15 Ways to Be a Good Traveler: solo or otherwise

Not the same rickshaw - my trip was at night.

Not the same rickshaw – my trip was at night.

It’s important.

How we treat our world, the environment, other people’s countries and cultures, and how we treat other people as we travel, is very important. It’s about being responsible. Ethical. It’s about being mindful as we travel.

Have I always got it right? No. But I try. And when I fail, I’m sometimes able to correct my error as was the case when I felt it important that I pay a bicycle rickshaw driver three times the negotiated fare.

Travel is very much a two-way street. As you go and explore a new culture, those you meet are also exploring yours. Being a “good” traveler will help you get the most out of this reciprocal relationship and your travels. You’ll be better received by locals, have more close-to-the-ground experiences and you’ll return home having left a better impression of your own country on them.

So, having given some thought to this question of being a good traveler, I thought I would share some of my conclusions.

The plants at the beach at Hacienda Tres Rios, a resort with awards for it's environmental initiatives, waters the plants at the beach individually rather than using a sprinkler system that would water more ground than plants.

The plants at the beach at Hacienda Tres Rios, a resort with awards for its environmental initiatives, are watered individually rather than using a sprinkler system that would water more ground than plants.

How to be a good traveler.

  • Choose carefully – If you’re interested in traveling responsibly and contributing to this wonderful world, your choices are your most powerful tool. Check with hotels, hostels, tour companies, cruise lines… to determine their policies regarding environmental issues and supporting the local culture. Choose travel companies that act responsibly.
  • Think local – Where was that souvenir made? Who are the guides used by your tour company? Support the local economy whether it’s a vendor at a European Christmas market or a tour through Morocco, try to find ways to support the thousands of small “mom & pop” companies you’ll meet along the way
I bought a small carpet from this local merchant in Petra, Jordan.

I bought a small carpet from this local merchant in Petra, Jordan.

  • Be aware – Before you travel, learn about local issues and concerns of the locals before you go. Are there specific needs you can help with? Could you take long some school supplies, for example, to help address that local need?
  • Tap the knowledge of your taxi driver – Some of your best experiences could come from a recommendation of your taxi driver, barista… just about anyone you meet along the way.
  • Laugh and share your energy – You are in holiday mode. The locals you meet may be in work mode. Bring a little light into their day by being joyful.
  • Think respect. Don’t judge – There isn’t a country on earth that has it all figured so leave judgmental attitudes at home. Be respectful and look for the good in a culture then bring some of it back.
  • Be curious – Ask questions. But rarely is one question and one answer enough. Ask “why” and “how” questions that are open-ended so that people feel free to talk. It’s one way to really get behind a culture.
  • Show your appreciation– If you’re in a hotel, don’t forget to tip the housekeeping people. They are so often forgotten. For all those many people who make your trip wonderful but for whom tipping would be awkward, offer a spontaneous coffee or surprise flowers. At minimum, take the time to learn something about them, smile and thank them.
  • Keep an open mind – You will be surprised every once in a while – possibly even shocked. “Really, you do it that way?” Yes, people all over the world do things differently and sometimes, the difference is surprising. Keep an open mind and try to figure out why it’s so different and why you’re having such a response to the difference. Be tolerant of how other cultures do things.
  • Don’t be discouraged by a scam – I’ve been scammed many times. In fact, I almost consider it the price of admission for travelers. Hopefully, you don’t lose too much money in the transaction. Take these kinds of  humbling experiences and put them where they belong – in a list of humorous anecdotes.
Jerash Jordan

Smiling and laughing with some local girls in Jerash, Jordan.

  • Smile – A smile opens many doors for a traveler.
  • Be patient – You are the guest. You are the one who does not know the system. If you’re trying to get a visa or train tickets and you can’t believe how hard it is, be calm and patient. You’ll be happier and leave a better impression behind you.
  • Act appropriately – How you dress and act affects how you are seen. If women cover up in public, so should you. If drinking alcohol is generally frowned upon, you should avoid it.
  • Be flexible – Things will go wrong. It’s inevitable, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. Things going wrong can present new opportunities. Treat the unexpected that way by being flexible.
  • Try new things – From strange food to adventurous day trips, try new things – a least once. You may never have the opportunity again so go for it.
  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Thanks of your additional thoughts David. Spot on.

  • David C. Maness

    I try, but often break down into the look of wonderment and joy just for the chance to be out and about, trying to use a foreign language and enjoy life.

  • David C. Maness

    If I can’ only learn one phrase in the local language, it’s “excuse me,” in case I bump into somebody.

  • David C. Maness

    Be scrupulous about refraining from littering. Even if you are walking through a trash-strewn place where nobody seems to care, you can leave knowing you didn’t contribute to it.

    On another point of principle, don’t pay bribes. OK, now that I have said that, try to understand that the line between bribe and tip is often blurry. If I think it’s going to end up on some honcho’s desk, I refuse. If it’s going to help some person who has helped me, that’s different.

  • Maria Rekrut

    I’m going to share this article with my social media followers. Janice you offer very good advice!!

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh
  • Faith Dugan

    Don’t be discouraged by a scam – I’ve been scammed many times. In fact, I almost consider it the price of admission for travelers. Hopefully, you don’t lose too much money in the transaction. Take these kinds of humbling experiences and put them where they belong – in a list of humorous anecdotes.
    Great post Janice. I can relate to this one, particularly putting the scams into the humorous anecdote category. And another piece of wisdom that can be said is do not blame oneself for getting caught in the scam.

  • Puple

    Most needed things Janice..

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Thanks for your kind words Marzanne. It’s comments like yours that keeps me going.


  • marzanne

    Thanks Janice for a wonderful blog. I feel so inspired when I read your posts. I have been travelling for a while and all the things you say are so true. Every trip makes you wiser. You inspire us solo travellers in so many ways. Your tips are always useful…

  • Becca Hiller

    Interesting – hadn’t heard about anything like that before. Thanks for sharing :)

  • http://www.catchourtravelbug.com/ catchourtravelbug

    Agree wholeheartedly. Respect is our number one rule. If you don’t give it you don’t get it. That means knowing what that is in the place you are visiting. It certainly does differ from place to place

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  • Mags

    Great tips. I love the idea of “reciprocal travel”. I wish more people would act as ambassadors when traveling abroad.

  • Carina

    I agree with Bella. Learning a few words in local language such as “Goodmorning” and “thank you” it is definitely a show of respect and an appreciation of the culture.

  • TomS

    Key chains have always been welcome. Something from your home location ala souvenir types that relate to where you are from. A darn near universally useful item that’s not too expensive and compact enough to carry many. Fridge magnets of the same order can accomplish the same. And shot glasses for those who enjoy a nip now and again.

  • solotraveler

    Absolutely Bella. This is very important.

  • solotraveler

    Interesting situation Meg. I’ve never heard of this. I’m glad you added it to the comments.


  • meg

    Sometimes you don’t know but if you do, what I would say is be careful and think about how your actions influences others. One of several situations, when I was in China many years ago (a simple version of events) we get on a local bus not used by too many travelers, a European is asked to pay more than the usual fare and doesn’t object knowing its more but says its nothing in his country so he doesn’t care. However all the locals that get on after are asked to pay the higher price to save face, they object but they still have to pay the fare, they resent the foreigners. Its important when you travel you don’t just throw your money around in some places it can be seen as careless, encourage crime and affects the local economy. As mentioned above buying a meal or supporting a local charity is a good way to contribute and doesn’t encourage organised begging.

  • Bella

    I think it would be good to add: learn a few words in the local language. If you are going to that place, it is you who should be concerned about comunication, not the locals about learning English or your language.

  • temporary resident permit

    simple, clear and really practical advices to everybody from beginner to experienced traveller. True!
    temporary resident permit

  • Mildred

    these are awesome tips! yes, you should definitely choose your travel agency very carefully. you must also look for the best accommodation deals. when i went to Sunshine Coast in Australia, i booked my accommodations here http://www.thepointcoolum.com.au/#!a-weekend-away-on-the-sunshine-coast/csg. they have good deals.

  • Jack Kent

    Great tips to be a good traveler. I totally agree with all the tips you have mentioned above. What I like most are the tips to Smile, yeah right, smile opens many doors for a traveler, totally agree. Trying new things would definitely be fantastic and should be one thing to do when new things are offered to be a new experience to the place where you will be going. That might not be offered to any other place so no chance to have that opportunity again, not unless you are willing to get back and spend another cash to that certain location. Two thumbs up for this blog.

  • http://www.vietnamparadisetravel.com/ jasonryaan

    Travelling can be a great way to add some new experiences to life. These are some essential considerations regarding solo traveler. I never travelled alone but I think solo travelling must be full of adventures and excitements.

  • leelaurino

    does anyone travel with, what i call their Travel Face?
    one that tells strange locals, dont bother me, and one that says to other locals, I would like to chat???

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  • eemusings (NZMuse)

    Agreed, in some countries getting scammed is a rite of passage.

    One thing I need to be better about is simply reaching out – not being afraid to ask questions or start conversations. You never know what can happen…

  • leelaurino

    thanks J, when i did business in Japan and HK, we often received gifts but I am looking for small things….. too bad the USA does not have anything distinctive that we are allowed to travel with: food, wine, etc….a FB friend from alaska brings some of their local crafts, great idea…..

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    That’s a good one for Facebook, Lee. I’ll post it there tomorrow. Thanks!

  • leelaurino

    any suggestions from readers or your own experience on what ‘small’ gifts to bring on a long trip, to thank the people that you might be grateful to on a LONG, extended trip?
    perhaps someone who invited you to join their group, or have lunch with them. Not tipping for service but showing a ‘return kindness’…… there is always a fine line between the size of gifts that can be miss understood

  • http://www.infiniteireland.com/ Stephanie Chastain

    Love this! My favorite is smile–it goes so far no matter where you are!

  • Sim

    So true & practical thanks for the tips

  • http://www.jauntingjen.com/ Jaunting Jen

    Beautifully written, thanks!