Transformative Travel: 11 Helpful Tips for Travelers

Alexandra Williams, MA

How far from home do you have to travel to be changed or transformed to a somewhat (or possibly completely) different person? And can travel really change how you think, observe and respond to the world? I say it can and does.

Kymberly in blue skirt; Alexandra in stripes - Rockin' the Roman Colosseum

Kymberly in blue skirt; Alexandra in stripes
Rockin’ the Roman Colosseum

In 1973, my mom took 4 of her 5 kids (all teens) backpacking through Europe. Before we left California, she explained that we were ambassadors from our culture/ country and that all many people might ever know of California was what they learned from us and television shows. I still remember her rules:

* No badmouthing the U.S., as it was many people’s dream to come here, and it would be disrespectful to their dream
* No gum chewing
* No cursing
* Learn a few words in the language of each country we visited, including “please” and “thank you”
* Smile and be polite
* Try new foods, especially if the chef brings something to you
* No using the words “weird,” “ugly,” or “icky.” Instead say that something is “interesting” or “unique.”
* No littering
* Observe how the locals do things and take our cues from them (i.e., using utensils for pizza)
* Ask questions. People love to share their stories
* Remember that we are guests in someone else’s “house”

Four teens and a mountain goat in the Austrian Alps

Four teens and a mountain goat in the Austrian Alps

This advice came in handy when a chef took a shine to our mom and brought us a full plate of cheeses to try for dessert. Mostly we smiled, then dashed to the bathroom to spit it out, as we were not fans of strong French cheese.

It also was helpful preparation for the many questions we got from Europeans about life in southern California. Because of the influence of U.S. television shows such as Green Acres, Happy Days, and the Mary Tyler Moore Show, lots of people thought we all ate steak for breakfast. They also assumed we were all related to movie stars, or at least had access, especially when they discovered we hailed from a beach town in L.A. County.

Instead of coming across as self-indulgent So. Cal. teens (we weren’t), we were commended on our travel manners and treated especially well, even in Paris, which wasn’t a particularly friendly city back in the 70s! I won’t mention the escapade where my brother somehow turned off the lights in St. Peter’s. Nor will I bring up the rum birthday cake that we were forced to endure in Rome on our 15th birthday, after thinking we had asked for chocolate. We ditched it on the train.

Not only was my mom right, her advice has stuck with me as relevant to many situations. In my profession as a writer, public speaker, and counselor, I’ve been aware of the impact and importance of words since that time. I’ve also travelled to quite a few countries, and learned a few languages besides my own. Then there was that undergrad degree I got in British Medieval Studies. I believe these choices were based mainly on my experiences during that trip.

Travel Wisdom from Mark Twain

Travel Wisdom from Mark Twain

Whenever I feel like I have less than I need, I just remind myself that I’m better off than most people in the world. Travelling is a great way to get “outside myself” and appreciate even more how lucky I am to have been born and raised in the U.S.

Hmmm, maybe I won’t mention the Dutch campground we stayed at that was mostly young people having hallucinogenic drug experiences. Remember, this was the early 70s. We were transfixed by the Woodstock feel to the place, but I imagine our mom couldn’t wait to move on to the next city!

30 cities in 30 days. Camping our way through Europe in 1973

30 cities in 30 days. Camping our way through Europe in 1973



And a special shout-out to our mom – she just took Kymberly and me on a 3 week trip to Thailand!

Tourists in Thailand

Tourists in Thailand








What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your travels, whether abroad or to a dissimilar county?


This post is just one of many Boomer-oriented posts on the topic “Transformative Travel” over at Generation Fabulous. We invite you to visit the other posts in the series.

Photo credit: Fodor’s Pinterest board

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