I started this website because everybody I know sucks at asking me about my travels . . .
And I have a suspicion it is not because I have a mundane and uncultured group of friends and family. After years of traveling, and just as many hoping to finally feel heard when speaking about my stints on the road, I have found that my stories have become a series of short, humorous anecdotes or grave warnings about the harrows of vagrancy. Either way they are short, simple, and compact. They’re the elevator pitches of travel accounts. Things anyone can listen to, even those who haven’t put in extensive time living out of a pack.
And I don’t think it’s just them, I find myself not being the best audience when other folks attempt to tell me about their latest trip as well. I think that we all kind of suck at listening to each other for the most part.
So, in an effort to create better travel listeners here is my initial list of do’s and don’ts of travel talk (I don’t claim to speak for anyone else; that being said, if you agree please feel free to share this with you social circles, if you don’t let’s duke it out in the comment section):
1. Do be an attentive listener. Body language says a lot. I just got back from months away from home, and you’re barely maintaining eye contact, quickly change the conversation, or won’t look away from that screen in your hand? Cool, keep it up, but I’m going back to where I just came from and spending more months away from home, and people who suck at listening.
2. Don’t try to segway into talking incessantly about your experiences with travel. This is not trying to discourage an open, flowing conversation about similar/shared experiences. I am reminding people to check themselves when it comes to dominating a discussion. I just went through a very real, intense experience, quite possibly by myself and didn’t have much of a chance to discuss it. It would mean a lot to me if you expressed sincere interest in that, and didn’t walk all over what I went through by telling me, once again, about that time you went to Costa Rica for a yoga retreat.
3. Do try to learn what I learned from and about the culture(s) I spent time with.
4. Don’t ask me that kind-of-maybe-a-little-bit racist stereotype about the culture, even if you think it’s ok, and that it’s a kind of funny stereotype, and, but come on stereotypes only exist because there’s a little truth to them. No, stereotypes exist because you perpetuate them.
5. Do ask about the times I felt terrified, homesick, angry, or otherwise unsettled. Travel is about stepping out of and away from the norms we intentionally create and unknowingly accept from our own culture. Talking about the times we lost contact with those customs is a good way to decompress and process after a trip, while also gaining insight in to the differences that exist.
6. Don’t ask my favorite state/country. Firstly, I’m not much of a fan of settler colonial borders that were arbitrarily drawn by people in the last few hundred years. Secondly, I’ve had some of my best and worst experiences in the same states/countries. And finally, it kind of makes you sound like a desk jockey that counts down the days until you can go back to your favorite country, Cancun.
7. Do try and figure out what drove me while I was there. Was it the food, people, or landscape? Or maybe it was the fact I bought the return ticket in advance and had to wait out my hellacious experience until then because I so wisely thought “extra $30 to be able to reschedule my flight? No way. There’s not a chance I’ll want to leave early.”
8. Don’t, please, please, please do not ask me if the women were as attractive as you’ve always heard they were in _______. Women don’t exist for your viewing pleasure scumbag. They wield the power of creation, and there is a high probability that one of them nurtured you and literally gave you their life for at least nine months. So don’t talk like you are entitled to anything from them; especially their bodies, time, or energy. You aren’t.
9. Do try and taste what I tasted, feel what I felt, and smell what I smelt. You will never get the complete picture by looking at a photograph, nor will you know what it’s like to be yelled at by a Mexican abuelita while smelling fresh, homemade chilaquiles cooking on the stove with the after taste of agua de fresa on your tongue on a cool January morning in central Mexico. But you sure as hell won’t know what an abuelita is, or chilaquiles, or agua de fresa if you don’t ask me. So do it. The only way to actually experience it is to buy a ticket, so for now let me tell you as much as I can.
10. Don’t assume the place I just was had any similarities to where I am now. There might be, but if you’ve never been you don’t know. That’s the best way to be open to other people and places. Never assume, and don’t presume superiority. Because that’s what makes people suck.
M. A. Chavez
Is co-founder of Vagrant. Anonymous. He spends his time split between traveling and the North West. He is currently working on getting his debut novel published, and writing his second.
What are your do’s and don’ts of travel talk? Do you want to duke it out with the author in the comment section?
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