There Is No “Right Way to Travel”

Young, fresh, and dressed exactly the way I thought I should be – Thailand, April 2015

Before I went backpacking, I was convinced that there was a right way to travel. 

In preparation for my first trip to Asia, I stuffed my backpack full of tie-dye ‘hippy pants’ and long necklaces, determined to blend in with my fellow travellers. I got my hair braided on Khao San Road, turned my nose up at everybody I saw eating McDonald’s, and rolled my eyes when I saw girls in bodycon dresses stumbling out of bars.

I was the typical traveller snob. 

I thought that because wanted to travel for a long time, it meant that I knew more than all of the toned, tanned Swedish girls with their gel nails and eyelash extensions.

But I didn’t. 

Wearing an elephant shirt that I would NEVER WEAR IN REAL LIFE – Bali, September 2015

See, that’s the thing about long-term travel: you can try your hardest to be the traveller who you think you’re supposed to be, but sooner or later, the real you will catch up and you’ll feel like a fraud.

You might yearn to be that old backpacker, with the leathery skin, dreadlocks and endless stories, but don’t force it. 

You don’t have to be a vegan just because you think that makes you a more authentic backpacker. You don’t have to wear tie-dye-everything because you think that you’ll seem more legit.

The moment I realised I could never be a proper backpacker – Koh Chang, January 2016

If you want to wear a tight dress and a face full of makeup, then damn well do it!

When I worked on Koh Rong, a small island of Cambodia, people expressed shock when I dressed up at night. If I wore red lipstick, or a pretty skirt, people would raise their eyebrows and comment on how someone’s dressed up!

I knew it wasn’t malicious, and that they were just expressing surprise because it wasn’t the done thing to wear makeup on Koh Rong, but rather than let it make me feel self-conscious, I just didn’t care.

like wearing makeup and tight-fitting clothes. If I’m going out to a party, I could never go bare-faced in a baggy t-shirt and some hippy pants.

Fair play to those that can, but it just isn’t me. 

The same goes for food. 

Pie & mash. You can take the girl out of the North…Hanoi, Vietnam, June 2016

When I first arrived in Asia in April 2015, I was determined to try all the Asian foods that there were. I would never have dreamed of eating Western foods, especially chain restaurants!

But after 6 months, or 12 months, or 18 months of living in a place, sometimes you want to eat something other than rice for every single meal. Sometimes you want a big fat pizza, or a steak, or whatever. 

I now know that even locals eat Western foods. Just as, in the UK, we may order a Chinese or Indian takeaway, locals in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam will happily tuck into delights from all around the world!

There is nothing wrong with being yourself. 

Adding a touch of glam with acrylic nails – Koh Chang, January 2016

If you don’t like Thai food, don’t eat it! Of course, you should aim to try everything once, but if it’s just not your thing, don’t pretend to like it just because you’re scared of being judged by other travellers.

If you don’t want to wake up at 4am to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat (because believe it or not, it will still be there at midday), then don’t do it! 

If you want to spend a day in bed catching up on all your favourite TV shows and eating Domino’s pizza, then be my guest! 

Bodycon & glitter – the only way! Koh Rong, February 2016

There is no right way to travel, and there certainly isn’t a wrong way to travel. 

Travel is what you make it, and if you spend your whole trip trying to be someone you’re not, then – spoiler alertyou’re not going to like what you find!

Most people soon come to realise that it doesn’t make you any less of a traveller if you still want to shop in H&M or eat Burger King once in a while, and those are the people that are worth being friends with!

What do you think? Do you think that there is a ‘right way’ to travel, or do you agree with me? Let me know in the comments below!

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Fancy-dress parties may not be spiritual but they sure are fun! Pai, Thailand, May 2015


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17 Comments

  1. Totally related to this article. I have tried to be, “a real traveler”, whatever that is. But I just ended up feeling lost and empty and just enjoying my travels like I could. Thanks for being so open and honest. 🙂

    1. I know, it’s so exhausting trying to be the person you think you “should” be when you travel! Thanks for reading and I’m glad you liked it 🙂

  2. I love this! I went to Asia last year and am not a fan of Asian food, like at all, but I still tried everything and found out I LOVE dumplings. I also ate a lot of pasta, pizza, and the occasional McDonalds. Someone told me I was being ridiculous for not eating the local food. I was like well, I don’t care. I want it. It can definitely get annoying if people tell you whatever you’re doing isn’t “right” or it can feel a little weird when you see everyone doing something you’re not. But I guess just do you.

    1. Exactly! You tried it, and realised you didn’t like it – nothing wrong with that! Thanks for reading 🙂

  3. The Angkor Wat really struck a nerve for me. I was there in the first week of Jan this year. After an excruciating day of walking about in the heat my hubby and I were exhausted. So we decided to sleep in on day 2. That meant that we wouldn’t see the sunrise. Fair enough… We had day 3. Long story short we never saw the sun rise but we saw plenty of sun. Felt it rather! We felt guilty for days that we were lazy. Now its just water on a ducks back!

    1. Yeah, you can’t feel guilty for allowing yourself a lie in once in a while! Plus, if you’d forced yourself to wake up early when you really needed the sleep, you wouldn’t have enjoyed yourself, and Angkor is impressive at all times of day 🙂

  4. Truth for sure. Everyone is different, and different approaches work for different people.

    I do think there’s a “wrong” way to travel, though. I do occasionally meet people that seem utterly repulsed by local life, who hang out in chic foreigner enclaves with only foreigners eating only Western food, complaining when locals don’t speak their language or cook their favorite foreign food properly, and generally not actually trying to engage with the country at all. I’m under the assumption that traveling to a new country means you need to actually, you know, see and respect the country 😛 But, perhaps that’s just me being pretentious.

    1. You have a good point there 🙂 I was more talking about different types of backpackers, but it’s definitely true that there are people who travel thousands of miles just to do all of the things you mentioned. I’m all for people spending their time and money how they like, and if they want to stay in a fancy hotel and eat Western food then they’re entitled to do that, but they definitely should respect the country that they’re in, and that means not complaining when the locals don’t speak your language!

  5. Hey Dani, this is a surprise! 😉
    We met in Kotor, around a year ans a half ago.
    Well, I don’t know what to say about how things are in Italy right now. I just hope we all come out of the pandemic ok and travel can become a part of our lives again.
    I am astonished and horrified by this. I did not know things like this can happen. So, Covid 19 on list of future travel vaccine renewals then, I suppose.

    Yeah, indeed, there is no right way to travel. I fail completely when I try to explain this to those who say I am doing it the wrong way. I mean, I have been travelling for decades on and off. Surely I know what I am doing at this stage! 😉 Now, I just want to know how these types of converations can be cut short or steered in a different direction without having the situation of that person who now doesn’t really like you because you don’t do it the way they do, or even worse wants to argue and you have to see them every day while you are in the same hostel.
    Maybe you can make a blog with tips to help out with this. 🙂
    I think, we all have the same complaints about the more negative types of backpackers though, so maybe we should just try to tolerate them or whatever uses up the least amount of our time and energy.

    1. Now, a super nosey question!
      Didn’t want to put this with the other comment in case you don’t want to either answer or publish it: Does blogging online earn much money? And, How did you manage to afford the apartment in Italy?
      Told you it was going to be nosey! Just ignore it if you want. 🙂

      1. Don’t worry at all, I don’t mind answering! For me personally, my blog doesn’t earn a lot of money. You can only monetise when you get 10,000 readers a month (with the platform that I use), and although I hit 40,000 back in October, and I barely make a dime from it. Especially now with the coronavirus, travel bloggers are seeing traffic plummet. I’ve gone from 1000 visitors a day to 200. So nobody is making money in the world of travel blogging at the moment.
        My money maker is my job as a freelance writer and digital content creator. That is what pays the bills 🙂

    2. Hi, small world hey! Yes, it’s a terrible time for everyone, isn’t it. I know – some people just can’t accept that not everybody is the same and that what works for one may not necessarily work for another! Dealing with those people is definitely interesting…it may be a post for the future, you’re right haha. But ultimately yes, I think refusing to give them a minute of our time is probably the best solution!

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