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How To Know If Someone Is A Good Traveler

Unexpected travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god.

– Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Hazy Dreams

Over the years I’ve had a wide range of co-travelers, from families carrying their entire household in giant suitcases to scavenging backpackers whose tents reek of patchouli, to business travelers who never stop jabbering into their bluetooth headsets. Each of these people has their strengths and weaknesses as every person is unique, but there is one personality trait I always look for to know if the trip is going to be nonstop torture or a legendary adventure that will provide stories for years.

The Power of Now

Some people are planners who show up with detailed itineraries, and others show up with nothing but vague ideas and excitement. Each person does whatever it takes to reach their own level of comfort, but what decides how fun a co-traveler is going to be is how they react when everything goes to hell.

When flights get canceled, destinations get shut down, and weather destroys their plans, how do they respond? Does the person freak out and shut down, hiding until they can get back to familiar ground? Do they search for some hint of familiarity before making a decision? Or do they embrace the chaos and step on the gas?

Personally, that’s when I get a gleam in my eye and look longingly at the gas pedal. I know that’s when the real fun is about to start, and stories are about to be written. Suddenly everyone’s plans jumped the rails, and they are snapped into the present moment. When nobody knows what to do, they are most open to adventure, and I’m happy to provide it.

Instigation

For example, today I was walking around an outdoor market in Malaysia, and everyone walking around was complaining loudly about how hot it was. Apparently the complaints were too much for the atmosphere, and the sky opened up to let loose a torrential downpour. Suddenly, everyone was knee-deep in a flash flood through the market stalls. They huddled inside nearby shelters, determined to wait out the weather. I smiled and grabbed my friend, pulling her out into the rain, laughing as we got soaked running through giant puddles while the market peddlers watched in amusement.

While traveling last year, I’d just met some Aussies on an overnight train and we became friends, playing games of Monopoly Deal. When we arrived at our city late, they discovered they’d missed their train to Romania. We invited them along with us on our trip, and ended up spending a week and 5 countries together.

My first time visiting, I found an amazing free guide to Tokyo that blew the others out of the water, making the entire trip something I still tell stories about. I found the author’s contact information and offered to take them out to dinner. Afterward, he suggested a little punk concert he knew about, packed with people hidden away in a small recording studio on the 7th floor of a building. We all went, screaming back at the bands in their heart-felt costumes that were inches away. It’s something I never would have known about, and it was the perfect ending to a trip his guide made possible.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

– Charles Darwin

Cairo Extends Forever

Comradery

When everything falls apart, do you want to be with the person who runs back to the hotel room or the person who forges friendships with the other people stuck in the same situation, starting a new adventure? Looking back on your travels, which person do you want to be? For me, the stories where everything collapsed along the way are the ones I tell fondly, not the “everything went to plan” ones.

Learn new dance moves. Write some of your own. And don’t forget to bring new friends along for the journey, as they have some great moves to try, too.

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2 Comments

  1. Tim C says:

    Great post. Very true. During my day-to-day, nine to five, I’m a planner. Perhaps one of those over planners. However, I find when I’m travelling, I release myself from that cage and embrace the freedom of not having solid plans. Very liberating.

    At the end of the day, it’s all part of the adventure. The unknown. When you do run into an issue/crisis, or things don’t go as planned, you get through it and have an interesting story to tell. Or new bragging rights =).

  2. Chris Dame says:

    That is a great way to look at it. When you confront the unknown, dive headfirst into it, knowing that you will have a great story afterward. It’s definitely gotten me into more amazingly fun trouble than anything else, and I’m never short on stories.

    It’s great that you can have such a big shift in personality when you travel. I’ve never really thought about it before, but I tend to overplan at home and once I hit the road, I take things as they come as well. The more I travel, the more I slide into the latter. When I first left, I had tickets for a few months out. Now, despite being in a new city about once a week, I haven’t had tickets for the next city when I landed in each one. I’ve started always assuming things will work out, and they have. Sometimes way better than I had hoped.

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