10 ways to be a better traveller No doubt the holiday dust has settled and you're back into a regular routine. Perhaps you've already broken most of your "how to be a better me resolutions" for the year (couldn¹t resist that mid-afternoon Snickers Bar, could you?). But don't despair, January isn't over so you've got time to craft a more positive approach to the year ahead. For me, I resolve to be a better traveller. Round about midnight, a week or so ago, I was visited by the Ghosts of Vacations Past, Present and Future. And just like Scrooge, I was presented with a slideshow of scenes that made me squirm, some with guilt, others with outright embarrassment. It would seem that my travel track record has not been flawless. I had collected my share of travel bloopers. From now on, I hereby swear to be a wiser, more generous, and gentler traveller when I set forth on a voyage, be it a train journey from Ottawa to Montreal or an international flight from Toronto to Ho Chi Minh. 1. I promise not to bad-mouth airlines who, in the past, have lost my luggage. This means I will no longer dish out such barbs about airlines such as Delta ( Don't Expect Luggage To Arrive). 2. I'll be more generous and share my travel trade secrets with one and all: Topping the list: The Premium Plaza Lounges at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. They're a deal, and you can find these types of lounges in many airports around the world. I don't know about you, but I have at times wasted hours – and lots of cash – wandering about the small boutiques and over-priced shops in airport terminals waiting for plane departures or connections. Then I discovered the pay-as-you go airport lounges. At the Premium, for instance, for as little as $30, I can attack a full-on buffet, drink as much wine and spirits as I please, enjoy comfortable lounge chairs and computer stations, refill espressos, wifi, international newspapers, quiet, be waited on, and even clean up in the well-appointed washroom. Compare that to what you spend at cafes and restos and over-priced gadget shops throughout the terminals. 3. I will try to memorize the name tag of my flight attendant and depart the plane with a "Thank you, Ms. Cynthia. You made the flight enjoyable." Flight attendants, just like nurses are to medicine, are the unsung heroes of travel. 4. I will learn five expressions in the language of my destination every time I travel. [caption id="attachment_14600" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Welcoming women of Kerala (Photo: Doug O'Neill)[/caption]
•••I remember spending an hour taking photos and laughing with a group of workers in Kerala, in Southern India without actually talking. However, I still cringe when I look back upon their hospitality and friendliness and think I couldn't even say 'Thank you" in their native tongue. I had learned a few Hindi words for my time in Northern India but in this southern region, the major language is Malayalam, and I hadn't learned a single word. I will know better next time. 5. I promise not to complain to the flight attendants (see # 3 above) about bad coffee on 'some' airlines – even if the brew is putrid. But it's not the fault of Flight Attendant Ms. Cynthia's (see above). Flight attendants don't make the rules or purchase the bad beans. Note to self: bring my java of choice on board with me next time, unless it's Etihad Airways or Cathay Pacific. Those folks serve up an amazing coffee! 6. I will avoid tourist offices and ask locals for information whenever I can. [caption id="attachment_14613" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Kishwa villagers, along Amazon in Ecuador (Photo: Doug O'Neill)[/caption]
•••Live like a local, talk (or try to) like a local. I will ask folks I meet along the way. I learned the value of asking locals while in a Kiwsha village in Ecuador. I wanted to find the gathering spot of a legion of exotic birds and the guide book wasn't helping. With some rudimentary Spanish and wild gesturing (on my part) they escorted me to a scene right out of National Geographic, and there wasn't another tourist in sight. 7. I resolve to use the public transit at least once during a visit to a new destination. 8. I promise to always ask before I take a photograph a stranger in a foreign land. [caption id="attachment_14604" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Honeymooners of Mamallapuram, India (Photo: Doug O'Neill[/caption]
•••I remember snapping a photo of a young couple at a religious site outside of Chennai, on the east coast of India. Within seconds two men came over and asked why I was taking a photo of their young sister. I was rightly chastened, and apologized profusely. Then I learned their family's fascinating story: the two men were her big brothers and they explained that they were accompanying their young sister, who had never been outside of their little village her entire life, on her honeymoon. They were simply concerned for their baby sister's safety. A moment I'll never forget. 9. I will avoid coffee chains when I'm travelling (sorry, Blenz in Vancouver) and only patronize independent coffee shops. Ditto for book shops. 10. I will always strive to do something totally new or different whenever I travel. [caption id="attachment_14602" align="aligncenter" width="330"] That's me, white helmet, white knuckles, hang-gliding in rural Ontario[/caption]
•••Travel is about stepping outside your familiar world and embracing the unknown, whether you're on a trek through Nepal or on a day-trip to go hang-gliding in Eastern Ontario just 90 minutes from home. What's your secret to successful travel?