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6 (maybe 7) lessons learned from traveling the world….my two cents.

January 16, 2011

Souks, Marrakech

I was wondering lately about how I could add anything to all the travel advice out there on the internet. Me, just a regular Dutch guy who likes to travel. No more, no less.

But something did happen. It was cheerful and surprising to read all kinds of comments on my latest posts about Japan, Morocco and Thailand. I did not count them, but I’m sure I have put these countries on dozens of bucket lists, your bucket lists. I even made this girl change her life travel plans: she made the Far East jump ahead of South America on her to-do list. Just because of my Japan Life Lessons post…

So people really listen to me? Wow, that was an amazing insight! I would love to develop this blog to a source of travel inspiration. With your support! No more of that modesty…

Today’s post is all about giving you travel advice that I learned during all kinds of travels: back-packing, group travel, all-inclusive, family travel and city-breaks. You name it.

Mind you, no way I am going to tell you to drink enough water, to bring enough diapers for your children or not forget to take your vaccinations. I am not even going to tell you what to pack if you want to travel light. Really, this kind of advice is widely available on the internet!

I want to take you along a different route. But it’s going to be me. I am not trying to be the next travel guru with a back-pack full of advice. I just love writing stuff down…and I hope you get inspiration from at least one or two tips. Are you with me? LET’S GO!

In front of Mt. Batur, Bali

1. Fear of traveling can be manipulated to benefit you

Don’t deny it. Of course there is fear when you are about to travel to unknown parts of the world. And I am the last one to say you don’t have to scared. Be scared, yes! Overseas is different than your safe backyard!

What is this fear all about? I believe it’s fear of the unknown, fear of diseases, fear of being hassled. Sometimes fear becomes reality, but most of the times it’s just your brain playing games with you!

Take the controller and play the game. Don’t let fear control you. Come on, it’s not like you travel paths that have never been traveled before, be realistic. The place you are traveling to is home to thousands or millions of people. Other travelers have been there, alone or with their children. If they can make it over there, so can you.

Let fear of travel guide you to make you stronger! Hallelujah.

2. Traveling with children, also for your own benefit

One of my favourite subjects! Traveling with children is a major topic on the internet and really, so many people, so many opinions. Should you take young children on your worldwide travels? Or even babies? Well, there is enough online discussion about that already. Crying babies on the plane, to name just one provocative subject.

Anyway. Sure you can travel with small infants and babies, no problem. We decided to wait until our youngest son was 4 years old (do I now get a medal from those baby-in-plane bashers?).

Our reason for that? Memories. He now still remembers things of his first trip, for example that ride on a camel on the beach of Essaouira in Morocco. Now that’s an advantage worth waiting for (in the beginning he was so afraid of the camel, later on he loved the animal).

We have been traveling with our children for 3 years now. But there is one more important piece of advice I want to share: limit the geographic scope of your travel.

I know, here comes the fear thing again. Fear of not seeing it all. Fear of missing out on the best spots.

Of course you want to see it all. The whole country, all the major spots. When going to Thailand you want to see Bangkok, Chiang Mai as well as the tropical islands in the south.

Forget about that when you bring your children along. Limit it to one or two regions. I can assure you will have a far better experience that will make up for the areas you will not see big time!

OK, one more piece of advice. Always walk behind your kids. In most countries we traveled, they LOVED our kids! We let them go first when entering the restaurant. We always got the best seats!
We always took them with us when we asked locals if we could photograph them. NO PROBLEM!
Traveling with kids opens doors that stay closed to others (traveling without children that is). Let’s take advantage of that…

Kuala Lumpur

3. Don’t bother if people want to make a buck

“Hey Mister, where are you from?”
You know them, these local people approaching you to sell their ‘great’ stuff (or offering a massage, transport or the best food in town for that matter).

There is one way to ruin your vacation: get irritated. I know this advice is a tough one for some of you…
But life is so much easier if you accept the fact that these people just want to earn some small money. You are not always just a target for hassling.
Do buy something. Do take that transport offer, rather than waiting for the organised bus tour. But certainly do not get irritated. It’s part of your (travel) job to deal with them. Good luck (and enjoy)!

Marrakech, Morocco

4. At least read some stuff on cultural differences

Never touch the head of Balinese people.
Don’t blow your nose in public in Japan. Also people in Brazil are not very amused when you do so. .
Don’t say anything incorrect about the King of Thailand.
Join the waiting line in the Tokyo subway, don’t push yourself forward!

Just a couple of taboo things you should know about when traveling a country. Don’t you just want to awake those people who don’t prepare, who don’t have a clue about the culture of the country they are traveling in?

These customs or traditions are important, don’t you think?. You don’t want to embarrass people and you sure don’t want to look like a fool!

Before going to a strange country, please do read some stuff on cultural differences. It will make it much easier for you to engage in cultural harmony, hooray 🙂

5. Walk, serendipity calling. Embracing the random.

This is my favourite. I had no idea about the meaning of serendipity, until a couple of years back. Maybe I can blame my English teacher.
But now I love it. It’s about coincidence, it’s making fortunate discoveries by accident. Don’t you think that serendipity is what creates the most memorable travel experiences?

Can you actively search for serendipity? They (the people) say not. I say you can!

I always create some spare time in my travel schedule. Two hours is enough.
What do I do? I always have 1 plan: turn right (actually you can not even call this a plan). I walk out of the hotel and turn right. Always, no matter what. Walls and swamps don’t count, guess you knew that coming.

You can prepare your trip to the very minor detail, but discoveries are all about randomness. Having no specific pattern or purpose frees the mind.
Open to see different things.

I’m always very relaxed on these serendipity discovery trips, even when I have no clue where I’m going! Getting lost isn’t that bad (TIP: always take your hotel telephone number with you).
I have come across some amazing stuff. I literally stumbled upon a funeral, Balinese children playing with kites in a small alley, goats and other livestock hidden behind a big wooden door in Morocco.

How to best be embraced by local atmosphere? Walk, let serendipity do the work. It’s her job…

In the narrow streets of Bangkok, Thailand.

6. Beyond the bucket list: watch people

On this blog you can find a post on traveling beyond your bucket list. What do I mean with that?

To me, traveling is not only visiting famous buildings, temples and churches. How come we long to see them, find them amazingly beautiful, but after 5 of them we are getting bored! Are we spoiled? Do we want to be surprised more? Well, next travel advice. Do you know the one thing that will never bore you: people!

Watch people. Make pictures of them (after kindly asking them – or just with a big lens) and try to create a subject. For example, take pictures of people earning their daily money. These pictures will show you the real country. Trust me, great collections will surely come from photographing all sorts of hotdog salesmen in the streets of New York, or all kinds of people on bikes in Amsterdam. The world offers a wealth of choices!

Selling brooms

7. What about your advice?

This post started with a kind of question: how could I, a regular Dutch guy, add anyting to travel advice already out there? I hope I did.
But the best travel advice comes from multiple sources. Never trust a stranger. Help me by adding your best travel advice in the comment section below. Thanks for creating a great list!


Related post on this blog


From → Observations

  1. Beautiful post, Emiel. So sincere, so heart-felt, so natural and so full of amazing information for the new and pro traveler both. I learn so much from your insights and I never tire of hearing about Bali….You are far more than an average Dutch guy, by the way! 🙂

    • Thank you Farnoosh, I already practiced some of your Manifesto advice! It was challenging to write this post, but indeed I do feel very satisfied and proud with the list of insights. Cannot wait to start a new travel discovery 🙂

  2. And most importantly, be open-minded and overall positive. 🙂

    GREAT post!! These are terrific travel tips. I stumbled across this blog a couple of weeks ago and I absolutely love it!

    Keep on writing and thanks for the advice!

  3. northwestshift permalink

    I love this post! Especially the section on traveling with children. My husband and I are about to have our first and would love to travel with our child(ren). Thanks Emiel!

    • Thank you Erika. Hold on to that desire to travel with your children, we are so glad we took on the challenge 3 years ago. It is so much fun! Congratulations on your almost newborn!

  4. Yay for fear! I don’t think enough people give fear credit — it can be crippling, but it can also make you feel really alive & make you feel like a million bucks after you lived through something you were afraid of.
    I love your 6th point about living beyond your bucket list. In the past 3 months I’ve been in Chiang Mai, I haven’t seen any of the sights you’re supposed to see but I’ve made some awesome friends, had some great experiences and done a lot of things you can’t find in a guidebook. Sure, I feel a bit bad I haven’t taken more pictures (I have 2 more days to make up for it!), but I think I’ve had a much more worthwhile experience & connected with a lot more people than if I was just pushing myself to see a whole bunch of stuff.
    As for my travel advice… umm… eat more cookies? 🙂

    • After discovering your blog I know all about cookies! Or at least cookie addiction 🙂
      2 more days in Chiang Mai, wow. Use them to take pictures of all your awesome friends over there! I am already looking forward to reading your blog post: My Thai friends threw away my bucket list!

  5. I think you hit on “Fear” as a big issue.

    Fear of the language barrier can be a big one. Now there are phrase books for so many languages and I find locals respond to a smile in every country and are willing to help a friendly person always.

    The other big fear is getting lost. Again- locals will always help- either finding your way or finding your way to transportation to get you back home. And, I always carry the place I’m staying, written in the language on me, with enough cash (Hopefully) to get back there in a cab or some form of local transport in a pinch. This has worked for me all over the world.

    More importantly, if one can stay relaxed, getting lost, allows one to find all the hidden gems. Restaurants, shops, out of the way places where the locals go.

    • Fear is indeed a big issue, but you described very well how the fear of getting lost might turn into something very valuable: new discoveries! I guess you might have experienced some fear yourself when moving to Japan. Thanks!

  6. Great list! I loved the part about letting your kids go first – traveling with children really does open doors that others can’t even get close to!

    We’ve been traveling with our boys since they were 6 weeks old, and it’s been a fantastic experience. We’ve traveled in planes, buses, trains, boats, camels, etc.. Now we are traveling on bikes – for another couple months anyway.

    As I write this, we are nearly at the southern tip of South America after having cycled 25,000 km from Alaska. Our boys celebrated their 13th birthday last week. It’s a wonderful world and an incredible experience to travel with children!


    • Hi Nancy,
      What an amazing trip you are making (or actually have been making as you are currently at the southern tip of South America)! I just checked your site, what a trip. Thanks for your comment on my two cents of travel advice, I guess you already have a backpack full of advice! You are experiencing indeed a wonderful world, traveling with your family in such an extraordinary way. I will follow you now!
      By the way, I am writing a new post on Peru, the coastal part. Guess you have seen all of this beautiful part. Good luck and congratulations with your boys!

  7. 🙂 I have nothing pithy to add, Emiel.

    Your wisdom & beauty is needed, however. Thank you for facing your fears and not listening to the naysayers.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 7 Lessons learned from living in Japan « The Act of Traveling
  2. Cultivating Serendipity: walk the garden of forking paths « Act of Traveling
  3. Cultivating Serendipity: walk the garden of forking paths

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