Are You a Taker or Non-Taker When It Comes To Travel?

We recently landed in a small town in Myanmar called Nyaung Shwe. Written up to be an idyllic rice paddy town near the famous Lake Inle, our expectations were high.

As the lady-man porter/masseur and numerous smiling staff shuttled our customary nine pieces of luggage to our room, all my husband wanted to do was lie down, turn on the A/C, and grab the clicker for some soothing background TV… to melt away the stress of waking up at 4:30 a.m. for a 6:30 a.m. flight from Bagan.

When the staff told us there was no A/C and no TV, the rage was enormous. We complained at the front desk. We were met by blank faces and stormed out of the hotel.

Not yet trusting the town, we scanned the bill at a local diner for errors. And walked into a store in the market with an untrusting gait. That is when we met “The Dutchman.” He was 6’5″, smiling and wearing a pair of longyi (tubular sarongs made of men’s dress shirt material that you step into and tie around the waste, men in the front and women in the back). The Dutchman was not complaining of the heat or humidity. He had no complaints at all.

In fact, he told us he had been to Nyaung Shwe a few weeks ago, in the earlier part of his exploration of Burma, and had returned to it. We said “really?” with incredulous eyes. He told us of the beauty of his hikes, the friendliness of the market, the generosity of the people, the grandeur of the lake . . .

He told us about the US$20 all-day sherpa that took him to see sights never seen by many foreigners, the silver jewelry bargain obtained by him, and the experience at the lake worth thousands if you were in Cuomo, Italy, at a fraction of a fraction of the price.

This is when we realized the difference of the Taker-Traveler.

The Taker-Traveler does not complain, nor does he expect. He especially does not expect the comforts of home. [In fact, The Dutchman left his wife and two kids at home for a two-month journey with his Israeli lady friend.]

The Taker-Traveler takes. He Takes in the scenery, the beauty, the local warmth. He Takes the offering given to him. He absorbs and learns.

He Takes home memories, experiences and treasures from any foreign land he visits.

As we were speaking to The Dutchman, we realized that we were Non-Takers. Not Givers, but Non-Takers. We were creatures of comfort, in the worst possible way. We couldn’t see the offering, as we were expecting home, homelike attitudes and homelike sensations. If that’s what you want, just go to the Hilton.

I’m reminded of a Season Three episode of Mad Men, when Conrad Hilton tells Don Draper that the Hilton should deliver America’s comforts everywhere, including on the Moon. Well, be careful what you wish for. The Hiltons (and the Conrad Hiltons) around the world are just that, mediocre hamburgers in yellow wood setting with American Standard toilets that don’t heat up or wash your butt.

And a Taker-Traveler likes new experiences – including a little spray of water up the bum.

At the conclusion of our conversation, we decided to try this Taker thing. And you know what? It’s pretty damn marvelous. The cross-breeze in our eco-lodge was sweeter than any A/C we’ve ever experienced, the local fare in the diner was excellent, hand-chiseled ice in the beer mugs alone would have cost us US$20 in NYC, and not having a TV meant a greater night’s sleep allowing us to see the differing beauties of the sunrise from both the Eastern and Western windows.

We relinquished our expectations and conventions, gave in to the local customs and ways, and took beauty from each and every situation, making the vacation ours.

The Dutchman’s last parting words to us were “Get rid of those jeans. What are you doing? These longyi have air conditioners built into them.”

The following week I wore US$7.80 longyis to a British-Swedish wedding by a lakeside in Bro, an hour outside of Stockholm. I was a hit.

I still lost my cool when a taxi didn’t show up. But then again I’m a Taker-Traveler-in-Training. I have a lot of learning and Taking to do.

— end it —

Photo courtesy of Marko Marcello/