The only thing better, I might add, is being paid to travel. It’s also an awesome privilege and responsibility, and I take neither lightly. I suspect Gill was the same. And after more than a decade of professionally catching planes, trains, automobiles, boats and bicycles and writing about these experiences for key publications in Australia and overseas, I’ve learned a few things about being a good guest and travelling with curiosity and respect. Both, in my mind, are prerequisites for being a good traveller and a good journalist (and, indeed, a good travelling journalist) – whether you’re flying to the other side of the world or just taking the train somewhere new.
These are a couple of things I’ve picked up over the years that have helped me make the most of my travels.
Read about your destination before you go
Yes, this is obvious, but it warrants a mention. Whenever I’ve gone somewhere underprepared, I really noticed it, wasting precious time on the ground getting the lay of the land. Things to consider: What’s the culture like and how is it different to where I’m from? How’s the political situation? Are there social conventions I should be across? What are the places I really want to see and when’s the best time to go? Should I book tickets or make reservations now? What’s the weather going to be like when I’m there? No, seriously. A couple of years ago I went to Delhi in January for a short trip with two friends, neither of whom had packed a jumper. Turns out India has winters, too.
Leave space in the itinerary to explore
Having written all the above, there is such a thing as doing too much research and planning for a trip. A key part of travel is making your own discoveries; you don’t want to inherit someone else’s to-do list. So sure, make the booking for that Michelin-starred restaurant and block out two hours to queue for the chicken rice stall you heard about on Chef’s Table or Broadsheet. But also leave gaps in your itinerary to get lost and explore. Maybe you’ll spy a gallery on your morning jog, or strike up a conversation with a bartender about the new pasta bar that’s opened up down the road. Leaving time on your itinerary to wander means more opportunities to experience the serendipitous moments that make travel such a joy.
Learn some of the local language(s)
Hello. Thank you. Goodbye. Yes. No. Bonus points for learning the greetings for good morning, good afternoon and good evening. Your efforts will be repaid handsomely, even if you make a mistake. Most important, especially for adventurous eaters, is asking someone “What is this called?” when trying a dish you’re not familiar with. You can then repeat something it phonetically to an English-speaker at the hotel – and show them the picture you snapped on your phone – to get a more insightful understanding.
Would you like to know that kanzuri, the bitey condiment you’re spooning over everything, is a Niigata specialty produced by fermenting chillies in snow for three to six years, or would you be happy with “hot sauce”? Bonus points for learning a few words in the local language or dialect rather settling for the lingua franca – using Basque rather than Spanish in San Sebastian, say.
So long as it’s safe, naturally. Even better, run. It’s a good way to not only earn eating and drinking credits but also examine a city up close and see the things you might miss in a cab or a train carriage.
Do the tour
With a small, independent operator. Throw yourself into excursions and side trips, such as the Hagi community homestay, G Adventures’ “G for Good” moment on the Back Roads of Japan tour. A social enterprise developed in partnership with the non-profit Planettera Foundation, the homestay provides an income opportunity for the aging population of this historic Japanese fishing town.
No matter how much of a Google wizard you are, there are some things you can’t learn from the internet. On a well-curated guided tour you’ll get a local’s perspective on the place you’re travelling through while also putting money into the local economy.
Ask to take a photo
Markets, stallholders, street artists et al aren’t a human zoo for travellers to document. At the very least, ask if you can take a photo. Even better, buy a piece of fruit and start a conversation. Don’t just think about how things will look on the ’gram; consider how you might engage in the experience unfolding in front of you.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with G Adventures. G Adventures offers overseas trips that have a real impact for both you as a traveller and for local communities. Find out more info on how to travel responsibly with G and see some of their must-visit destinations for 2020.