Lessons to Make You a Better Traveler

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.

  1. 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.

    Talking to an Old Woman in Bolivia
    Talking to an Old Woman in Bolivia
  2. 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.

    Our First Trip to Europe was Planned in a Few Weeks
    Our First Trip to Europe was Planned in a Few Weeks
  3. 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.

    We've Learned to be Better Travelers
    We’ve Learned to be Better Travelers
  4. 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.

    Lunch at a Moroccan Restaurant
    Lunch at a Moroccan Restaurant
  5. 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.

    India Definitely Stretched Our Bounderies
    India Definitely Stretched Our Boundaries

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.

DakshinaChitra Cultural Living Museum in Southern India

Located outside of Chennai, the DakshinaChitra is a living museum that depicts life, art, culture, and architecture of Southern India, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. DakshinaChitra features 18 authentic historical houses that were deconstructed from their original region and then reconstructed by artisans from the region on the grounds of the museum. Each of the houses features exhibits that represent the region’s art and daily life. Although we visited during an off time, the museum features typical artisans and performers from the various regions that you can interact with, thus making it a living museum.

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Tapestry on Display
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Clay Artwork
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Brick and Stone House
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Inside of a House
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Colorful Artwork

DakshinaChitra actually means picture of the south, which is what the living museum is meant to represent. There are opportunities to participate in making crafts and folk performances happen at different times. Regardless of the interactive activities, just wandering the trails and going inside of each of the houses is a wonderful experience. Each of the regions is unique in their own ways and that can be seen by the varied architecture, arts, and crafts that can be found in the different houses. The museum opened in 1996 and has continued to grow ever since.

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Walking Through the Buildings
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Clay Animals
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Looking Down at One of the Houses
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Traditional Clothing
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Entrance to the Living Museum

We spent a couple of hours walking the grounds, visiting the various houses, and admiring the displays. In many ways it was overwhelming, like many of our experiences in Chennai, but we were definitely glad that we took the time to go there. If you visit Chennai, we would highly recommend taking the time to go to DakshinaChitra and learn about all of the regions of Southern India.

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One of the Many Trails Through DakshinaChitra
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More Artwork
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Coastal Hut
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Another Tapestry
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Local Crafts and Art
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Ilkal Weaver’s House
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Building Complex

 

Making the Most of Chennai, India

Visiting the city of Chennai in India is a trip that we will always remember. We have mentioned previously that it was a trip that not only had a profound impact on us personally, but also changed the way that we have traveled since that visit. Although we only had a limited amount of time to spend in Chennai, we certainly made the most of the time that we had. We tried to see as much of the city as possible, but also made sure to take a couple of day trips to see the surrounding area. It can certainly be overwhelming to visit a city with as many people as live in Chennai and it takes a little getting used to as you visit the various sites.  If you get a chance to visit Chennai, here are some of the places that we would recommend that you take time to see.

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Kapaleeshwarar Temple entrance in Chennai, India
  1. Kapaleeshwarwar Temple – With all of the colorful details on the roofs, it is an amazing sight to see. Depending on the time that you go to the temple, you can certainly expect large crowds. The temple was one of the first places that we visited in Chennai and it only kept getting better.

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    Main Building with Beautiful Architecture
  2. The Government Museum – Featuring exhibits that range from zoological, archeological, cultural, and historical, there is a lot to see in the second oldest museum in India. From the statues to the architecture of the museum buildings themselves, it should certainly be on your itinerary for Chennai.

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    Standing Outside of the Cathedral
  3. Saint Thomas Cathedral – One of only three churches in the world to be built over the tomb of a disciple, it is also the location of the cave where St. Thomas hid before eventually being speared to death.

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    Learning About the Ancient Temples in Mahabalipuram
  4. Mahabalipuram – The first of our day trips outside of Chennai, seeing the ancient temples of Mahabalipuram was probably the highlight of our time in India. There is much to see as you walk around the various temples, so expect to spend several hours at Mahabalipuram.

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    House at DakshinaChitra
  5. DakshinaChitra – Meant to represent the culture and lifestyles of the entire Tamil Nadu region, where Chennai is located, this cultural center is certainly worth a visit. We stopped on our way down to Mahabalipuram and enjoyed walking throughout the different buildings within the complex.

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    Tiger Cave
  6. Tiger Cave – Also located near Mahabalipuram, visiting this temple cave with tigers carved at the entrance is certainly interesting, but it won’t take longer than about 30 minutes to take a guided tour around the area. Although probably not worth a trip on its own, it is certainly worth stopping to see while on your way to Mahabalipuram.

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    Buying Silk in Kanchipuram
  7. Kanchipuram – Known for its production of silk, it is certainly worth a visit to learn about the production of silk and to purchase silk items at prices that are better than in Chennai. We also visited the Ekambareswarar Temple while we were in Kanchipuram, which was another beautiful temple with many interesting features.

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    View of Chennai

Chennai is certainly a busy city with a lot of technology and manufacturing businesses with international ties located there. The people were very welcoming and we enjoyed seeing the sights within the city as well as the surrounding area. Another highlight to Chennai and the coastline are the beaches, although we didn’t spend time at the beach during our visit. We are hoping to make it back to India in the near future and are looking forward to seeing more of this truly interesting country.