9 Ways to Be a Better-than-Basic Traveler This Year

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Written by: Cheryl Slayton | August 04

First, there’s the experiential traveler who dives into the foreign culture — full immersion style.

Then there’s the tourist. And, no I’m not talking about the older gentlemen in the fanny pack. The tourist is someone you would never suspect. (Hint: it may even be you).

The tourist is an adventurer; don’t get me wrong. But he is also the one with the checklist of must-sees or top-rated restaurants and “dive bars” who wouldn’t dare go off the beaten path his Lonely Planet is leading him down. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a tourist. In fact, Michael Brein, the Travel Psychologist, would say that everyone is really both. But, I think you’re better than that!

So, I’m here to tell you, encourage you, plead with you to not ride the coattails of someone else’s travels.

(I know – it’s ironic that a travel writer would tell you not to listen to someone else’s advice.) But the only reason I created awesome adventures of my own was by carving out my own path.

So, here are 9 ways you can have a “Better Than Basic” trip of your own (and please, for the love of God, leave the selfie-stick at home):

1. Avoid Tourist Traps

Brightly-lit signs and cocktail deals are a dead giveaway you’re at a tourist trap restaurant that serves up subpar food along with its hiked prices. Thrillist writer Liz Newman backs me up on this one. But what’s wrong with tourist traps? I have friends who love them, so I realize I need to break this down for ya.

You’ll be missing out! But on what? Everything from chocolate-covered bacon to putin. Before Jack McBrayer discovered Chicago’s Weiner Circle, a local Chicago eatery that serves their dogs with a side of snarky entertainment, someone had to discover the place. Wouldn’t you rather that person be you?

“The only way to beat fear is to live a life so full there’s no room for it.”

Photo by Cheryl Slayton

Photo by Cheryl Slayton

2. Ask Mother-Effin’ Questions!

You know what’s worse than a tourist who doesn’t know anything about the culture or language in the place they are visiting? A tourist who thinks they know it all.

The best thing about traveling is the beauty that comes from immersing yourself in the unknown. Stepping into that space starts with a simple question: What does this mean? Why do you say it this way? Why does this smell funny? It doesn’t matter what question you ask. All that matters is that you ask.

3. Embrace the Locals (Literally, If You Have to)

I still remember a trip I took to Colorado Springs. I was with a group of sorority girls (yuck) who had every minute of the trip mapped out to a T – manicures, hot springs and cappuccinos included.

I was two hours into a conversation about the recent Bachelor series at the local Applebee’s (exotic, right?) when a dread-headed waiter/knight-in-shining-armor told me about a little 70’s hideaway called The Underground Bar & Grill. Three hours later, I was immersed in the euphoria of 70’s music, fog machines, glowsticks, the (smell) of that wacky tacky (note: I didn’t inhale) and some of the most awesome people I’ve ever met in my life.

4. Use Protection

No, I’m not talking about condoms (just condoms anyway). I’m talking about anything that will keep you safe and the fact that you have no idea what the heck you’re doing as much of a secret to the locals as possible (especially in places with a high crime rate like Guatemala City, Colombia or Nigeria).

Use specialty tourist-wear to protect your valuables. Pretend like you know where you’re going. Stay near major intersections at night. And, yes, use a bloody condom if you must.

5. Dance

If I can teach you anything at all, it’s the beauty of local dance culture. Unless you’re visiting European or American techno clubs (or discotechs) there is something about a country’s dance that reveals a lot about their culture.

The Gulf region has the hair dance. Indian has their signature Bollywood style. Spain has the flamenco. Cuba has their salsa. Aye-aye. Personally, I’m still waiting to try African dance. But, from my travels, I can tell you that if you want to see the way a country truly celebrates life, watch them dance!

photo by Cheryl Slayton

photo by Cheryl Slayton

6. Don’t Ask Toooo Many Questions

Okay, I know I said earlier to ask questions. But there are some questions you want to avoid at all costs, especially if you want to have a good time and get the most out of your travels. Questions like; Is this safe? Is this something a foreigner/traveler should be doing? Will they think I’m stupid for doing this? What would my friends think? Will I sound like an idiot? Anything that will pause you dead in your tracks or make you think too much before you act is a dead-on travel killer.

7. Lie

Okay, this one you might not want to tell your mother about. But you have to admit part of the reason you’re even jumping on a plane is to escape your everyday life? Why not use the benefit of a travel to its full advantage by creating an entirely new life for yourself.

In Oman, they think I’m an Australian named Chloe. In Spain? A lawyer named Sophia. I won’t tell you the rest here. You might think: Isn’t that wrong? Well, creating a false identity sure did keep me safe. In the middle east, I create fake husbands too just to keep me off the radar of men who like to prey on women who travel alone.

8. Speak

I have met all kinds of travelers in my time overseas. But the ones I find the most bizarre are the ones who study the “language” through their Rosetta Stones but have trouble putting two words together in the real world. Take risks. Be bold. So what if you make a mistake.

The best friend I ever made in Mexico was a hot dog salesman who thought it was hilarious when I order a hot dog with “onion’o!” when the Spanish word for onion is cebolla. I thought you just added an “O” or “A” to everything. Boy was I wrong. But I made a new friend from my mistake.

9. Treat Yo’Self: The Vagabond Way

I’m a tightwad (I think most real travelers are in a way). I pack tuna wraps for lunch and plan my drives around my gas budget. But when it comes to travel, I usually let experience win over my 401k (yeah, yeah I know Mom!). Anyway, the trick is to get more bang from your proverbial buck.

Instead of spending on a plate of grilled chicken, learn how to eat cheap while you travel and use your cash for memories, not meal tickets. The best $160 bucks I ever spent was on a Harley Davidson rental in New Hampshire. I’m not normally a biker chick, but when my friend told me about the scenic ride of the 153 (Live Free or Die!) I knew it would be well worth sacrificing a month’s worth of lattes for the ride of a lifetime. And it sure as hell didn’t disappoint.

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Cheryl Slayton

Cheryl has been challenging the status quo since she ditched her training wheels in 2nd Grade and hopped a fence after losing her ticket to the local fair. Eventually, she started pushing geographical boundaries (instead of legal ones) and made travel her best friend. While two-stepping her way through Texas, climbing a volcano in Antigua, Guatemala and teaching Arabian princesses in the Middle East, she made some amazingly adventurous and ragamuffin friends along the way, like a bossy Haitian, savvy South African, wild Canadian and an Indian-French-Canadian connoisseur of bags and wine. Now, she's happy to call Orlando home again (and try her best to stay on the right side of the law) as she puts pen to paper to share her stories with the Ambitious Crew. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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