A great travel photo distills the essence of a person, place or culture into a dynamic image. Balancing the elements of a splendid picture, from lighting, to composition, to timing is a little like honing expert swimming skill.
That said, the shallow end of the photo pool is where good images drown, never to be seen again. To make a truly exceptional travel picture, you have to jump into the deep end with both feet. In other words, don't just be a creepy observer, lurking the shadows and living vicariously through the action around you. Dive into the fray and participate in the landscape and culture you traveled to experience.
To make the most your headlong journey, think ahead. If you're heading to a part of the world that's new to you, prepare yourself mentally in advance. Do some homework on the region, its people and even its economy. This will give you a base of knowledge with which you can use to understand the stories unfolding before your eyes. Consider your research an indispensable aspect of your image making.
Once you're on site, get moving. If you're in a populated area frequented by tourists, don't be one. Bypass tourist hotspots and people who exhibit caricatures of themselves to satiate the expectations of visitors. Instead, get off of the main roads and interact with the locals, even if you aren't familiar with the language.
When you do approach locals, remember that your tactics matter. Although covert candid street photography is a proven technique, you also risk drawing the ire of people who don't want their pictures taken, or who are taken aback by your sneaky approach. Simply asking for permission to take someone's picture is good manners. In some areas, doing so might prevent a hostile confrontation or even save your life.
If you're rebuffed by a particularly photogenic subject, consider opening your wallet. Some of the world's best photographers occasionally offer cash to people if it makes them more willing to participate in a short portrait session.