6 ways to tell if you’re a ‘Jon Smith’ traveller (and why you shouldn’t be)

I was just listening to Colours of the Wind from Disney’s grossly historically inaccurate ‘Pocahontas’. Yes, it’s saved in my iTunes under ‘songs that make my heart soar’, what of it?

As I listened to Pocohontas scoff at Jon Smith and his cocky, know-all swagger on repeat, I realised this song actually holds an incredible amount of wisdom for world travellers today. Oh yes, Disney is about to teach you another life lesson:

1.“You think I’m an ignorant savage, And you’ve been so many places, I guess it must be so”

You’ve counted up all the countries you’ve been too and you probably tell everyone before you’ve even said hello. Then after you DO remember your pleasantries every sentence begins with “When I was in…”.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic that you’re seeing the world and discovering new ways of living. Please do tell me ALL your stories because I lap that stuff up. But just a quick newsflash: Everyone else has seen things/met people/formed opinions too. Don’t stop sharing your discoveries, just take a breath every now and then to listen to other people’s as well.

2.“But still I cannot see, If the savage one is me, How can there be so much that you don’t know?”

You’ve been to so many fascinating places, yet the only travel tales you have to tell are about how many drugs you took and how many pretty people let you hit that. Again, all nice things, all things, and a good party can definitely be part of the travel experience. But REALLY? That’s all you have to say? You just told me the same story with 20 different backdrops.

How can there be so much that you didn’t see?

3.“You think you own whatever land you land on, The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim”

This to me screams of the whole ‘Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but photographs.” thing. It truly astounds me how many times I’ve walked/hiked/swum out somewhere beautiful only to find rubbish and graffiti everywhere.

You’re just visiting, the locals have to live there long after you’re gone. Don’t be a grub, resist the urge to write your name where noone else cares to see it and put that ‘keepsake’ down. That’s what those crappy $1 keychains in your hostel lobby are for (or see point 5).

4. “You think the only people who are people, Are the people who look and think like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, You’ll learn things you never knew, you never knew”

The other lessons might stop you from being slightly annoying, but this one will save you from being a complete arsehole. I’ve had the distinct displeasure of travelling Eastern Europe with a man who decided he was better than everyone who came from these countries.

He would insult them loudly in English (because he was also too ignorant to realise most people at least had basic English skills), he’d strut through the streets and talk down to the locals and he’d laugh at or insult every difference in our ways of living. Meanwhile I did my best to look like I didn’t know him.

Don’t be that person. That person is the worst. Strangers will know a whole lot that you don’t, listen to them, share with them. No one is better, everyone is different, that’s kind of the whole point.

5. “Come roll in all the riches all around you, And for once, never wonder what they’re worth”

I should first make it clear that when I head to New York for the first time later this year, you had better believe I am buying a pair of over-priced heels that I can’t afford and will probably never wear. And I’m going to be very happy about it. But I’d be very worried for myself if shopping was my only plan.

It’s far too easy to get caught up in buying souvenirs; for yourself, for family, for friends. But be honest, how many of those keepsakes do you or your family and friends still treasure today? I’m willing to bet a lot of it has ended up in the bin.

Earlier this year, I intentionally restricted myself from buying random crap on a trip to South Africa and Vietnam and I discovered two wonderful things:

  • All those little $2 dollar items that seem like nothing at the time really add up, I was so surprised about how much further my money was stretching (hello fanciest dining experience of my life).
  • When I did buy something, it was meaningful. I have a ring in the shape of Africa that I never take off, I buy and sign a picture book from every country I go to for my nephew (side-note: books are NEVER a waste of money), and my chef-inclined family members received local spices to whip up into family dinners. That’s about it.

6. “The rainstorm and the river are my brothers, The heron and the otter are my friends. And we are all connected to each other, In a circle, in a hoop that never ends”

This one I love, and is essentially the basis for the Maya Angelou quote I drew my blog name from:

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.

You have no idea how much you will have in common with the people you come across on your travels, if only you open up enough to meet them.


2 thoughts on “6 ways to tell if you’re a ‘Jon Smith’ traveller (and why you shouldn’t be)

  1. Jesper, The Biveros Effect Reply

    Thank you for a nice list. You are really making some good points. Travelling really is at its best when you do experience the country, learn about it and its people and do understand thier view of the world. Then it is really enriching.

    And well, as you say. You really need to respect the country you are visiting. People might understand your English while I’m Slovakia or your Swedish while in the Gambia. Not to mention the respect to the environment to save the place for future travellers 🙂

    / Jesper, The Biveros Effect

    1. allpeoplelaugh Reply

      Thanks Jesper, glad you agree with me. I really feel that no matter how you prefer to travel (luxury/backpacking/all planned/wing it), the only way you can get it wrong is to be ignorant.

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