The Art of Travel

Seven Skills to Make you a Better Globetrotter

The Art of Travel: Seven Skills to Make you a Better Globetrotter

Anthony Bourdain once said, “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” With his trademark elegance, Bourdain encapsulates both the thrill and challenge of travel done right. Forgetting the romance, travel is not innately easy. As someone once imparted to me, travelling itself is a skill⏤one I’ve pondered deeply of late. Beyond mere skill, travelling requires a certain artistry⏤from initial research and planning to forging new connections and adapting to unfamiliar surroundings. For those who wish to feel at home under distant stars as in their own cities, I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of seven indispensable skills for becoming a better globetrotter…

Seven Skills to Make you a Better Globetrotter
Marialaura Gionfriddo
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Research & Planning

Perhaps the most valuable and the first on our list of indispensable travel skills is the art of meticulous RESEARCH and strategic PLANNING. This skill involves delving into all the information about your destination, including attractions, local customs, transportation options, accommodation, and safety considerations. Before the voyage begins, seasoned explorers find their compass in the digital domain, navigating travel blogs and websites that offer authentic accounts and firsthand insights from fellow travellers. Many travel bloggers share well-curated itineraries, helpful tips, and out-of-the-way places they discovered during their own trips. Reading personal accounts can give you a more authentic and subjective perspective on the destination. Before we moved to Valencia, Spain, we followed a German couple’s blog and Instagram page as they shared their own experiences living in the city. It was helpful to read about all the different areas and neighbourhoods (which helped us make an informed decision of where in the city we wanted to live), alongside practical information such as where to shop for groceries or find the best paella.

Use social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to follow travel influencers, local bloggers, or tourism boards from the country you plan to visit. They often share captivating photos, useful travel tips, and special recommendations that can inspire and inform your trip. You can also use hashtags related to your destination to discover more content and connect with other travellers.

Visit travel websites such as TripAdvisor, Expedia, and These platforms offer a wealth of information, including traveller reviews, ratings, photos, and pricing details for accommodations, attractions, and restaurants. Peer-driven forums and travel communities are good places to ask specific questions and get personalised recommendations from experienced travellers; join online forums and communities dedicated to travel or specific destinations. Websites like Reddit, TripAdvisor forums, or travel-focused Facebook groups allow you to ask questions, seek advice, and engage with experienced travellers or locals who can provide firsthand knowledge and recommendations. Visit the official tourism websites for up-to-date information about local attractions, events, transportation networks, safety advisories, and cultural experiences. Here you can find valuable insights, maps, itineraries, and sometimes even discounts or special offers.

Yet, for connoisseurs of the tangible, the classic allure of travel guidebooks endures. Consult reputable ones that provide comprehensive information about various destinations⏤these books often cover popular attractions, transportation options, accommodation recommendations, dining options, and safety tips. Some popular guidebook series include Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, and Rough Guides.

Good planning helps you make the most of your time and resources. Cross-referencing information from multiple sources and verifying the reliability and timeliness of the information you find will help you make well-informed decisions and create a well-rounded travel plan for your next trip to a new country.

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Adaptability & Flexibility

Travel carries an inherent dance with uncertainty, each new place offering opportunity for growth. Being FLEXIBLE and open-minded can help you navigate sudden changes in itineraries, language barriers, and cultural differences. Approach the unpredictable with open arms⏤in detours, find adventure; in barriers, a doorway to understanding. Embracing new experiences, adapting to new environments and being willing to step out of your comfort zone can lead to unforgettable journeys. The most memorable trips often exist beyond the guidebooks’ well-worn pages. Intrepid travellers know adaptability is the compass guiding them towards new discoveries and understand travel’s true purpose is expanding the possible within oneself. Wherever you roam, let the terrain shape the traveller you become.

Before an international voyage, immerse in its culture from afar. Embrace new experiences by seeking out every opportunity to try new things in your daily life: try different cuisines, explore new neighbourhoods, engage in activities outside of your usual routine. By exposing yourself to new experiences, you’ll become more open and adaptable to the unknown. Learn about different cultures by educating yourself about the customs, traditions, and cultural norms of the country you plan to visit. Read books, watch documentaries, or take online courses to gain insights into the local culture. Understanding and appreciating cultural differences can help you adapt more easily to new environments and interact considerately with locals.

Engage in social interactions by finding ways to INTERACT with people from different backgrounds. Attend cultural events, join language exchange groups, or volunteer with organisations that work with international communities. Having conversations with people from different cultures can broaden your perspective and improve your adaptability in intercultural settings. Travel locally or explore different regions within your own country to expose yourself to various landscapes, climates, and cultural nuances; becoming more adaptable to different environments can better prepare you for your trip.

Practice problem-solving by challenging yourself to make decisions in creative and unconventional ways. Engage in puzzles, brain teasers, or logic games that require flexible thinking and adaptability to help sharpen your problem-solving skills and prepare you to face unexpected situations while away. Cultivate resilience by practicing stress management techniques such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in physical activities like yoga or hiking. These inner strengths become steady guides when plans unravel.

Building RESILIENCE can help you stay calm and composed when faced with challenges during your travels. Create a flexible mindset by embracing the idea that things might not always go as planned during your trip. Practice adapting to unexpected changes in your daily life, whether it’s adjusting to a last-minute change in plans or being open to alternative solutions. Developing a flexible mindset will help you navigate unforeseen circumstances more easily. Adaptability and flexibility are skills that can be developed over time. By actively practicing these traits in your daily life, you’ll be better equipped to handle the uncertainties and challenges that may arise while abroad.

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Navigation & Orientation

Having a sense of DIRECTION and the ability to navigate unfamiliar places is essential, so if it’s not your strength (and you’re not travelling with someone who is good with directions), it’s important to improve your navigation and orientation skills before a trip. While some people naturally have a better sense of direction than others, spatial awareness can be improved and honed through practice.

Familiarise yourself with maps of the destination you’ll be visiting and look for key landmarks, major streets, and important points of interest. Online mapping tools like Google Maps can be particularly useful in getting a feel for the layout of the area and make it easier for you to navigate in unfamiliar locations. Many destinations offer virtual tours or 360-degree experiences that allow you to explore popular attractions from the comfort of your own home⏤take advantage of these resources to get a sense of the layout and navigation before your trip.

Practice using navigation apps in your local area to get a feel for the turn-by-turn directions and real-time traffic updates. Explore your own neighbourhood or nearby places using different routes and modes of transportation, always paying attention to landmarks, street signs, and directions. This hands-on experience will help you develop a better sense of navigation and orientation. Use public transportation in your own city or nearby cities to get comfortable with using buses, trains, or the underground (subways), remembering to pay attention to station names, route maps, and transfer points.

On a personal note, must confess that for too long I relied heavily on P to navigate us around new places. However, since moving back to the city, I decided to change this habit and work on finding my own way around. I began using Google Maps on my phone to guide me through London, and in doing so, discovered an ease with using navigational apps I didn’t know I had. I was always naturally observant, a skill first instilled in me years ago during a jiu-jitsu self-defence course that emphasised spatial awareness, but by consistently practicing mindfulness, honing my observational skills, and engaging in my surroundings, I also hope to sharpen my innate sense of direction over time. With continued effort, we can all enhance our navigation abilities, spatial cognition, and self-reliance in unfamiliar places. Mindful attention paired with practice can transform even the most directionally-challenged among us into capable, independent navigators.


Communication Skills

Connection transcends vocabulary—yet simple phrases can build bridges when you’re far away from home. Before travelling, take some time to learn essential greetings, courtesies, and phrases in the local language using online programs, apps, and phrasebooks for guides to help you get started. Still, communication runs deeper than words alone, so attune yourself to nuances in body language, facial expressions, and tone, and adapt your own mannerisms and speech patterns to local conventions. With patient listening and considerate manners, you can bond with strangers beyond linguistic barriers by participating in the rhythms of daily life—navigate markets and eat meals alongside locals. Shared experiences forge understanding no phrasebook can express.

Foreign films and television shows with subtitles offer an enjoyable way to improve your comprehension of a new language. As you listen to the cadence and sounds of the speakers, subtitles allow you to follow along and learn common expressions, idioms, and subtle cultural meanings. Immersing yourself in these nuanced conversations can greatly strengthen your communication abilities. Additionally, travel blogs and books authored by locals provide invaluable perspectives, as these personal accounts illuminate the customs, sensibilities, and unspoken rules of a culture. Grasping these subtleties enables thoughtful, effective communication with new acquaintances, and engaging with both foreign media and local narratives will enhance your skills significantly.

Before crossing borders, seek cultural connections closer to home. Interact with international travellers in your own community or through online travel groups. Engaging in conversations with people from different cultures and backgrounds will strengthen your cross-cultural communication skills and broaden your perspectives. Practice active listening in your daily interactions and pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal cues during conversations to help you better understand others and respond appropriately. But most importantly, keep an open heart, not just an open mind, for mutual understanding grows when we recognise our shared hopes and struggles⏤perhaps the most universal language of all.

Enrolling in language classes or using resources like online courses, podcasts, or language learning apps can help you gain a deeper understanding of other languages and improve your communication skills. Seek out opportunities to practice speaking with fluent speakers, whether through language exchange programs, local meetups, or online platforms. Having real conversations will allow you to improve your pronunciation, fluency, and confidence in the language. The more you engage with native speakers before your trip, the easier it will be to navigate your destination and connect with locals. Even learning basic phrases can make a difference, but aiming for conversational fluency is ideal.

Understanding a destination’s cultural norms is vital for thoughtful, positive interactions, so make an effort to learn customs, etiquette, and traditions before your trip. Adhering to these practices in your daily exchanges shows cultural awareness and sensitivity. Approach intercultural encounters with patience, humility, and openness to foster meaningful exchange and forge connections across cultures.

Budgeting & Money Management

While personal finances warrant discretion, careful budgeting is key to smooth travels. Travelling often requires managing your finances effectively, so you may wish to set a budget, track your expenses, and make wise spending decisions. Conduct thorough research on transportation options, accommodation, and activities at your destination by comparing prices from different sources, including travel websites, airlines, hotels, and tour operators. Plan for surprise expenses by leaving room in your budget for unforeseen costs or emergencies. It’s wise to have a contingency fund for unexpected situations, such as medical expenses, lost belongings, or changes in your travel plans⏤having a safety net can give you peace of mind during your trip. Familiarise yourself with the local currency of your destination and exchange rates before you travel. Research the most cost-effective ways to exchange your money, such as using local ATMs or exchanging currency at reputable banks rather than airport kiosks. If using credit cards, be aware of foreign transaction fees.

Problem-Solving & Decision-Making

Travel can bring unexpected challenges requiring quick thinking and grace under pressure, so thorough preparation is key to overcoming obstacles with poise. Research local customs, safety considerations, and potential snags at your destination. Knowledge dispels the fog when dilemmas arise. Reflect on past travel experiences, both smooth and rough, and analyse your responses to challenges faced. What proved effective? Ineffective? Identify lessons that sharpen your problem-solving for future situations. When challenges strike, remain calm and assess options wisely and seek assistance if needed. With an informed mindset and adaptability, you can navigate uncertain waters while exuding poise. Each new experience hones your capability to make sound decisions amid the unpredictable tides of travel, for the journey brings growth as much as discovery.

Sharpening critical thought illuminates one’s path, whether at home or away. Seek out exercises or activities that require critical thinking, such as evaluating arguments, analysing information, or solving complex problems to train your mind to think critically and make sound decisions based on evidence and logical reasoning. Solving puzzles, riddles, or brain teasers regularly can help to sharpen your critical thinking, logic, and analytical skills. Strategy-based games like chess can help you develop skills such as anticipating outcomes, weighing options, and making informed choices under different circumstances. Make a habit of scrutinising information, questioning assumptions, and reasoning to valid conclusions based on evidence. Train your mind to slice through bias and superficiality to underlying truths.

Seek diverse perspectives by engaging in discussions and debates with people who have different viewpoints or backgrounds; exposure to diverse perspectives can broaden your thinking, challenge your assumptions, and help you consider alternative solutions to problems. Seek feedback and learn from others by having conversations with experienced travellers or seek advice from those who have been to your destination, for their insights and experiences can provide valuable guidance and help you prepare for potential challenges.

Enhance your time management skills by setting goals, prioritising tasks, and managing deadlines in your daily life. This skill is crucial for making effective decisions and solving problems efficiently, especially when you have limited time during your travels. Embrace uncertainty by putting yourself in situations that require flexibility and adaptability⏤try new activities, explore unfamiliar areas, or experiment with different approaches. Stepping outside your comfort zone can enhance your problem-solving skills and increase your comfort with making decisions in unfamiliar situations. Problem-solving and decision-making skills are honed through practice and experience. By actively engaging in activities that challenge your thinking and decision-making abilities, you’ll become more adept at handling various situations and making informed choices during your travels.

Cultural Awareness & Respect

Recently read in The Smithsonian about a Canadian teenage tourist who vandalised a 1,200-year-old Buddhist temple in Nara, Japan by carving his initial onto a wooden pillar, much to the distress of the monks, who found the situation regrettable and sad, to say the least. As mentioned previously, improving your cultural awareness and respect before visiting a new country can help you navigate different cultural environments with sensitivity and appreciation, so before you go, educate yourself about the destination. Research and learn about the cultural norms, customs, traditions, and history of the country or region you plan to visit and try to understand the local etiquette, dress codes, and social norms. Read books, watch documentaries, or follow credible online sources to gain insights into that culture.

Aside from showing respect for sacred sites and local customs by following any specific guidelines or rituals (for instance, removing your shoes, covering your head, or refraining from certain behaviours or gestures) there are many other ways to increase your cultural awareness and respect for other places. Start by approaching cultural differences with humility and recognise that you are a visitor in someone else’s culture and that you may not fully understand or grasp all aspects of it. Approach cultural encounters with curiosity and a willingness to learn and adapt. Embrace cultural differences with an open mind and recognise that there are diverse ways of living, communicating, and expressing oneself. Embrace the opportunity to learn from different perspectives and challenge any preconceived notions or stereotypes you may have. Through every interaction, shape the empathy and wisdom you carry home.

As discussed earlier, even minimal language skills like greetings show respect abroad. Yet cultural understanding transcends vocabulary alone. Before setting out, seek local festivals, workshops, classes delving into the traditions of your destination. Absorb the spirit of dance and cuisine, symbols and customs. Experience firsthand the pulse of a people, the rhythms that stir their hearts. This immersion will reveal nuances no guidebook can provide, and arriving with an open mind brings connection no language barrier can sever.

Once there, engage in meaningful conversations with locals to learn more about their culture, traditions, and way of life. Ask thoughtful questions and listen actively to their stories and experiences. Engaging in genuine conversations fosters understanding and promotes cultural exchange. Support local businesses, artisans, and cultural initiatives by contributing to the local economy. Purchase souvenirs or handicrafts made by local artisans, dine at local restaurants, and choose accommodations that prioritise sustainability and cultural preservation. Be a responsible traveler by being mindful of your impact on the local environment and community. Respect local resources, wildlife, and protected areas. Follow sustainable travel practices and adhere to responsible tourism guidelines to minimise any negative effects on the local culture and environment. By actively cultivating cultural awareness and respect, you’ll create more meaningful connections, avoid cultural misunderstandings, and have a more enriching travel experience. Each culture is unique, and embracing diversity is an essential part of being a considerate and responsible traveler, for in the end, we’re all fellow wanderers on this turning Earth.

Louis Paulin
The Art of Travel: Seven Skills to Make you a Better Globetrotter