How to Be a Better Traveler: 7 Takeaways from Travel Con
Travel has been woven into my life for as long as I can remember. My mom is Filipina, and I took my first trip abroad when I was 6 months old to go and visit family in Manila. My parents believed in the importance of travel, and invested in letting me participate in school trips, study abroad, and even little weekend getaways like hopping around islands – something entirely unique about my childhood growing up in Hawaii. But through all of this, travel was always regarded as a special occasion – something you do every once in a while when you have the money or the time, not something that you do often, and definitely not something that you prioritize. For most of my everyday life as a kid, travel was a small, insignificant thought at the back of my mind.
But this all started to change within the last decade or so. Suddenly, I could Google entire destinations I’d never even dreamed of and be able to see and read everything I needed to know within seconds. And then, once social media was added to the picture, far-off places became less of a distant daydream and more of a constant presence on my screen to obsess over. And, while social media has played a huge role in demystifying travel and making the task of getting out and seeing the world more accessible now than ever before, in some ways, social media – and this digital era we all got swept into – has also been a huge burden. How many times have you scrolled through your friend’s posts only to stop and think to yourself why everyone seems to be in Paris picnicking in front of the Eiffel Tower this summer? Or why you get the sense that everyone is quitting their jobs to backpack the world? Honestly, while social media opens doors and gateways to the world, it also, at times, showcases what it means to travel through a keyhole – only revealing a tiny fraction of what’s really important about a destination or a culture.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the first-ever Travel Con in Austin, TX. The conference was a ‘meeting of the minds’ bringing together over 600 creators, brands, tourism boards, writers, speakers, and more, with a focus on helping people build sustainable careers in the travel industry. The conference was a 3-day stint consisting of everything from teaching sessions, to 1-on-1 meetings, to networking events, to insanely fun parties. While I won’t get into a full review of the conference (unless you’d like one?? Let me know in the comments below!), I will say that Travel Con was one of the best conferences I have ever attended, specifically because of the networking opportunities and amazing people I was able to meet throughout the week. What I loved about Travel Con was that the attendees were all obsessed with learning how to travel well – finding ways to incorporate travel into your life or your career that are meaningful, respectful, and adventurous – and by that I mean, WAY beyond the tourist traps and the staged photos of yourself sitting on a ledge on some canyon looking out into the distance (HEY, guilty as charged. We all do this! Ain’t no shame in our game!).
Social media makes travel look accessible, but it also makes it look cookie-cutter. Because of this, it’s more important now than ever before to get out there and see the world for yourself, and by your own terms. Anything less is just secondhand experience, like letting other people’s opinions dominate your point of view. Ew. Who wants that? I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of travel, but I also am aware of how many hurdles prevent most people from taking the leap. Because of this, I wanted to share 7 takeaways inspired by Travel Con on how to travel, and more importantly, how to be a better and more fulfilled traveler while you’re at it. I’ve also included the actual statements I heard at Travel Con that inspired my words, so that hopefully you get as much inspiration out of them as I did!
How to Travel + How To Be a Better Traveler:
1. Dare to Go Places Before You’re ‘Ready’
“Be braver than you think you can be. There’s just no point otherwise.” - Helen Russell, Journalist & Author of ‘The Year of Living Danishly’
Most people don’t travel more often because, for one reason or another, they aren’t ready, or they’re afraid, or they are worried.
Money is always an issue, but there are ways to see new places with a limited budget. Signing up for notifications on cheap flights, opting to stay in hostels, volunteering abroad, or even taking road trips to camp in a nearby national park or forest are just a few ways to crush this hurdle.
You may think your job and PTO is another hamper in your ambitions to see the world. I work a full-time job, sometimes 10-15 hours a day before I even sit down to write for this blog, and as a result, I have mastered the art of the weekend and long weekend vacation. See some sample itineraries I’ve created based on a weekend timeframe for places like Salt Lake City, Utah; Scottsdale, Arizona; Santa Barbara, California; and Isle of Skye, Scotland.
Your family, significant other, or even your friends might judge or worry about your need to spend some time away every now and then. All I have to say to this is that it’s ultimately your life and how you choose to write your script. The people who belong in your life will always be there, and the people who try to stop you are the ones you might want to reevaluate.
2. Ditch the Itinerary Every Now and Then
“Walk until your day becomes interesting.” - Rolf Potts, Travel Writer and Author of ‘Vagabonding’
As someone who is a chronic itinerary follower (did you see all of the itineraries I linked to just now?), and because I know a lot of us look to online itinerary guides and peer review sites to map out our trips, it’s important to note that while there is lots of value in seeing how others have experienced a place, there is equally as much value in daring to build your own plans on top of what you’ve researched online. And, if you have enough time, spend a day ditching your plans altogether and letting the day take you where it wants you to go instead.
3. Talk to People Outside of your Group, Ethnicity, or Nationality. Most Importantly, Talk to Locals.
A quote didn’t inspire this, but an experience (or series of them) did. I’m a huge fan of talking to locals, fellow travelers, and local workers whenever I am somewhere new. In my opinion, you can only really expand your perspective if you talk to people unlike yourself. In Austin, while I was at the conference, I talked to every single Uber driver I had – something I actually love doing when I’m elsewhere, but hate doing when I’m home in LA, oddly enough. What ended up happening was that I actually visited a bar in Austin with one Uber driver (The Container Bar), shared some of the best queso dip I’ve ever had with another (Torchy’s Tacos green chile queso), and learned some of the tips for getting into speakeasies around the downtown area from another. All of these things were experiences I would have never gotten if I kept my mouth shut and stayed confined within my bubble.
4. See More than What’s on TripAdvisor or Social Media
(On destination photography) “Don’t shoot a destination or a person. Shoot how the destination, or the person, makes you feel.” - Lola Akinmade Åkerström, Writer + Nat Geo Photographer
Go places because you want to go, not just because social media, or a rating on TripAdvisor, told you so. I cannot stress this enough. If you’ve always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, great. Do that. But dare to do more, explore beyond what’s expected, and find out how Paris and its streets, its people, and its food make you feel, rather than just crossing the Eiffel Tower off your bucket list and moving on.
5. Travel Cheaply Every Now and Then, Even if You Don’t Have To
“You don’t need to work your whole life to ‘earn’ your time to travel. Start now.” - Rolf Potts, Travel Writer and Author of ‘Vagabonding’
Some of the best travel lessons can literally only be learned when you travel cheaply, even if you have the means to stay in a 5-star hotel. Eat street food, meet fellow travelers in hostels, see the city by bike, and travel with only a carry on or backpack. You’ll learn that when you physically have less, you leave more space for new experiences.
6. Don’t Take Yourself so Seriously
“Stop quoting yourself on the internet.” - Steve Kamb, Founder of Nerd Fitness
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good quote! I am inspired by them, I welcome them, and I read them often. But that doesn’t have to be every single thing you eat, breathe, or say. Travel isn’t always about self discovery, an epic quest, a perfect itinerary, or a generic Instagram caption about wanderlust. Sometimes, it’s just about having fun. Stop taking yourself so seriously if your plans aren’t perfect or if your photos didn’t turn out how you envisioned them to be. No matter what happens, you can’t lose when you travel.
7. If You Can’t Stop Thinking about It, You Need to Go
“Being true to yourself will make you an enemy to some, but a hero for others.” - Oneika Raymond, Travel Journalist
I made the decision that travel was a high priority for me, and I pursued it shamelessly, even if this meant getting side eye from coworkers, losing out on sleep, and racking up a small credit card balance (or, from another POV, racking up POINTS!). If something is important to you, you can either find a way, or an excuse. And, if travel is your truth, if it’s that thing that gets you up in the morning and excited about your day, then you need to pursue it with all your heart.
If you are loving the motivation but need some actionable next steps to get you out the door and away on your next adventure, I’ve linked some amazing resources below from a few of the speakers and fellow creators from Travel Con:
How to Start Traveling: 10 Great Resources
On Getting Started:
10 Reasons Not to Travel And Why They’re Wrong (The Blonde Abroad)
Why All Women Should Travel Solo (The Blonde Abroad)
International Travel Basics (Confessions of a Travaholic)
On Trip Planning:
Safety & Preparedness for the Wary Traveler (A Slice of Texas)
On Maintaining Relationships While Traveling:
Balancing Travel Family Life: 15 Travel Bloggers Speak (Lola Akinmade)
Tips for Traveling with Your Significant Other (Together To Wherever)
What inspires you to want to get out and see the world? What’s one place you hope to travel to next? Share your ambitions below to hold yourself accountable!