MANILA, Philippines – While most people complain about packing, airline food and immigration lines, I am usually in a state of happy confusion as I pick out my travel outfits, munch on plane fare with gusto and feel excited as I line up to get my passport stamped.
I never understood why people whine so much about how stressful traveling is because to me, it’s always a butterflies-in-my-belly type of adventure. I went on my first trip abroad at 10 months old and my first parent-free voyage at 10 years old, and as I grew, so did my wanderlust.
While my peers were spending all their money on YSL Muse bags and saving up for a pair of Louboutins, I was obsessively watching Globe Trekker, then later on, No Reservations.
Travel has become so much a part of my life that I have shifted from a fashion and beauty writing background to doing more on travel and food, and I’ve chosen a life of a freelancer so I can accommodate any trip that comes my way, be it a 5-day one to London for work or a two-month pleasure trip around Europe with my siblings. I think my experiences have taught me a thing or two about how to be a good traveler, but I know there’s still a lot to learn. Here are my 10 commandments of traveling so far:
1. Do research. Every time I plan to travel anywhere, I always read up on where to go and what to do. Forget those touristy sites that will just tell you to go to the usual landmarks. Instead, Google your interests and what that city can offer in relation to that.
For instance, I love street art, so I made sure to go to Belleville in Paris, Kreuzberg in Berlin and booked an apartment in Malasaña in Madrid. Someone else with other interests might want to wander elsewhere.
That said, there are certain tourist landmarks that one MUST see, still depending on personal taste or reasons. Mine was the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and it was worth the hour and a half wait under the scorching Spanish summer sun.
2. Be open-minded. My biggest pet peeve is hearing tourists complain about how wherever they are is “not the same as home,” and many times I want to shake them and tell them they are not in Kansas anymore. I was lining up for train tickets in France once when a rude tourist loudly complained that she could not understand the woman behind the ticketing booth because she didn’t know how to speak English. Learn to adapt to your surroundings, appreciate the good and take the bad in stride.
3. Act like a local. The best compliment for me when I travel is when locals don’t think I’m a tourist. Do a bit of research on what locals do for fun, where they hang out on weekends and how they dress for all occasions.
Know the cultural does and don’ts, and act accordingly. No one likes the tourist that sticks out like a sore thumb, so mind your Ps and Qs and read up on the local customs and culture. A few phrases in their native tongue will surely give them a reason to warm up to you. After all, you are the visitor and they shouldn’t have to adjust for you.
4. Have a sense of humor. Not all will be perfect when you decide to explore the world. There will be mishaps and unfortunate experiences and any seasoned traveler will tell you to roll with the punches. I always had this overly romantic idea of Prague, until we got there and got swindled by a taxi driver five minutes into arriving, and seeing the city sprinkled with casinos and sex shops. I was quite disillusioned at first but realized that there were still lots of beautiful things about the city. Truck on and chalk it up to experience. Remember that perfect trips don’t always equate to fun stories later on.
5. Pack accordingly. You wouldn’t bring booty shorts to a conservative country, would you, or wear revealing clothes when you plan to visit temples and similar locations? Make sure you know what’s acceptable and what’s not especially in countries where religion is a big factor in how people dress.
Packing efficiently is also a must. Bring clothes that can be worn in multiple ways and stick to the basics with maybe one or two statement pieces to tie your looks together. No need to bring your entire closet. You WILL go shopping.
6. Get Lost. Literally. The best way to get to know any new city is to get off your behind and walk. One on trip to Hong Kong with my cousin, I realized I was sticking too much to the familiar places and wanted to try something new. So, we hopped on the Metro and pointed at random stops where we needed to get off at and explore.
We ended up in parts of Hong Kong where nobody spoke English and people only used squat toilets. Walking aimlessly was also a pastime when I took a short course in London, and helped me get to know the city like the back of my hand. Find your “secret” spots and have more personal memories of every place you visit.
7. Eat. Trying local cuisine is another great way to get to know a place and its people. If you read up a little, you will see why each country’s cuisine is the way it is, and you will better understand why it works for them and why they love it so much. For instance, the French Pot-a-feu is much like our local nilaga, and was once considered peasant food because of its use of low-cost cuts of meat that needed long periods of cooking. Sample the dishes the locals know and love to get the full experience, and extra points if you find a hole in the wall restaurant with no English menu to do it in!
8. Be organized. Just because you want to run off and travel like a gypsy, does not mean you can’t know exactly what you are doing when it comes to planning your flights, trains, accommodations and routes. Whenever I travel, I keep at least 2 copies of all my identification with me, as well as copies of plane or train tickets and any notes I may have taken about the place I am going to, so as not to waste time when I get there.
I have a travel wallet and a folder I keep everything in and make sure to send emails a few days prior when booking through airbnb.com and reconfirming all my reservations beforehand. Once you have this all in order, you are free as a bird to do whatever you want, and will be able to enjoy so much more!
9. Be smart. I sometimes get this impression that people think that just because they are in a “first world” country, that everything is totally safe and perfect. Not so. Although I don’t recommend being overly paranoid, practicing a bit of caution and staying on the alert is always beneficial, especially, but not limited to, when you are in what can be considered “dodgy” areas.
A visit to Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre had my brother practically held up by these street scammers that would not let him go until he forked over 10 Euros. Theft is widespread nowadays and since times are hard for most, there will be people in any place you go to, whether a “first world” or “developing” country, who will try to make money out of you at any cost.
10. Talk to people. From my experience, the friendliest type of traveler is the backpacker. They are usually younger, hungry for new experiences and love meeting people. A lot of the time, they are working with smaller budgets so they book hostels, sometimes sharing a room with 10 other strangers. Even if you prefer your own apartment or hotel room, always remember to talk to people as much as you can. Whether it’s the bartender at the local pub, or someone standing in front of you at the Raclette stand in Borough Market, talking to new people, whether local or fellow tourists can lead your trip to other, more exciting places. – Rappler.com
Erica is a hippie in high heels, fashion renegade, world traveler, kitchen gangsta and tattoo collector