Tips on improving your travel experiences: How to be a better traveller

It's a thing you never forget: your first real conversation in a foreign language.

The first time a native speaker of another tongue speaks to you, and you speak back, and it continues on for a few minutes, and you understand everything, and that other person understands everything, and you walk away with full comprehension of what just happened and you want to jump in the air and click your heels together and yell out to the world.

I can speak another language. I can converse in another tongue. That's a truly amazing thing.

Unfortunately, I can't actually do that. I can speak enough of another language, in this case Spanish, to have very, very basic conversations that have to revolve around either food, sport, what the time is, or where the toilets are.

But still, I remember that first full conversation I had with a guy in Seville, and the buzz I got from it. And I remember something bigger, too – the way that those few basic words we exchanged changed the idea of travel for me forever.

It made me realise that for so long I'd just been floating above the surface of the world, existing on the tourist's plane, unable to properly interact with the people I was observing and mixing with and attempting to learn from. It made me realise that without language, you can only experience so much of the world.

Sadly, that conversation hasn't spurred me on to a mastery of the Spanish language. I'm still, as they say, "mierda" – but that's what New Year's resolutions are for. I should be better. We should all be better.

See: The 12 signs that prove you're a 'real' traveller

I touched on this briefly at the end of 2015, that there is a way for everyone to get more out of the travel experience. There's a way to, effectively, make yourself a better traveller, and that's to get educated and qualified to do as many things as possible.

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Probably one of the most obvious, and also the most difficult, is learning a language. I would recommend Spanish as a good start. Learn Spanish and suddenly pretty much all of South and Central America will become a vastly different place to travel around, where you can interact freely with locals, where you can understand so much more of what's happening around you.

That goes for any country too, from Japan to Russia to France. Learning a language isn't easy, and it's going to take years and years. But it will be worth it. It will change travel forever.

Even without tackling a foreign language though, there are far more courses you can take, far more qualifications you can gain, to make travel better, to open up the world further.

Fancy something achievable? Then get licensed to do all of the things there are to get licensed to do. Learn how to ride a motorbike. Get experience. Learn how to drive a 4WD, and get experience in that as well.

Now you can roar around country roads in Italy on a Vespa, or explore Argentina on an old Norton, a la Che Guevara. Now you can hit sand dunes in Namibia, or drive through jungles in Costa Rica.

Do your boat license. Learn how to sail. Get some experience behind the wheel, or the tiller, and then you're taking boats out to sail around Croatian islands, or in the French Riviera. You're seeing an entirely different side of the world that's only ever existed in a rich man's fantasyland before. But it's accessible with the right qualifications.

Do a scuba course and get your dive card. It takes two days of intensive training to have access to an entirely different world, one where sharks swim past you just a few metres away, where outrageously coloured nudibranchs float along, where huge schools of tropical fish just glide nearby.

The world almost doubles when you can scuba-dive – you get to see what's below the surface as well as what's above it. That might not sound very enticing in, say, Scotland, but if you're ever in PNG, you need to be able to do this.

There are more things you can do, too. Build up your experience in as many different activities as you can. Get fit enough to be able to hike long distances. Try mountain-biking. Go out on a sea-kayak. Give rock-climbing a go. All of these activities will open up new worlds. They will give you new travel experiences.

If you plan to travel in 2016, then you want to get the absolute most out of it. It all starts with a few foreign words.

How do you think you can get more out of the travel experience? Have you done any of the courses or qualifications above? Did they chance the way you travel?

See also: Why I ditched getting married to travel the world
See also: The best travel discoveries of 2016

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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