customs. Preferably, the guide is someone with whom you can explore and bond for longer than a few hours.
A tour guide I knew in China took me to unexpected local eateries and centuries’ old tea houses that were not on any tourist map. Another tour guide in China got between me and a rabid dog, saving me from a painful bite and a hospital stay. I’ve stayed friends with my guide to Australia’s Aboriginal sacred lands, Haydyn Bromley from Bookabee Tours in the Flinders range, and I connected with him on Facebook through the years, maintaining contact with a very special person and a place I loved.
There’s no one better to open the heart of a country than someone who lives there.
Two. If you find a piece of art or something amazing, just buy it.
If you find something rare and wonderful: a craft piece or a one-of-a-kind piece of art that speaks to your heart and which you can afford, don’t second guess yourself— just buy it. Also, don’t haggle for pennies with people who make these treasures. You may think to yourself, “I can find that back home,” only to get home and find that, no, you can’t.
On Feb. 8, 2020, tourists and shoppers went shopping for merchandise and souvenirs in the Grand … [+] Bazaar in the historic commercial center of Fatih in Istanbul, Turkey, (Photo by Diego Cupolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NurPhoto via Getty Images
Three. Hotels are destinations, too.
If you are lucky enough to find yourself in a hotel or other accommodation that is a part of the history of the place you are staying in or is otherwise amazing, consider taking a day to just revel in that place.
hotel Danieli S.Marco basin and gondolae Venice Italy. (Photo by Guy THOUVENIN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty … [+] Images)
Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
I once had the opportunity to upgrade to a suite in Venice’s Hotel Danieli which fronts the Venice Lagoon. George Sand and her lover once bunked in here, and the hotel walls speak volumes of history.
A general from the terrace of the Danieli Hotel towards S Giorgio Maggiore on August 24, 2012 in … [+] Venice, Italy. Most luxury hotels will be fully booked over the next weeks when film stars and celebrities will arrive for the 69th Venice Film Festival. (Photo by XianPix/Corbis via Getty Images)
Corbis via Getty Images
I spent an entire day just exploring the hotel and reveling at being in that room, and it was as memorable as the rest of my stay.
A general late evening view of the entrance of the Danieli Hotel on August 24, 2012 in Venice, … [+] Italy. Most luxury hotels will be fully booked over the next weeks when film stars and celebrities will arrive for the 69th Venice Film Festival. (Photo by XianPix/Corbis via Getty Images)
Corbis via Getty Images
Rocky pyramids with an off-road vehicle on the left, Sahara desert, Egypt.
De Agostini via Getty Images
Four. When things go wrong, adventure happens.
A good friend and a great adventurer once told me this when we were in Mexico together in the Yucatan, and things were going awry. Our best laid plans were turning out backwards and nothing was as expected. We ended up having one of the best trips of our lives because our new routes and go-arounds turned out to send us to places we’d never dreamed of exploring.
Five. Eat less, walk more.
It’s tempting to dive into a wonderful meal and spend hours at table, exploring through food. But on a trip of only a week or less, consider making one meal of the day a longer sit-down experience, making more daylight hours available to you for exploring, walking, experiencing. Even if food is your passion, you can do it on foot by tasting at a food market or hawker stall while you move—something Anthony Bourdain was famous for doing.
LAS VEGAS, NV – NOVEMBER 10: TV Personality Anthony Bourdain attends “Parts Unknown Last Bite” Live … [+] CNN Talk Show hosted by Anthony Bourdain at Atomic Liquors on November 10, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. 24280_001_0202.JPG (Photo by Isaac Brekken/WireImage)
Six. Dive in.
While you’re having your adventure, don’t stand on the sidelines. If you’ve always wanted to go zip-lining but you’re scared, push yourself and dive in. You don’t want to get home and say to yourself, “If only I would have done that.” Travel is like a pause from your everyday self where you have the ability and the right to change your self- perception and become someone new.
Seven. You may be depressed in amazing places.
I once found myself in Beijing with a deep depression. I had been on the road for weeks. I missed my family. The skies were grey and the famous Beijing air quality was affecting me. I scolded myself for being depressed in such an awe-inspiring place. But we bring our own baggage with us wherever we go. It’s not realistic to believe you will be happy every minute of the day while you are on the road. Just let yourself feel what you are feeling and get on with it.
BEIJING, CHINA – APRIL 30: A Chinese worker walks by the closed entrance to the Forbidden City, on … [+] April 30, 2020 in Beijing, China. Beijing lowered its risk level after more than three months Thursday in advance of the May holiday, allowing most domestic travellers arriving in the city to do so without having to do 14 days quarantine. The Forbidden City will open to a limited number of visitors as of Thursday morning, After decades of growth, officials said Chinas economy had shrunk in the latest quarter due to the impact of the coronavirus epidemic. The slump in the worlds second largest economy is regarded as a sign of difficult times ahead for the global economy. While industrial sectors in China are showing signs of reviving production, a majority of private companies are operating at only 50% capacity, according to analysts. With the pandemic hitting hard across the world, officially the number of coronavirus cases in China is dwindling, ever since the government imposed sweeping measures to keep the disease from spreading. Officials believe the worst appears to be over in China, though there are concerns of another wave of infections as the government attempts to reboot the worlds second largest economy. Since January, China has recorded more than 81,000 cases of COVID-19 and at least 3200 deaths, mostly in and around the city of Wuhan, in central Hubei province, where the outbreak first started. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Eight. Stay connected.
PARIS, FRANCE – FEBRUARY 27: A guest (R) wears Off-White sunglasses, earrings, a black dress, a … [+] black leather jacket, a clutch, outside Ann Demeulemeester, during Paris Fashion Week – Womenswear Fall/Winter 2020/2021, on February 27, 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)
This point addresses the one above. It’s tempting to completely “go off the grid” and not stay connected to loved ones or family but you may find yourself feeling lost and adrift if you do. The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted the importance of staying in touch with the world at the same time as going nomad.
Nine. Don’t push yourself to find amazing. It will find you.
A few years ago the trend was “curated” and “authentic” experiences. People were exhorted to go off the beaten track and find amazing, uplifting experiences. You were no longer supposed to be a “tourist” and go to “touristy sites” but you were encouraged to be a “traveler” instead who blended and merged with the destination you were in. This is fine but sometimes “amazing” will find you if you let your tastes and desires move you. And sometimes it is OK to be a tourist. The Eiffel Tower and the Tower of London are worth seeing, too.
PARIS, FRANCE – JUNE 27: A tourist looks at the Eiffel Tower on June 27, 2018 in Paris, France. … [+] After two dark years following the terrorist attacks of 2015, the summer season is going well and tourists are returning to Paris. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
Ten. Learn how to say, “thank you,” “that’s beautiful” and “I love this,” in the language of the place you’re in.
Young Caucasian woman walking in Balinese temple, Indonesia
In my years of travel, I have always made it a point to learn to say the word, “beautiful” in the language of the country I’m in. If you find beauty and share that you love it, or something moves you and you share that feeling, you will find people respond in kind. Just saying the word, “beautiful” to someone in their own language makes a bond happen and takes you to new adventures.