My Travel Philosophy

What does it mean to be a humble traveler?

 

First off, some of you might be wondering: what exactly IS a travel “philosophy” anyway?

Well! A travel philosophy is a mission statement of sorts -a summary of your core values and beliefs as they relate to your travels. Some questions you might ask yourself when thinking about your travel philosophy might be:

  • What motivates me to travel?
  • What do I gain from traveling?
  • What is missing in my life when I’m NOT traveling, or when I don’t have a trip planned for the near future?

My travel philosophy represents some of the core values that I practice while I am traveling, and are also the values that you’ll notice as undercurrents in my blog posts and reflections. I hope that by sharing my values, you may adapt part or all of my travel philosophy to your own! Or, perhaps you’ll find that we already share some values in common. 🙂

My travel philosophy is represented by three core principles:

  1. Be humble and recognize my privilege as a traveler.
  2. Understand that I am not an expert and therefore not a savior.
  3. Respect the people, places, and animals that I traveled so far to see, and become an advocate for them.

Keep on reading below to find out more, or click the bullets above to skip to one you feel compelled to read about.

View of the garden from the main deck at Finca Magdalena in Nicaragua.
  1. Be humble and recognize my privilege as a traveler.

My #1 travel tip to anyone traveling outside of their country of residence is to BE HUMBLE. It sounds simple, but you might be surprised how many people I’ve encountered abroad over the years who severely lack humility and find a way to make everything about themselves.

As a guest exploring other people’s culture, food, society and environment, I believe there is a level of deference and respect for a place that we as travelers should bear the burden of practicing.
Here’s an anecdote that will help put my opinion in context:

While traveling through Granada in Nicaragua, my friends and I overheard a troubling conversation in passing by two other Americans:

“I can’t believe how rude the people are here. Everyone here are just beggars asking for money.”

We all couldn’t help but shake our heads in shame and exchange bewildered looks. I felt embarrassed that these folks were representing my country so poorly as visitors to Nicaragua.

Yes, there were some people here and there hovering close to outdoor seating areas while peddling hammocks and other goods. There were even a few vagabonds on the sidewalks -one of which was a mere child- hoping for a tourist to pity them and spare a dollar or two. But a handful of folks who are suffering from chronic poverty and drug use should not be just cause for attributing ALL Nicaraguans as “rude” and “beggars”.

As a visitor, I know that I am privileged to even have the opportunity to leave my own country to visit another -much less to criticize a place I have spent such little time in.

I’d like to offer a better approach: make note of your own observations -positive or negative- and ask questions, be curious, and learn from those who know more instead of making assumptions and unfounded judgements.

In summary, be humble, and understand that you certainly won’t learn everything about a country from your short visit -you’re there to learn!

Damage from Hurricane Earl in Belize.

2. I understand that I am not an expert and therefore not a savior.

As a traveler from a first-world country, I think it is necessary to understand that the current plight of many nations can be traced back to the legacy of powerful nations’ ability to colonize and dominate vulnerable people, extract their resources and pillage their wealth. As a citizen of a powerful nation, I have directly benefitted from the unequal treatment of people who have suffered for centuries under colonization, and thus I feel a responsibility for repaying my country’s debts and bearing the burden of wanting to help. However, using my privilege to impose on other people’s process of re-development and healing must be executed with care.

Speaking from experience, I constantly have to check myself when making observations about countries that I visit. Here’s an example:

“If only they did _____, then things would be better for them…”

-WAIT, HOLD UP. Okay, let’s try that again.-

“I notice that _____ is a problem. I wonder what has been done already to alleviate the problem or what solutions have already been proposed or failed. How can I get involved in this community to offer my help as an ally? Does this community even need or want my help as an ally?”

The takeaway: don’t see yourself as an enlightened Westerner who knows what is best for the people of [insert any country here]. One of my favorite heroines has spoken some truth that I think applies very well here:

We don’t need salvation. We like our color and our culture…we don’t need you to save us from anything.”  -Constance Wu

Let me be clear: I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel inspired to offer your help and make a change -I actually really hope you do feel that way! Just don’t be that person who tries to come in and fix a problem that you probably know little to nothing about –understand that you need to step back and learn from those within the community that you are trying to help first. And if they don’t want your help? Then bow out with respect and know that it’s not personal.

 

Three Green Parakeets perched on a coconut cart in Granada, Nicaragua.

3. Respect the people, places, and animals that I traveled so far to see, and become an advocate for them.

This one is pretty simple. Our planet is the only one we’ve got (at least to our knowledge, right?) We are fortunate to live in a time where we are no longer confined to the boundaries of our own countries, where plane tickets are affordable even to the budget traveler. Because of our expanded mobility, we are able to witness the existence of a wide array of climates, land masses, islands, beaches, land formations, forests, exotic creatures -so many things that previously were only photographed in National Geographic and admired from a distance, but now inspire so many people to travel and experience those places in person! Let’s be real: have you ever set the background of your computer’s desktop screen to some beautiful landscape that you hope to travel to one day? YUP. Exactly. We all have places on Earth that we marvel at and appreciate.

Sightseeing probably makes up at least 80% of travel, and as a visitor to a foreign place, I feel that I have a responsibility to help protect it, and make sure that future generations are able to enjoy the things that I have been able to see. Whether this means making sure I’ve left no trash on the beach before leaving, to spending a few extra dollars on sunscreen that won’t kill the coral reefs -that are already dying off due to warming ocean temperatures- I always try to think outside of my own needs and consider how I can help preserve nature as it was meant to be.
I recently learned about a Hawaiian concept called kuleana that embodies this perfectly. When applied to this topic, a person who possesses kuleana understands that having the privilege to visit a place also makes them accountable and responsible for protecting it. Simple, right?

Did you make it through this far? Sweet! Thanks for sticking with me. I’ve got one last thing I want to share with you:

For me, travel isn’t a one way street. I don’t travel just to use foreign places as cool backdrops for selfies or to cross something off of my bucket list. I travel because I want to be challenged and changed. To willingly put myself in uncomfortable situations and to push the boundaries of what I think I am capable of. Not only do I want to see how other people live their lives, but I understand that there is still so much to learn from people and cultures all over the world. I want to learn what other communities are doing right and take that knowledge back home to share with others -including YOU!


Are we on the same wavelength? Did any or all of what I shared about travel resonate with you? Are you curious to read more about how I apply these values to my actual adventures?

If you answered yes to any of these, then you need to sign up for my email list! I’ll only send out an email when I post a new article -no spam, I promise. :]