This may not be a list that you can actually pack, but it does include the essentials for pleasant, safe and stress-free travel. Okay, totally stress free may not be achievable but successful travellers avoid stress because they possess most of these qualities.
Spirit Of Adventure
Chances are you would not fit most people’s perception of a traveller if you did not possess a spirit of adventure. The mere fact you are currently in the middle of writing a blog about your recently completed solo round the world trip, waiting for a bus on the North Yungas Road, Bolivia or planning to volunteer in the war ravaged region of Dafur/Chad proves what an adventurous bunch you all are. It is retaining this virtue throughout that can be difficult. We have all met time weary, jaded travellers that cannot be bothered to go to the local village festival, or visit the ‘ruins’ at the top of a nearby mountain. They are usually missing out; it can be difficult not to fall into the same trap.
The ability to remain totally calm and serene in the face of bloody-minded bureaucracy or worse still outright corruption is something which sometimes eludes me I have to confess. There is no doubt though that becoming impatient and showing frustration at the obstinate border crossing guard that despite your perfectly legitimate visa, is refusing you entry will almost certainly result in at best a lengthy delay and at worst a change in travel plans. Situations such as these require a cool mind, and it is usually necessary for me in such circumstances to concentrate on speaking carefully so my mouth does not run away with itself. Remaining calm, polite and often even sycophantic can be the best way to circumnavigating these seemingly impenetrable walls of indifference, and the only way to get them ‘onside’. A simple smile can often go a long way to breaking down any barriers before they really do become immovable objects meeting your irresistible force.
Most of you reading this probably prefer to travel ‘independently’ not relying on the services of a company to arrange every stage of the trip. This requires a certain amount of organisation to do it successfully. Finding the cheapest and most convenient flights, booking the best compromise between price and comfort for accommodation, arranging visas and researching the destinations to get the most out of the journey all require meticulous planning to ensure the trip is successful. Good planning and preparation prevent a [email protected]#* poor package, but it is also an ongoing process and does not stop once you have left home, keep researching, you never know what may turn up.
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Thorough planning and meticulous attention to detail are all well and good but without that indefinable ability to just ‘seize the moment’ and do something on a whim the journey is likely to lack something. Of course you will still return with plenty of memories, great photographs and stories to tell, but it will probably be missing those little extra magic moments which make a trip into an epic journey. Keep an open mind, be receptive to any opportunity whether it be coffee with a Baron, sharing mojitos on a beach with a band or the festival in that village a two day trek away, it is likely they will all enhance your travelling experience.
Sense of Humour
The ability to make others laugh is almost certainly a gift from the gods. It will open many doors for those that possess it and it will also enable them to overcome many difficulties. Remember those border guards, get them laughing and I wager you are on your way in minutes most probably with heaps of advice and good will! Seeing the funny side of a bad situation is usually reserved for the aftermath, but those that laugh in the face of adversity will still most likely be laughing when they finally board their flight home.
Whether it be on a social networking site, in a bar in Lima or a meet-up in Grimsby (yeah I know unlikely) the ability to network will prove invaluable. This is how you will get first-hand knowledge of the hottest destinations, cheapest flights, liveliest parties, the other people you need to know and where to find the best accommodation. To succeed it is necessary to feel at ease in a group, though this is not so necessary online. A sense of humour will help too of course, the centre of attention if usually the funniest! The ability to enter a crowded bar in a town where you have just arrived and leave later with details of all the sights worth seeing, the dates and location of a little known village festival and a pile of email addresses is priceless. Successful networkers engage with the people they come in contact with. Practice; it is a skill which can be learned, attend meets, chat in forums online, tweet, there are plenty of options, it is unlikely the effort will be wasted; at the very least you will gain some new friends. That smile can also come in handy for networking in social environments, as long as you do not merely walk around grinning like a Cheshire cat, as that will probably just look creepy!
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Curiosity may have killed the cat (it is not a theme, don’t worry), but for a successful traveller it is an essential attribute. Without a natural inquisitiveness it is likely they will miss out on many potentially exciting opportunities. Take a look around ‘that’ corner, follow all those people; they are definitely going somewhere, check-out where that glorious smell is emanating from, who or what is making all that noise and what does that poster say? Do not walk around blinkered, only visiting the ‘sights’ the guidebook recommends, I assure you; it will mean missing out far too often!
Sense of Wonder
Every traveller starts full of this, but for some maybe due to difficulties in their arrangements they become slightly less than enamoured and jaded by the experience. Travelling to a new destination, enjoying the journey and arriving wide-eyed, filled with awe and eager to discover what is on offer is how every voyager should take to their trip, short or extended. Without a sense of wonder at what our various senses avail us with, travelling will probably seem pointless and if that is the case maybe it is time to head home until the ‘wanderlust’ kicks in again.
Sticking rigidly to your ‘plan’ will undoubtedly mean you will miss some great experiences along the way. Armed with impetuosity, curiosity and a sense of adventure the savvy traveller will be prepared to change their plans. This may just involve a minor change such as an extra night to take in a festival, or a major route change, either enforced or otherwise. If a once in a lifetime opportunity presents itself it would be a shame to miss out just because it did not fit in with your plans. If you were less than calm at that border crossing you may have to be more flexible than you ever imagined you could be!
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All travellers consider themselves independent souls, and with good reason, and it is especially true of the solo explorers amongst the community. There are times however when most of us ‘hook’ up with another traveller with similar interests and plans to our own. This will usually enrich the experience, having somebody to share our journey with can be very fulfilling. However there will come a point where these plans become polarised and a decision needs to be made. It may actually be with a little research your new travelling companions plan seems better than your own, fine, be prepared to accept it and possibly change. You can always backtrack slightly if feasible and return to your own later, but make this choice on your own terms. Do not allow anybody else to persuade you to change your mind just to stay together, you have come this far on your own volition and intuition, trust your instincts and if the alternative plan does not suit you, wish them well and say “au revoir”.
A huge dollop of common sense is useful whatever path we take in life. Travelling to exotic, exciting but occasionally dangerous parts of the World requires an even greater reliance on good sense. Curiosity is great, impetuosity awesome but only when personal security is given complete consideration. Keep away from known high risk crime areas, especially after dark and if you are alone, keep valuable items out of site and well secured and above all use common sense. Use those same networking skills and your powers of observation to discover the places you need to avoid. Fortunately there are more places to visit that are safe than are not in any destination and dishonest, unpleasant people are still very much in the minority. Therefore do not get totally obsessed, just remain vigilant and cautious, if something leaves you feeling uneasy, trust your instincts and give it a miss!
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Armed with this little list of virtues you will undoubtedly join the list of successful travellers, and will have plenty of companions clamouring to keep you company along the way. However you will not have the need to rely on anybody as you have all the skills to turn every trip into an epic journey, filled with adventure, great experiences, a lifetime’s worth of awesome memories and some good friends too. So throw out the travel hairdryer and the extra socks for wearing with your favourite sandals and ensure all of these are stuffed securely in your ‘pack’ instead!
What other qualities do successful travellers need, have I missed any which you think are essential, do you disagree with any on this list? Please share in the comments.