How to Be a Good Traveler in 10 Easy Steps

Those who leave their homes for temporary jaunts to other places can be sorted into three basic categories:

Tourists, travelers, and good travelers.

(Notice that last one wasn’t capitalized — this isn’t about me.)

I owe many of my most memorable trips to the serendipitous kindness of strangers, and am firm in the belief that you get what you give when you travel. Here are a handful of easy tips to help you bring the good to your own journeys:

1. Stop acting like you know. Taxi drivers and bartenders are your consiglieres, your guides. Don’t tell them where you want to go; ask them to point you where you should be. This also applies at restaurants. I gave up menus and entrees years ago. Make snacks your friends and simply ask the experts (i.e. people who work there) what you should be eating. If you already know what you want, then you really didn’t need to leave home in the first place.

2. Tap your friends (and friends of friends) for advice. Ask people what you should go see. I found all the highlights of this road trip by following suggestions from locals (some of them strangers, but now friends).

Avoid highways: stick to the small roads to soak up real flavor while you travel. (Photo by Vijendra Singh, My Shot)

3. Take care of the people who help you. Everyone at the hotel gets a tip except for the people who make sure your sheets are clean and your bed is made? C’mon. Leave a few bucks with a note attached to thank the maids, the most under-appreciated (and most important) people there.

4. Be British. I never thought I’d say that, but one thing the Brits do well is self-deprecation. Be fully prepared to make fun of yourself, or your hometown. There’s nothing worse than a traveler who’s deadset on convincing everyone that they’re not a stereotype.

5. If you’re a sports fan, watch (and cheer) from your hotel room. Nice as most people might be, there is a line. And it usually involves the score.

6. Stay away from Interstates if you can. A city’s charms lie miles from the fast roads.

Who doesn't like getting good old-fashioned mail? Postcards especially. (Photo by Pedro Goncalves, My Shot)

7. Take chances with conversations. Oh sure, we can be reserved back home, but sitting down and talking to people on either side of you makes for a more authentic experience… or that might be the Okie in me talking.

8. Write postcards, not emails. Let’s bring back the images that got us wanderlusting in the first place. And speaking of bringing things back, how about classing it up again on airlines? I’m the biggest offender of this rule, refusing to travel in anything but my worn-out yoga pants, but still. Let’s bring style back to travel.

9. Take people up on their offers.When someone invites you over to their house, or out to dinner, or on a tour — take them up on it (but be safe). Heartfelt generosity is the reason I’ve been able to travel so long on so little money. People love

The Golden Rule of Guesting: bring your host a gift (books work well). (Photo by Andy Walters, My Shot)

being ambassadors of their town/state/country and will enjoy it as much — if not more — than you.

10. Follow the Golden Rules of Guesting: leave a room/house in better shape than when you got there and never ever show up at a host’s place empty handed. I usually take 4-5 copies of my favorite book for these occasions (if you follow my 10 rules of packing, you should have plenty of room); ink on paper lasts a lot longer than the predictable bottle of wine will.

I’ll leave you with one last tip — the most important of all: Go to places for the experience, not just to see stuff. You can see stuff at home.

Go for the people.

And go for the good.

Follow the Good Traveler’s adventures on Twitter @GoodTraveler and on Instagram @GoodTraveler.


  1. Thomas Lymon
    Bunbury, Western Australia
    March 17, 2014, 11:55 am

    Fantastic article so well written,
    Just adding to the post cards not emails part,
    Even write post cards to your self so you have wonderful memories to return to.

  2. […] a guide  How to Be a Good Traveler in 10 Easy Steps to help you […]

  3. hitesh
    November 29, 2013, 6:40 am

    Love this article ,makes me wanna be better at the art of travelling.thanks a lot

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  7. Oscar Hernandez Ledesma
    Dgo, Mexico
    May 31, 2013, 10:34 am

    Very nice post!

    I am a good traveler myself. A few days ago I had the opportunity of letting it go by walking a strange land by myself. I met a lot of very kind people who are my friends now: they offered me accomodation if i came back.

    I often have some trouble with fresh-expensive-tourist vacation that I don’t like that much, but after all it is on your attitude, not the kind of vacation you’re in.

  8. Dean
    Stuttgart, Germany
    November 6, 2012, 3:50 pm

    Nice article…you’d think many of the items should be “common sense”…but sadly for many it’s not common at all.. I take exception to Tip# 4 (Be British). Old school “proper” Brits might fit the description you give, but there’s a reason Brits (especially the younger English18-30 yrs set) have such bad reps throughout Europe and a good portion of the world. While that might be a generalization , I personally avoid places/resorts that tend to have a large English draw.

  9. Dawn
    September 6, 2012, 4:26 am

    very nice article :)

  10. […] Read it here […]

  11. Gordon Yamamoto
    Kensington, CA
    August 19, 2012, 2:42 pm

    Very sage advice; I have tried many of these tips throughout my life, and agree that meeting warm, friendly people trumps everything else on any given trip for me. I can always return, and often do, to see something that was missed because of the opportunity of friendship. Also, attitude is everything, and a smile on my face encourages like behavior no matter where I am, and also gives me the fortitude to explore places and situations I may have previously avoided. Thank you!!

  12. Jennifer
    August 16, 2012, 1:07 am

    Love this post! Some really great tips that you often need reminding of. All of them! Write postcards. Accept invitations. Be British! Nice work on this!

  13. saintfacetious
    June 29, 2012, 7:30 pm

    I take issue with number 1 and 5. On number 1, in many countries, following taxi drivers’ advice can lead you to a den of hookers. On number 5, cheer for your team openly and loudly. If you’re a foreigner, in most countries outside the West, your strange disposition will most likely be respected, especially if that disposition relates to your national team that’s not at odds with the nation you’re in.

  14. danny
    June 14, 2012, 8:07 pm

    …. absolutely now news here .. bottom line: be yourself .. that’ll do it

  15. Virginia Zeidman
    Indian Wells, California, USA
    June 12, 2012, 8:36 pm

    When we home exchange we tell our hosts of our interest. They have maped out very interesting adventures for us. We trust information from their friends and relatives and have been more that delighted at the experiences that have fallen into our unexpecting laps.

  16. Nathan
    Denver, US
    June 12, 2012, 3:21 pm

    Great advice and just in time for our trip to Croatia next month! Glad we’ll be hanging out with locals!

  17. Luc Beauregard
    June 12, 2012, 11:43 am

    Cant you translate IN french please !

  18. Dani Blanchette
    (currently) Medellin, Colombia
    June 11, 2012, 4:58 pm

    I agree and do most of these. #1 though you have to be wary of.

    A friend, who I met at the hostel, kept asking the taxi drivers here for a good place to go out and dance; and kept being brought to strip joints and brothels in not so nice areas.

    Sometimes, if you want to go clubbing, you should know the areas where the clubs are, I guess.

  19. Che Francisco
    June 11, 2012, 12:43 pm

    Perhaps another way of experiencing a trip with other people is to be ready with interesting topics to share. A good, sensible conversation goes beyond the travel location. It can serve as an invitation to a newfound friendship. Thanks for the tips.

  20. Bobby
    June 11, 2012, 3:48 am

    Lovely article, especially ‘stop acting like you know’ cause often people try to make an impression by posing themselves as if they know every thing

  21. Ron Victor
    June 11, 2012, 1:41 am

    Here mentioned above Simple tips to help you take the good to your own journeys….please keep in 10 steps mind and make it your journey very happy…….
    nice tips
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    Thank You

  22. Anna Jin
    Minneapolis, US
    June 10, 2012, 7:48 am

    I just got into a conversation with my friend about the point of “Go to places for the experience, not just to see stuff” during our trip to South Africa. And I converted him into a postcard sender
    : )

  23. Luciano Lucci
    June 8, 2012, 6:23 pm

    Nice article !