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How to Travel Without Being a Jerk

Your body is a thing of beauty that will not be improved by a picture or a dreamcatcher or your name misspelled in Cantonese.

Photo by Pabak Sarkar via Flickr

There you are, living in your parent's house, eating their food, and getting acquainted with the lower reaches of Netflix as you work a three-month job. You count your pennies, you bring in your lunch from home, you only drink during happy hour. Then finally, you've saved up enough, and off you go to a developing nation of your choosing, where you can upload 64 daily photos of sun-kissed landscapes, fruity cocktails, and you covered in paint powder.


Yes, you're going "traveling." What is the difference between traveling and just a very long vacation? Nothing. Traveling is one of those euphemisms that makes an activity sound more intellectual than it is. "Traveling" has an allure of adventurism, when, in fact, it largely just involves sleeping with Australians, buying a pair of terrible linen trousers, and getting food poisoning.

Basically, there is no way of going traveling without looking like a total dick, but there are ways of going traveling without being a total dick. Obviously the code of conduct varies: what's acceptable when you're spending three months in Thailand going to full moon parties is different from what's acceptable on a cold solo inter railing trip around central Europe. Take this as a sort of rough guide. But not an actual Rough Guide because that would be copyright infringement.


Photo by Bruno Bayley

Unless your version of "traveling" involves road-tripping the West Coast in a rental car while loudly listening to The OC soundtrack, chances are you will be visiting countries that are poorer than the one you normally live in. Does this mean you need to spend happy hour looking broodingly across from your 2 for 1 caipirinhas and comment on how all the brown people you've seen "seem so happy even though they live like this"? No. Does it mean that on your return home you need to do a sponsored "no carbs month" to raise enough funds for you to return to said country in six months to build a school for a deprived village? No.


What it does mean is you should have the self-awareness to not complain if you get overcharged for something. Paying $4 instead of $2 for a 30-minute cab ride isn't that upsetting when it cost you $70 to get an Uber to the airport. No matter how "broke" you think you are, you're probably not that broke compared to the people you're buying vegetables/bus tickets/cocaine from, so check your gringo privilege when you're asking for change from your taxi driver.


Photo via Flickr

One myth about traveling is that everyone you meet is a liberal vegan hippie who's #feelingthebern and looking into opening his or her own sustainable farm in Chile. This isn't true. You are going to meet a lot of people on your travels who aren't as "progressive" as you think you are.

You will meet overprivileged Westerners who enjoy traveling the world seemingly only to mock it, as if their culture of Hollister and shark-tooth necklaces was the most superior in the history of civilization. What will really blow your liberal mind is that you may also meet some people from developing countries who aren't that into social justice or cultural tolerance. That is just something you're going to have to come to terms with.

So what can you do when you realize you're sharing a room with two dudes from Tennessee who think Black Lives Matter is a terrorist network? Or that you have to spend a night drinking in the company of a real life flesh-and-blood men's rights activist?


You have two options: argue or ignore. Always choose ignore. I promise you you're not going to convince anyone to change his or her view of the Israel-Palestine conflict over fish bowls of alcohol on a beach in Bali, so just don't try. Here is a magic sentence you can say every time some douchebag starts up with an objectionable opinion that strikes against the very core of your being: "Oh wow is that a tattoo? Tell me about it."


Photo via Flickr

If, like me, you grew up in Britain and spent your youth sleeping with men the color of printer paper with beer guts, you're about to have your world turned upside down. You know those dudes with deep tans who look after their bodies that you only ever see in advertisements? They're real, they're out there, and they're ready to cheat on their girlfriends.

Yes, this really is a time to really stick it about a bit, even when it means suspending your normal standards and principles. He's not wearing shoes? Whatever! She's had two years of training in the IDF and can assemble an AK-47 blindfolded? Hot! Your nations are sworn enemies? The ultimate hate fuck.

The only downside to this wanton promiscuity is dealing with the retroactive shame when you're back home surrounded by your normal friends who don't have toe rings. Something that seemed fine at a pool party in Argentina can make you feel a bit sick when you're replaying it in your memory back home. But listen, the human brain is surprisingly good at compartmentalizing. I know this isn't the advice psychiatrists would give, but stick that shit at the back of your mind in a locked box and throw away the key.


Most importantly: Always, always reject their next-day friend request.



Your body is a thing of beauty that will not be improved by a picture or a dream catcher or your name misspelled in Cantonese.


Yes to this look. Photo via Flickr

Looking good while traveling is hard. All your clothes are mushed into a backpack and covered in sweat stains and sunscreen. Access to hot showers is infrequent. You smell. But there's a fine line between looking a bit wrinkled and being the dude at the hostel who wears the same pair of red, green, and yellow hareem pants for three months straight.

It's a sad fact that sometimes traveling will change who you are no matter how hard you try to stay unfriendly and cynical. Deep into my second month of backpacking around Central America, I let a girl from Tel Aviv braid a feather into my hair. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat thinking about it. I suppose there is nothing you can do to stop this.

There are however, limits. You are in South America, not Parklife festival. This means no bindis, feather headbands, body chains, "reclaimed vintage ornate embroidery," deep V-neck vests, shoes without socks, or buttcheek-exposing hotpants.


Photo via Flickr

This is not the orthodox advice. I know most people tell you that if you want to avoid violently shitting at 15-minute intervals, you need to wait until you get to a supermarket or a proper restaurant. But hear me out. Street food is cheap as fuck and is almost always made by a nice old person who knows exactly what he's doing and has fed his family with the same recipe for generations. You are going to get the shits at some point no matter what you do. Eating fresh local food prepared right in front of you is going to taste better than paying the equivalent of $15 for a burger in some sports bar set up by an aging Australian dude in exile.



Photo via Flickr

If you're staying in a hostel, you'll most likely be sleeping in a small room with nine other people who fart in their sleep and jerk off into their pillows. Also someone will be trying to have shower sex in your en suite bathroom at least 30 percent of the time. Also people will have washed their clothes but not dried them properly, so your whole room will have that rotting clothes smell. So you're going to want to spend as little time as possible in your tiny bed. If you're really tired, afternoon naps are the way to go: Most people tend to be out and about by then, and housekeeping will have opened the window and aired out the overnight fart cloud.


Photo via Flickr

Look, it wasn't your parents who strapped a huge bag consisting mainly of flavored condoms to themselves and fucked off to South America, was it? It wasn't your parents who spent all the money they'd saved up on water sports and cocaine. It was you, all you. So even if you're fortunate enough to call up the bank of mom and dad and request a $500 loan, you shouldn't.

It's surprisingly easy to get a job when you're away. Most bars can tell you're desperate and will happily pay you cash in hand as it's probably as financially helpful for them as it is for you. Most hostels are always looking for staff and will pay you in free board and food.

If you're really struggling and can't afford to live, then it's time to go home.