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The 11 Commandments of Travel


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Written by: Helen Scarr

Backpackers: take note of these 11 commandments of travel. Failure to heed them will result in all manner of terrible afflictions – mainly becoming a social outcast, which just won’t do.

Thou shalt not partake in traveller one-upmanship

There’s a certain breed of traveller out there (you know who you are) that delights in bragging to everyone they meet on the road how they are, basically, the ultimate traveller. Otherwise known as a ‘story-topper’, everywhere you’ve visited and every experience you’ve had, they can improve upon. These travellers are tiresome and irritate everyone they meet – don’t be one of them.

Thou shalt not indulge in dorm room sex

Be honest, travellers – how many of you are guilty of breaking this commandment? There is nothing worse than waking up to your bunk bed rocking in an all too rhythmic fashion or the sound of some European dude grunting in the throes of ‘passion’. Trying to get back to sleep is basically impossible for everyone in the dorm and you won’t be anyone’s favourite person in the morning. Besides, dorm room sex is generally rushed and inhibited; go down to a park or beach to get your kicks instead.

Thou shall respect local laws and customs

There aren’t many laws and customs in most western countries that interfere with day-to-day life. The one I struggle with most in my homeland, England, is not being able to legally drink in the street (let’s not ponder what that says about me as a person). Much of the world has important rules and traditions that it is extremely rude, or even illegal, to ignore. A lot of these are linked to religion, such as keeping your body covered in places of worship. One of my favourite customs in Laos is that a woman is not permitted to pass any object to a Buddhist monk; you have to put the object down before they can pick it up. Whatever the local dos-and-don’ts, learn what they are and respectfully abide by them.

Thou shalt not switch the light on after hours

Along with getting busy in your bunk, waking everyone in the room up when you come home in the wee hours is not a great way to make friends. Living in shared rooms is one of the best and worst parts of travel. It’s the quickest and easiest way to meet people, but sometimes a decent night’s sleep is hard to come by. If you insist on staying out late, be a dear and use a torch to find your bed rather than switching on the main light. Midnight bag-rustling is also a no-no.

Thou shall educate oneself on history and culture

I despair when I read a news story about a traveller misbehaving in a foreign country. For example, the British tourist who spent five days in prison after urinating on a war memorial in Latvia’s capital, Riga. A huge part of travelling is expanding your knowledge and understanding of other parts of the world. Although this can often be one of the grimmer parts of travel, learning a nation’s history is as important as enjoying the pretty bits. Always have respect and appreciation for a country’s backstory. Don’t be like someone I know who drunkenly vomited on the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Not cool.

Thou shall sample local cuisine

When I was travelling through Thailand a couple of years ago I met an English girl who would eat nothing but spring rolls. She was afraid to try any other traditional Thai food whatsoever in case she ended up with food poisoning. Ironically, and unsurprisingly, her poor diet led to her getting ill anyway. Sampling local cuisine can be one of the best parts of the travel experience. It’s often cheaper than western dishes, and the chefs are experts at cooking their own national foods, of course. The same goes for local booze – it’s the cheapest available and often designed to complement the food on offer. If that English girl had plumped for a red curry and bottle of Chang beer instead, all would have been fine.

Thou shalt not be glued to thy smartphone

Your friends and family back home want to receive travel updates every day and see pictures of you on the beach in December, right? Um, no. They don’t really care and you’ll only cause friction by bragging to everyone back home what a great time you’re having on a daily basis. Occasional social media posts are fine and let people know you’re alive, but you cannot underestimate the power of switching off technology, enjoying the moment and not thinking about how you will share it on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram later.

Thou shall share tips with other travellers

Forget the guidebook. Other travellers are your best source of knowledge on the road, particularly if they’ve just been where you’re about to head. Where to sleep, where to eat, what to do – they have the most up to date information available – including all the secret spots you never knew existed. So return the favour and share your tips, too. It’s all part of improving the travel experience for everyone.

Thou shalt not travel without insurance

I’ve come across many, many travellers who proclaim travel insurance to be a waste of money. These people have obviously never been on a Pacific island with an excruciatingly painful ear infection and not enough cash to pay for a doctor. For the peace of mind alone, travel insurance is a no-brainer. Your health is the one most important thing in your life – without it, you’re screwed. Spending a couple of hundred quid on an insurance plan which means you can access fast and reliable healthcare as and when you need it will always be worth it. Besides, life is unpredictable and if you need to fly home immediately for whatever reason, most policies will cover the cost of your travel.

Thou shall leave judgement at home

If there’s one commandment you should always follow while you are travelling, it’s to keep an open mind. About every place you visit, everyone you meet and every potential experience. If you can’t hold back your judgement you’ve sort of missed the point of travel entirely. You should be broadening your mind, not reverting to stereotypical viewpoints and behaviour. Give everyone and everything a chance. You’ll have a much better time, trust me.

Thou shalt not get caught breaking any of the above

If you absolutely must break any – or all – of the above, do your utmost not to get caught.

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