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12 Personal Qualities That Make a Good Traveler

From patience to adaptability.

Traveling has many advantages, but it’s not without its drawbacks. Travelers have to contend with canceled flights or missed connections, unpredictable weather, illness, rude travelers, scammers, and even scary situations far from home.

In the last 20 years of jet setting to 40 countries on six continents, I’ve had my share of amazing moments and misadventures, be it missing the northern lights on multiple trips to the subarctic, getting norovirus midway through a much-anticipated beach vacation, or hiking up mountains in Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands to miss the spectacular views due to poor weather. But these trips still remain among my most memorable.

Nothing is guaranteed–in nature and in life–so those who yearn to witness the wonders of the world and get immersed in cultures possess inherent qualities and develop skills over time that help them make the best of any situation. In this article, I draw from my own experiences and those of others to share what makes good travelers. While no single person has all of these attributes, it helps to develop many of them for a smoother journey.

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After investing money and time in planning the perfect trip, we want everything to go perfectly. However, all manner of things could go sideways: lost/delayed luggage, missed cruise ports, or finding out you booked the wrong hotel upon arrival. Being adaptable and willing to pivot when things go awry and having a good attitude can make all the difference.

“Nothing about travel is predictable, and if you expect it to be, you will always be disappointed. Finding a silver lining is important,” says Becca Blond, a travel writer who takes two to three monthly trips.

On a week-long trip to the Maldives a few years ago, Blond had continuous rain with just half a day of sunshine. At first, she was upset, which is a normal reaction, but after grieving over the loss of a sunny vacation, she realized the Maldives are a special place, rain or shine. “It is warm rain and warm weather, and the water was warm enough to swim in the rain. None of the sharks and rays and turtles and fish minded the rain, so I just spent a lot of time underwater and had a great adventure,” she recalls.

“The same attitude is important when it comes to flights being delayed and luggage being lost. It happens. But you will eventually reach your destination,” she notes.

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In addition to a good attitude, it helps to be prepared with things that are out of your control. Roni Weiss, Executive Director of Travel Unity, who has been to more than 70 countries, says after going through a terrible occurrence (or reading about one), you can ensure you bring the things you need in order to lower stress.

“Just a few weeks ago, I was stuck on the tarmac waiting for takeoff,” recalls Weiss. “I had my own food and water, so I wasn’t beholden to the flight attendants. I felt gratitude that the bathrooms were working and the temperature wasn’t out of whack. All in all, there was nothing I could do, and I had everything I needed for the time, so I just rode it out.”

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As a New Yorker, patience is not one of my virtues; it’s something I’ve had to practice. I still vividly remember an exchange that happened nearly 20 years ago on the island of Zanzibar, where I expected food at a restaurant to arrive quickly so I could make a henna appointment on the beach. “We are on island time here,” reminded the waiter.

Nabila Ismail, Founder of The Dose of Travel Club for solo travelers and a fellow New Yorker says she’s so used to the fast life, quick service, and rapid transactions that her patience has been tested as a traveler. But she’s gotten better at it.

“Going out to eat can take hours depending where I am, and, oftentimes, I have to flag down my waiter for the bill,” says Ismail. “I’ve now learned to enjoy my meals, eat slowly, and not rush.”

When it comes to public transportation on travel days, Ismail always lowers her expectations: “You can’t expect things to operate or run like you’re used to, which is why travel is so special because you’re always growing and learning.”

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Being Proactive Through Planning and Research

Travel can be unpredictable. That’s not to say you can’t plan ahead to ensure an easier trip. Before getting on that train or plane, it will help to do research to find good deals and book the hotel(s), rent a car if needed, and get an international phone plan.

Doing research ahead of time also helps make sure that your trip is as safe for you as possible. Cheyenne Rowell, an entrepreneur and mom of four from Arizona, says she researches places before visiting because of her mixed-race family.

“Even some areas that are considered safe for POC are still not very welcoming to mixed-race couples and families,” she says, which is why she does a Google search to see if anything stands out that could be a red flag, such as recent racial tension in the local news. “We also like to check out websites like Travel Noire and ABC Travel Greenbook to see if they list anything we should know about a location.”

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Curiosity, Respect, and Open-Mindedness

Those who enjoy travel are inherently inquisitive, wanting to learn about different destinations, meet new people, and taste their foods. It’s important to be curious but conscious when encountering cultures that are not your own, says Ruksana Hussain, a communications consultant based in California.

“There is a fine line between learning about another culture and questioning local customs. Ask about their ways of life, but don’t comment negatively on why they shouldn’t be living that way,” she suggests.

On a group trip to Japan, she witnessed some guests vocally expressing their disgust of the practice of consuming an unusual/exotic meat dish that those in that village consider a delicacy. As guests, we often encounter situations where generous hosts offer us food. However, being respectful while politely excusing yourself if the circumstance is not for you prevent misunderstandings and awkward situations.

For open-minded folks, travel opens us up to new activities and adventures. When journalist Iona Brannon visited the birthplace of Zorb in Rotorua, New Zealand, last spring, she didn’t think she would actually enjoy Zorbing (the act of rolling down a hill inside an inflatable orb). But she committed to trying it at least once and was glad she did.

“My curiosity was rewarded with an epic experience that had me shrieking with joy like a child,” says Brannon.

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Being Efficient and Organized

Whether traveling with children or solo, those who fly often have their packing routine down to a science. I only travel with a carry-on, regardless of the length of the trip. I use packing cubes to organize my items, have liquids all in one bag, and my electronics easily accessible in the event I need to grab them for the security line. Having CLEAR or TSA Precheck significantly cuts down on waiting time, and Global Entry allows me to seamlessly reenter the country from an international destination.

As for traveling with kids, Rowell says she lets them help her pack their suitcases so everyone is on the same page.

“They were all also responsible for their own luggage as soon as they could carry it, so my husband and I could have a hand free for the younger kids or to hold other things,” says Rowell.


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Sense of Direction

I have driven on the slippery roads of Iceland in the winter, navigated the winding dirt paths of Tuscany, and braved the hills of Santorini in a beat-up two-seater car with questionable breaks with my husband. A sense of direction (and the ability to follow Google Maps) made sure we made it to our destinations without too many detours. When GPS was unreachable or inaccurate, I was always open to approaching strangers for directions. While I excel at navigating and getting directions, my husband has always been adept at understanding transportation systems, whether it be the London Tube, the trams in Amsterdam, or the Swiss Rail network.

Traveling solo means handling everything on your own, from navigating metro systems, public transport, and directions overall, says Ismail. “I also like to use it as an opportunity to talk to people. When Google Maps fails me, or there’s a hard-to-find place, I use it as an opportunity to ask someone and maybe make a friend.”


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Good Manners

Being a decent traveler means treating those we encounter with kindness and empathy. I still remember the cringeworthy moment when a male photographer on a boat trip to the Ang Thong National Marine Park in Thailand snapped at our guide because she enthusiastically spoke about the park. Another time, a bikini-clad American tourist barged into the hotel lobby in the Caribbean to scream at the receptionist for a mishap while the security guard urged her to cover herself. Although I tried to be extra friendly to the individuals at the receiving end of this awful behavior afterward, they deserved better.

“People aren’t robots! Even if someone is smiling at you, it doesn’t mean that they weren’t just yelled at by someone else. Be the kind one because not everyone else is,” recommends Weiss.

Good travelers always make sure they put in the effort to respect the residents, and one way of doing this is by learning a few words and sentences in their language. “When you learn how to say hello, goodbye, and thank you in the native language, it shows that you care enough about them to make an effort,” says Weiss. “I’ve yet to go anywhere in the world where someone doesn’t appreciate that you tried.”

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Exercising Caution and Being Careful

No matter where you are in the world, it is always best to be cautious about yourself and your belongings. I have always traveled with copies of my passport and IDs, kept money in different bags (in case I lose one), and secured valuables in the hotel safe or in my locked carry-on. When her kids were young, Rowell always had a copy of their IDs and their contact info on them whenever they traveled to big cities. “We also always had rules about always holding hands, my belt loop, or the stroller when walking. And, of course, not to walk away or stop and talk to other people without my approval.”

In addition to these safety precautions, situational awareness, especially when going into a new environment, is key for a safer trip. When Brannon travels, she observes social norms such as what people are wearing, if they are walking with their phones out, and how men and women interact to understand what’s normal and pick up on any anomalies. “This was something I wish I had known in my early backpacking years when I relaxed my guard one night in Berlin and had my phone stolen. Had I been more observant, I would have noticed that most locals didn’t have their phones laying out.”

Savvy travelers also follow their instincts to avoid being taken advantage of. For Julekha Dash, a Maryland-based lifestyle writer who has been to 30 countries, trusting her feelings saved her from getting robbed at an airport in South America on vacation with her husband. When their hotel’s transportation didn’t arrive, they decided to take a taxi. However, when a man without a badge began to lead them away from the official taxi cab line, she backed away. “My gut just told me this wasn’t a safe person, and I had read about drivers robbing tourists in my guidebook, so I took my luggage back from him and told him in my limited Spanish that we weren’t going with him.”

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Independence/Decision-Making Skills

Those who excel at traveling are inherently self-sufficient, with the capacity to make decisions on their own (sometimes on their feet) and do things for themselves. Sure, it’s a different world for luxury travelers who have butlers and personal attendants helping with their every move, but the majority of travelers have to be autonomous, especially when traveling solo.

Ismail says traveling can change indecisiveness. She caught Dengue Fever in Bali when traveling alone. “I had to be quick to find a clinic, pharmacy, and, eventually, a hospital that could admit me and had an English-speaking doctor,” she shares about her harrowing episode.

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Willingness to Compromise

Solo travel has many positives, but sharing trips with partners or friends is also equally rewarding. It will make for a simpler affair for everyone involved when we are willing to compromise. On a trip to South Dakota to celebrate a friend’s milestone birthday, my husband and I were excited about visiting Badlands National Park and spent a lot of time planning and organizing the road trip.

However, the other members of our party didn’t want to day trip it from Mount Rushmore where we stayed at a glamping spot (which was three hours round-trip), so we had to pivot. We were disappointed at first, but not subjecting the others to something only we wanted to do was the right thing to do. We all spent the day leisurely exploring a small town and enjoying lunch at a local watering hole before heading back to camp for a relaxing evening sitting by the campfire.

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Remaining Calm

I once had the unfortunate instance of witnessing a fellow passenger screaming at the airport because she couldn’t easily locate her passport before boarding (which she eventually did). The thought of losing a passport is a distressing moment for anyone, but perhaps a calmer individual would’ve handled it differently.

A few years ago, Rowell was on a trip to Thailand, where she was stung by a potentially lethal jellyfish on a boat tour. She overheard her guide telling her spouse that they only had two hours to save her life. They were at least four hours away from the nearest hospital. So, she accepted that she might as well die in paradise rather than try to get help and asked the tour guide to keep going.

“I didn’t want to ruin the whole experience if I didn’t have to, and turning around and heading to the hospital just in case would have ruined everyone’s day.”

When the two-hour timer went off, and she was still breathing, she cried for the first time since the ordeal.


“We went canoeing in the caves, followed by the most delicious lunch I have ever had. I am grateful that I still got to have an amazing experience.”

ewturtle99 April 5, 2024

Most of these tips were really useful. However, it is hard to take the article seriously when the last anecdote is a person worrying they are going to ruin people's vacation day because they need serious medical attention for a potentially fatal issue. "No it's fine. I might die, but I don't want to ruin these strangers' good time just because of a little thing like preventing my untimely demise." Trust me - it would be much more of a ruined day (for everyone) should someone drop dead. I'd always want a fellow traveler to seek medical attention if needed, regardless of it impacting a tour I was on (and that's part of the adventure of travel anyways - you never know when conditions are going to change!). I'm glad to hear they were okay, but I hope in the future they feel supported to seek the medical attention they need regardless of what tour they're on.