“Traveling’s not something you’re good at. It’s something you do. Like Breathing.”
Recently I took my mom (Sandi) to Greece. She’s in her mid-50s and it was her first ever trip out of the United States; obviously, we live different lives.
During the 10 day trip, we visited Rhodes, Crete, Santorini, and Athens. I’ll go into the details about each location in a different blog, but in short, Greece is amazing and if you ever get a chance to go to I highly recommend it (especially Crete)
The trip was a year in making. Sandi has been asking me about what to pack and which suitcase to bring for about 10 months now. She was packed for about 6 weeks before we left (yes, I know she’s adorable like that) which is a bit different than me packing 6 hours before we left KC. Needless to say, she was excited and would regularly use the phrase “trip of a lifetime.” She would comment on how experienced a traveler I am and how she didn’t want to “slow me down” or “embarrass me”.
She was worried about checking a bag and asking too many questions. I did my best to explain that the trip with her wasn’t like a trip with my friends or a trip alone. We’d go with the flow, check a bag (something I usually avoid), and we’d see as much as we could – while explaining to her that we couldn’t see everything- which is a concept always lost on new travelers.
Fast forward to our trip.
We land in Greece, explore Rhodes, and make it to Crete. My buddy Seif (who I travel with regularly and always ask for tips) told me we had to hike Saramia Gorge. He and his “mum” did it and loved it. Never one to go against his wisdom I put it on our list of things to check out.
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A little background on the Gorge. You drive to the top of the Gorge, park your car, and then start the descent. It’s about 7 miles (13 KM) to the other side and can take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours depending on how fast you decide to walk. Once you make it through the Gorge, you catch a shuttle so you can catch a ferry to take another bus which will take you back up to the top of the Gorge where your car is parked.
The last ferry leaves at 5:30 and it’s a solid hour boat ride followed by another hour on the last bus. In short, it’s not for the faint of heart and turns into quite a long day.
Around 10 am Sandi and I decide we’re gonna do the Gorge. We got there around 11:30 and started the hike at 11:45 meaning we had just about 6 hours to make it to the other side. Sandi had a total knee replacement a few years ago which made me nervous to begin with, but once I brought it up she was determined to do it.
We were making really good time, she was doing really well, but then about halfway through the hike, she hurts her ankle.
She tells me she heard a crack and thinks she fractured it.
Not ideal. At this point, we’re halfway into the hike and haven’t quite gotten to the Gorge yet.Our options:
- Hire a mule to carry her out
- Walk back to the car (completely uphill)
- Finish the Gorge
I voted for #1. She voted for #3.
So, we did #3.
As she’s doing her absolute best to finish the hike I look back and notice she’s clearly upset. Doing my best to stay positive and keep her mind off her ankle I asked what was wrong.
Her reply: “I don’t want to let you down. I don’t want to be a bad traveler.”
My first response was to tell her she wasn’t and it would all work out. That there is no such thing as a “bad traveler”.
But as we walked the Gorge I thought more and more about if there is such a thing as a bad traveler and if so, what makes someone a “bad traveler”?
I’m not going to bullshit you and say there’s no such thing as a bad traveler because that would be a lie. But as I was helping my mom walk 3.5 miles downhill in a Gorge in Greece I had a lot of time to think.
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I’ve been quite a few places and met tons of people traveling. I may have certain preferences in the qualities I prefer in a travel companion but not having those doesn’t make someone a “bad traveler”. I’ve had some really good moments traveling and some super shitty ones. Which means at times, people have had a chance to see me at my worst. I hope they judged me by how I responded and I hope I responded better than expected.
Because if there’s one thing that makes someone a bad traveler it’s how they react when something bad happens to them.
Like in life, bad things are going to happen to you when you travel. At some point, the airline is going to lose your bag, you’re going to get hurt, get lost, get sick, get homesick, hell, I’ve even had friends get robbed.
But, how do you respond?
Do you let it ruin your trip? Do you feel sorry for yourself? Do you adopt a negative attitude and bring down those around you?
Do you accept that it happened and move on? Do you make the best of it? Do you try to keep a good attitude and turn it into an unforgettable travel story?
Traveling for the past few years has taught me to not get rattled (for the most part). How to roll with the punches and I’ll be honest, sometimes those punches are light jabs and sometimes a right hook to the gut. So it goes.
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It’s not a matter of if something goes wrong, but a matter of when.
I know when I travel it’s important to keep my composure and that’s something I’ve been able to carry over into my everyday life. Traveling taught me to accept the present but immediately ask “okay, so now what?”
Say you walk through a glass door in Thailand. You have to go to the ER and now have 15 stitches in left your leg. There are 26 days left in your trip.
It happened. You can’t change it.
So now what?
How do you respond? Do you pack up and go home or make the best of it hard as it may be?
My advice? Make the best of it.
Learning to apply that mindset to each day in an invaluable life skill. In your travel and everyday life, there will always be so much going on that you can’t control. Fun fact, not all of it will be good. All the really matters is how you respond to it.
Before this trip, if someone asked me who I’d consider being a “bad traveler” I’d have smirked and said “a tourist”. But after the past few weeks, I have a new understanding of the question and a new appreciation for those who make the best out of whatever life throws at them.
You’re not a bad traveler
if you only stay in resorts and 5* hotels, refuse to learn any of the local customs, or only go on a trip once every few years (granted those aren’t the best things and we probably won’t be taking any trips together but to each his own).
You’re a bad traveler if you let the things that unfold on your trip break you. If you lay down when things get uncomfortable.
With that in mind, Sandi walked another 3.5 miles on her hurt ankle that day and got crutches that night after she “finished the Gorge”.
She spent the next 5 days walking around Santorini and climbing the steps to the Parthenon in Athens.
Her first trip abroad may not have gone as planned but she showed that she has the mindset of a great traveler. I hope that the next time you get thrown a curve ball your reaction isn’t to lay down, but think “okay so now what?”
4 responses to “What Makes a Bad Traveler?”
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Reading through your article, I found myself nodding along in agreement with every point you made. It’s so true that a bad traveler isn’t necessarily defined by their lack of experience or knowledge, but rather by their attitude and behavior. Your emphasis on respecting local customs and traditions really struck a chord with me. It’s absolutely crucial to approach new destinations with an open mind and a genuine desire to learn and understand the local culture. After all, isn’t that what traveling is all about? Your storytelling examples were both relatable and eye-opening, reminding me of my own experiences and the impact they had on me.
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