People often talk about wanting to leave a place exactly the same way that you found it so that it is preserved for future generations. While it sounds like an ideal goal, there are a lot of factors that make that pretty much impossible. We have been fortunate enough to have visited a couple of indigenous villages that try to remain as untouched as possible, but just our arrival to their village will leave an impact. It isn’t limited to remote locations, every place that you visit, your presence and the decisions that you make have impacts that you are likely unaware of.
For example, when we went to visit an Embera village in Panama, our guide purposely took us to one of the further villages that isn’t visited as often. Our decision to buy or not buy crafts can change the prosperity and status of the village compared to those in the area. The fact that they are selling crafts to tourists is a change to their lifestyles. How they see us dressed, the conversations that we have with them, the information that we share, all had potential consequences long after we left the village. The women of the Embera villages now where tops when they previously didn’t just because of the tourists that were visiting them and conforming to their cultural norms.
Even when going to major cities, the decisions that we make to visit a particular site or not visit can determine whether a site remains available in the future. There are places where visitors are starting to be limited because of the concern over the damage being caused such as Machu Picchu and Everest Base Camp. Even the conversations that you have once you return home, the places that you recommend, the off-the-beaten path locations that you describe can have determine whether more people return in your wake.
We all know that traveling changes us, makes us world citizens, but we don’t often think of the impact that we make upon the places that we visit. We aren’t suggesting that you stop traveling and there is nothing wrong with trying to limit the changes that your visit will cause, but it isn’t possible to visit a place without leaving a footprint. Have you ever thought about how your travel has changed the world instead of just how it has changed yourself?
We have been fortunate to have had many great mentors throughout our lives who have imparted words of wisdom to us that have molded our thoughts and actions. Most of the best advice that we’ve received apply to all parts of our lives, whether with family, work, or traveling. Usually they are amazingly simple and yet very powerful when applied consistently. Hopefully you’ll find them to be as useful over time as we have found them to be.
Treat others as you want to be treated (the golden rule) – Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we treated EVERYONE that we met in the same manner that we hope and expect to be treated. Sure, we learned this rule as children, but it is probably the most important piece of advice that hopefully all people can learn. Whenever we travel someplace, anyplace, we want to learn about the customs and traditions of the locals. We respect their religions, beliefs, and social expectations. Having an understanding and respect does not mean that you have agree with or do things that conflict with your own personal beliefs, but you must have empathy and understand where they are coming from. You would be surprised how much better your experience will be if you are friendly and honestly express your desire to understand the culture of the place that you are visiting.
Make decisions quickly and act upon them – This doesn’t mean that you don’t do your due diligence and get as many facts as possible before making a decision, but too often people become paralyzed by fear of making a mistake or spend so much time thinking about the decision that the opportunity passes them by. We have a lot of military in our family and the motto for an officer on the battlefield is that the only bad decision is no decision, this is surprisingly true of life in general. Will this lead to some mistakes? Sure, but you don’t grow and learn without making a few mistakes. More often than not, just deciding to go someplace and making it happen has led to some of our best experiences. If you wait for all of the stars to align and the moment to be perfect, you’re likely to miss out on some of the best experiences of your life.
Never stop learning – Learning is growth and the moment that you stop learning new and interesting things is the moment that you stop truly living. Obviously it is hard to go through life and not continue to learn new things, but don’t just learn through osmosis, actively seek out and find new things to learn that might interest you. Pick a country that you’ve never heard about and learn as much as you can and then go visit there. Understand the history of a place, what has influenced its culture, the leaders of the past and the regional forces that shape their current beliefs and society. Learn as much of the language as possible and use it when you visit.
Strive for continuous improvement – None of us are perfect and those people who think that they are should be avoided like the plague. In all aspects of life, we periodically seriously reflect on our current state and consider how we can improve in our relationships, work positions, health (mental and physical), as well as our travel goals and expectations. Even during our travels, we will ask ourselves if we’re seeing the most relevant and interesting sights that mean the most to us or are we just following a list from a guidebook? Are we talking to the locals and getting the best advice on places to see and food to eat? We’ll come home from a trip and talk about our experiences and what things we could have done better and use that information on our next trip.
Step out of your comfort zone – It is easy to get complacent and accept the normal routine, whether at work or in your personal life, but some of the most rewarding opportunities come from pushing your limits. That might mean doing an activity that makes you uncomfortable, like zip-lining, parachuting, or just spending the night in a forest. We’re not suggesting that you pursue dangerous activities, but just that you try something that perhaps you’ve never previously considered. It might be going to a country that makes you uncomfortable, but it could be as simple as trying food that you’ve never heard of. Growth comes from new experiences that most likely reset your image of what you’re capable of doing or achieving.
There isn’t anything earth shattering here, just simple concepts that, when followed consistently, will improve your life and our case, our travels as well.
One of the keys to the success of any trip can often be based on the place that you stay at during your visit. While people, including ourselves, often say it is just a place to sleep and not as important as the destination itself, it can effect your overall impression of a location and even your mood while you are there. We didn’t list hostels as a place to stay only because we have never stayed in a hostel, although we would assume that the same principals would apply. Some people can just show up and find a place to stay once they get there, but we’re not comfortable with taking our chances that way and always make reservations ahead of time. When selecting a place to stay, there are several factors that we consider as we go through the process of deciding on a where to make our reservations.
Location – This is clearly one of the most important things to consider when choosing a place to stay. How far is it away from the major sites that you want to see, how convenient is the transportation from the place, is it located in a safe area of the city, and how much noise is in the area? Especially if you don’t have your own vehicle, being within walking distance or at least short rides to the various places that you want to see is very important. We love to walk as much as possible in the cities that we visit, so the more central the location, the better that we find it. Although it isn’t a high priority, staying at a place that has views of the city is often a nice bonus that can make your stay even more enjoyable.
Amenities – Obviously, this is dependent upon your needs and travel style. For some people, having a restaurant on site or free breakfast can be important. Is there a private bathroom, does the property provide a hair dryer and bath products, etc. Is there a concierge on site, do they allow pets, do they have Wifi, is there a safe in the room, and whether the property provides housekeeping are things that might be important to some people. For others, having a kitchen or in-room refrigerator and coffeemaker are must have items in order to save time and money. We like to know if there is a bar on-site and whether room service is offered because we often want to unwind after a long day of touring the city and surrounding area. We also prefer a location that has housekeeping since we don’t want to do any cleaning during our stay, so we tend not to stay at Airbnb or VRBO type property.
Comfort – The size of the room and bathroom may or may not be important, but whether the sheets and carpets are clean should definitely be a consideration. Even if you only spend a few hours in the room sleeping, you want those hours to be as comfortable as possible. We prefer at least a king or queen size bed as opposed to having to push two twins together. We definitely want to have a shower and a bathtub is a plus. Unless we’re in an ecolodge in the jungle, we’d definitely expect to have hot, running water. If there are multiple floors, some people might need an elevator, although that isn’t a concern for us, at least for now.
Staff – Other than through reviews, there isn’t really a way to determine whether the staff will be friendly and helpful until you arrive, but it can definitely determine how much you enjoy your stay. Rude staff that isn’t willing to help, especially if there are any issues during your stay, can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth for the entire place that you are visiting. We rely heavily on getting tips for local restaurants that aren’t touristy as well as places that might not be on your tourist guide to visit during our stay. We have even remained friends with some of those people long after our time in that location.
Price – The place where you are staying can be one of the most expensive costs of a trip and therefore it is one of the main considerations. Obviously there is more to it than just the actual nightly room rate, it is a combination of all of these considerations to determine what value you are getting for the price. Even so, if after researching the various choices that can be found at a destination, there are several places that provide similar value, then obviously trying to spend the least amount as possible is desirable. Paying more doesn’t mean that it is better. We are definitely believers in getting the most value (location, comfort, amenities, and friendly staff) for the money that we do spend.
Regardless of what your priorities are, researching a location is important. Reviews from people who have actually stayed there are often one of our primary deciding factors. We’ll visit the site’s website, assuming that they have one, look at the pictures, read what they have to say, but we don’t stop there. Pictures can be deceiving and marketing material is meant to entice you, even if they over promise. We also pay attention to whether the manager or owner of a property responds individually to reviews and if they demonstrate an honest commitment to making the stay’s of their guests successful. Brand loyalty is also a factor for us as we belong to a couple of loyalty programs and there is a sense of comfort knowing that you can trust what to expect. What are your priorities when looking for a place to stay when traveling?