On Being A Novice Traveler

According to the Dreyfus model, there are five stages to skill acquisition. Beginning as a novice, a person proceeds through the stages of competence, proficiency, expertise, and finally mastery as experience hones and sharpens both skill and instinct. In the context of professional skills, there are often ballpark ranges as to when a person might reasonably expect to proceed from stage to stage. But what about travel? When is it reasonable to expect to move from novice traveler to competent traveler? How will I know when I get there? 

I have a sneaking suspicion that some people are born with an innate travel instinct, a natural ability to pack just the right clothing for every possible weather condition while still managing to blend stylishly in with local fashion and fit it all in a minuscule carry-on that allows them to sashay through busy airports looking fresh and unencumbered. I aspire to be that person. Instead, I have found myself on more than one occasion in a country not my own with six pairs of pants, but only one shirt. And no underpants. Which is decidedly uncool. And before you begin questioning my organizational skills, they are not the issue here. I, the fanatical list-maker, often begin days in advance to create a packing list. I meticulously think through every possibility, plan my laundry schedule accordingly, and neatly lay everything out on my bed, ready to place each item carefully in said minuscule carry-on.

And then something happens.

I don't know. I don't know.

I go into some bizarre frenzy where I second-guess my list, and then remove and replace and add items in an utterly unscrupulous and ad hoc manner. The result of this ritual list slaughter being that I arrive at my destination a sweaty rumpled mess from battling my not-at-all-miniscule luggage only to find…you guessed it, no underpants. I'm pretty sure that reaching the "competent traveler" stage requires an ability to show up with undergarments. Dang it.

Most of my other novice traits are less, ahem, uncomfortable and more along the lines of simply "rookie." Relying too heavily on sites like Trip Advisor and ending up in a restaurant in India jam-packed with other westerners. Booking a plane ticket through a site like Orbitz  or Expedia and paying more than I needed to. Thinking I could buy water on an overnight train and arriving at my destination the next day parched and desperate. 

But with every trip, I enjoy the hiccups a little more. With each rookie mistake that ends up simply not being that big a deal (it turns out that you can buy undies just about anywhere in the world, actually!), my perspective opens wider. By reaching out to Those Of The Tiny Carry-ons I learn about websites like SkyScanner, Kayak, and Momondo along with how to utilize credit card reward points and hopefully, eventually, perhaps how to master the art of packing. Undies and all.


Some of my favorite travel geniuses and websites and inspirations to follow are Chris Guillebeau, "Nomadic Matt," Vagabondish, Matt McDonald {and the whole gang he runs with}, along with my very favorite travel magazine, Afar.

How about you guys? Help me conquer the next stage of the traveler skill acquisition model! Share your resources, I'd love to hear what works for you!