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Be a Big Man Travel Tip

SOSUA, Dominican Republic- The potential for being rude is not worth the cost of getting sick, cheated, raped, or robbed. I have no fear of offending someone when traveling if my well being could potentially be in the balance. Act like a big man when traveling, even if you are a small woman.

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SOSUA, Dominican Republic- The potential for being rude is not worth the cost of getting sick, cheated, raped, or robbed. I have no fear of offending someone when traveling if my well being could potentially be in the balance.

Act like a big man when traveling, even if you are a small woman.

A traveler learns this early on: if you don’t sometimes step on other people’s toes, you will be shoved to the back of the line. The human species is full of animals, being passive and polite will only leave you as gaunt and weak as a runt piglet.

Act big when traveling

The more direct you speak and act, the better chance you are going to have of being respected; the more you are respected, the easier time you are going to have traveling. Respect is often determined in a single moment.

I once watched my friend Stubbs elbow a Chinese guy right in the gut when he caught him trying to get in front of us at a train station in Guangzhou. This was my first day in China in the beginning of 2005, Stubbs was already a salty China traveler by this time. I thought the guy that he elbowed was going to slug him and we would all be brawling in the station. But he didn’t.

Rather, he respected Stubbs and waited patiently in line behind us.

The man thought that because we were foreigners he did not need to show us respect. This notion is usually correct, most foreigners allow themselves to be walked upon in the Middle Kingdom. This man figured that he could push himself into line in front of us and demonstrate that he was, in fact, top dog. It was not only a move to save himself time, but a power play. He got elbowed in the gut and sent to the rear of the line. He lost.

From this day forth I began throwing elbows in more ways than one, and demanded to be respected in China. In the years that I have in that country the biggest problem that I ever had was a lady once overcharged me a few dozen cents for two oranges in a tourist town.

In much of the world respect is not automatically given, rather, it must be earned. There seems to be an illusion that is often held from people who come from polite cultures that the people of other countries should treat them with the same respect that people do in their own home. This is a myth, respect must be demanded. Most of the world knows a weakling, and a weakling is often sent to the back of the line, while a person who acts like a big man is often treated as such.

It is not difficult to be respected, it only requires no fear when it comes to elbowing a man in the gut when he tries to step on your toes.


Being polite is not worth getting sick over

I check out the restaurants that I wish to eat in. I don’t just look at the price but also the condition of the kitchen. Sometimes before ordering a meal in a new restaurant I will walk into the kitchen and say hello. Just to get a quick impression of the how the food is prepared. Kitchens are often the dirtiest rooms in the world, I know this. So I momentarily transform myself into  some kind of health inspection sleuth and walk straight to the kitchen to meet the cook.

Doing something odd is much less of a worry to me than getting sick.

I walked into a small grocery store a couple of days ago in Sosua in the Dominican Republic. I wanted to buy some loaves of bread, which were sitting on a shelf in a large garbage bag. A stock boy came up to take the bread out of the bag for me, his hands were dirty, and I got a feeling in my gut that I did not want him touching my food.

The guy reached into the bread bag and began taking a loaf out for me, but I waved him off, removed the bag from his hand, and took my own bread for myself. I chose the hygiene of my food over potentially offending a person or clogging the gears of the store’s machinery.

The normal thing probably would have been to just let him handle my bread — this is the standard for the store — but I would not have felt right about the purchase. A little chip on my shoulder would have nagged me:

I would have felt impeded upon, weak, like a small man who let a steam roller flatten him. So I spoke up and grabbed my own bread. It was not a problem.


On bold travel

One of the boldest travelers that I ever had the privilege to travel with is named Loren Everly. He is a Hawaiian who has been traveling for around a decade. He has been to over 100 countries.

This guy is a very polite, courteous, and is a soft spoken specimen of humanity, but he demands respect on the traveler road. We traveled down from Mongolia to China together and then proceeded to hitchhike across the country.

While standing in a line waiting to be stamped out of Mongolia, Loren looked up ahead of us and saw a lot of people waiting and not many getting through immigration. He also saw a few overzealous Mongolians or Chinese fight their way up the front and walk through ahead of everyone. This was not a pushy scene, most people were waiting politely, but Loren was not going to wait in this line all day — we needed to catch a ride out of the Gobi or we feared we would be in for a cold night of sleep.

So Loren fended for his own health and comfort, and lead the way to the head of the line. We ignored the protests of the people who were now in line behind us, got through immigration in a matter of moments, hitched a ride, and were on our way into the heart of China.

Loren Everly is a big man.

The potential for being rude is not worth the cost of getting sick, cheated, raped, disrespected, or robbed.

Loren seems to know this well.

Though I have observed many travelers who don’t. It is my impression that most foreigners traveling abroad — particularly younger ones — often tip toe through the social rounds of the countries they travel to. They seem to walk a tight rope around a culture, never wanting to stand with two feet on the ground for fear of offending someone. They seem to bow down to some perverted ideal of “interculturalism” or some other sort of traveler mysticism. Many seem guilty that other people in the world are poorer than they are, and seemingly try to sacrifice themselves in the name of justice. They allow themselves to be taken advantage of. Or maybe this is just the justification for a weak will.

These travelers get bulldozed, sick, cheated, raped, and robbed.

I will admit that, in the moment, it often seems easier to give into a stranger’s advance, to give someone the benefit of a fool’s doubt, to follow a man down an abandon ally because he is insistent that he is your friend.

I know that it seems far easier to allow that Chinese man to step in line in front of you, to let a creep put his arm around your shoulder, or to pay a taxi driver more than the agreed upon price to avoid a terse situation. But these circumstances can escalate, one instance of showing a weak will can easily lead to another, one bad circumstance can lead to worse one, and it is my impression that it is always better to stop the cycle before it begins:

Knock a person back on their heals before they can step on your toes.

It is my impression that I should never be afraid to be rude if my well being could possibly be put in jeopardy. I know that I do not need to shake a stranger’s hand, that I do not need to go into someone’s shop, that I do not need to allow a “new friend” to touch me, that I do not have to listen to someone just because they tell me to do something, that I do not need to follow that pretty girl with the big tits into a bad area of town.

I owe each person in this world the same respect that I show to people in my hometown. I would not let a stranger railroad me in my paternal home, so I am not going to willingly let this happen abroad.

This is the number 1 travel tip that I can share:

The moment that you feel you are not in control of yourself is the moment that you need to assert yourself. Get out of the situation, leave, scram — you have just as much of a right to assert yourself over your circumstance as anybody else. The moment you find yourself being pushed into something, the moment you feel yourself riding an uncontrollable wave, is the moment you need to yell “F’ck off!” and walk away.

I remind myself of this daily.

Emotionally bookmark what it feels to be ripped off, railroaded, cheated, scammed, or made into a small man. Every traveler knows what this feels like, we all have experienced it — we all, invariably still experience it from time to time. Remember what it feels like to be disrespected when traveling, remember how you felt in the moments leading up to the blow, and then recognize this feeling to the next time you are in a similar circumstance, and take a better course of action.

Humans seem to remember feelings, chemical realeases, emotions better than memories. If something does not feel right, it probably isn’t. The body remembers adverse situations better than the mind — trust your feet and gut before your head. Do not reason your way out of fear, do not reason your way into fear. Bookmark what it feels like to be trampled upon and avoid all other circumstances that feel like this.

I am unsure if this makes sense to anyone, but this is my strategy. Maybe it will work for you, too.

My normal disposition is not that of a fighter, I’ve had to learn how to become a big man. I am not big, I stand around 5′ 8,” but when I am dealing with travel circumstances I try to act 7″ tall.

When I am with friends I am polite and talk a little mumbly, maybe I am quiet, but when out buying something, negotiating a price, being bothered by someone in the street, fighting with a taxi driver, I am in their face, decisive, and vehement to get what I want.  Acting like this is a learned travel skill.

I know that I feel much worse about myself if I allow my toes to be stepped on than I do if I show a touch of needless assertion. I believe that there is some leeway between being passive and being aggressive that I try to find when traveling — perhaps I can simply call it being up front.

It is my impression that being upfront and direct has probably saved me lots of hassles. Wishy washy statements like “maybe” or “maybe later” or “I don’t know” or “I am not sure” do not travel well.

Good words to know in all languages:




Go Away

Don’t touch me

I don’t want

By being literal and direct when speaking I have found that I can often sidestep potentially compromising circumstances. I do not sidestep all problems, I am not 100% efficient all the time, I know that I sometimes falter, and once in the while will send a mixed message from a gut full of nerves, but this is the guide that I try to follow.

Speak direct, sharp, to the point, honest.

Be a big man.

The potential for being rude is not worth the cost of getting sick, cheated, raped, or robbed.

A traveler also has the benefit that they will usually not be remembered, and their own memories are the only things that follow them.

Travel Tips — Travel Safe Tips


Filed under: Adventure, Travel Lifestyle, Travel Safe, Travel Tips

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

10 comments… add one

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  • A Romanian guy March 1, 2010, 2:09 pm

    This is the best travel tip. However, it took me 10 years of reading travel blogs to actually read this tip.

    It’s so often than travelers let themselves abused out of fear. Which, in a way is justified, since their fear is most often the result of lack of experience, empathy or awareness/information. While lack of experience can’t be avoided (you need to get more experience after all) => the others have no excuse.

    Indeed, a great travel tip.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 2, 2010, 8:57 am

      Hello Romanian Guy,

      Thanks for the good words, I really appreciate them. Right on, assertiveness usually comes after the experience of being passive. In fact, sometimes doing the wrong thing in travel is a good way to learn — and to bookmark the emotions — how to do something a better way. I could only learn to be a “big man” through knowing what it feels like to be treated as if I were small — I remember how this feels and try to avoid feeling this way again. Inexperience and mistakes are good just so you can build upon them in the future.



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  • Mike Crosby March 1, 2010, 8:45 pm

    Thank you for this. For the most part, I’m Mr Timid and let others walk over me. Next time some bitch cuts in front of my line, I’m going to tell her to “F” off and get the “F” out of the way. I’m always the peacemaker. Now I want to be confrontational. I think it’ll be fun.

    Mi esposa es Cubana, and trust me, she takes no shit. She’ll cry when it’s to her advantage, and she’ll give you a piece of her mind if it’s to her advantage. Whatever it takes, I’ve seen her time and again TCOB. It’s fun to watch. Sometimes I think a woman gets away with more.

    Good post again. Excuse me now, I feel like going to the grocery store and stand in line. Man, I hope some MFer cuts in front of me. (I just hope he’s skinny and a lot smaller than me.)

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 2, 2010, 8:52 am

      Thanks Mike,

      It is sort of like watching a small dog intimidate and chase away a large one. It is a funny thing to see, as anybody knows that the large dog could demolish the small one with a single chomp, but he doesn’t, because the little dog knows how to act large. It is interesting, but it works the same with people.

      I remember one time at Port Authority in NYC I was waiting to get on a bus, amidst lots of cancellations, and there was a really long line. Some really big black gangster looking guys decided to just walk up to the front of the line and get in front of everyone. These guys seemed rough, nobody was going to say anything to them, not even the Greyhound employees. Nobody except one old white guy with a striped old man shirt and socks pulled up to his knees. He walked up to those gangstas and he told them to get to the back of the line, in not so polite terms. They looked at him like he was nuts — “doesn’t he know we’re gangstas?” — but they listened.

      It is funny how if you act big through simply being direct people will treat you as if you are really big. We are all just dogs looking for a place in the pack haha.

      Hope you really are bigger than the next unfortunate fellow who tries to get in line ahead of you haha.

      Thanks for the good words.

      Walk Slow,


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  • Ben June 11, 2010, 2:39 pm

    You, sir, look like a schoolyard bully.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com June 11, 2010, 11:13 pm

      I try hard.

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  • André Vieira January 18, 2012, 7:05 pm

    I’m just curious to know if because of that attitude you ever got in real serious problems with someone, entering physical contact. There are some impulsive people out there who wouldn’t hesitate to beat the crap out of you, and while travelling that can be a problem, specially if you do it on your own.

    Anyway, that was a very good tip that everyone should take into account.


    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard January 19, 2012, 3:20 pm

      No, not yet. People the world over respect strong individuals. It is my impression that you would be far more likely to get the crap beat out of you/ robbed while acting like a coward. There is a lot that humans can learn from watching packs of dogs. It is amazing watching how a little chihuahua can control a pack of far larger dogs just because it shows no fear of them. As soon as other people can sense your fear is when you are in danger. Like a chihuahua, being a big man has little to do with physical size. Tip toeing through a culture, a city, a bad neighborhood is the worst thing anyone can do in my opinion. If you show no fear people often just leave you alone, if you show yourself to be an easy target is when you find that you have problems.

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  • G Goytia October 28, 2013, 3:56 pm

    This is a great article, I have been traveling for years more within the States and in Mexico. I look like a muscular Buddha. To be honest with ya so that helps but you will always have one that will try to challenge you. It’s rare it will go to far just shut and stare dead into the eyes as if waiting for something if you can’t walk away. This will help you assert yourself that you are not afraid. The weak person view people know you are in their territory and can do what you want. Thus advantage is taken. Seen in many times. Scan your area look for the bad seed … watch em don’t play Steven segal…once they noted you spotted them they will find someone else unless they are in a group. Hope this helps. As will Krav Maga or the Russian sistema.
    Last time used this tactic was in Poland and Costa Rica.

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