Monday, 25 August 2014

18 Ways To Be a Better Traveler Rather Than Just a Tourist

A guide to being the kind of world explorer you want to be.

1. Recognize that wherever you are traveling is also someone else’s home

It took a while for me to wrap my head around this, having bad habits bred into me on a lot of family vacations when I was younger. We would go to places like Disneyland, but also places like Rome, and yet there were costume-clad individuals in either location. As a result, for a long time it was hard for me to see the distinction between an amusement park and a foreign country. And theres a huge difference, like: foreign people are still people, and the big attractions are not there expressly for the crowds awe and amusement. 


2. Do a little research before your trip

No, you dont have to be the guy who memorized the guidebook or the Wikipedia page for a particular destination, but its always a good idea to have a sense of where youre going. Where do the locals like to spend their time? What is the culture like? Is tipping customary, or will it be offensive? You can never be wholly prepared for every experience abroad, but its nice for both parties if you make an effort to minimize unnecessarily awkward interactions with the local people.

3. Respect the culture

Youll learn a lot about where youre headed from a little research, some of that may catch you pretty off-guard. Perhaps you never would have known that despite the fact that youre headed to the hot desert, the conservative culture in that country views the wearing of shorts or skirts as inappropriate. Perhaps eating with one hand as opposed to another is offensive, or adding condiments to your food is insulting. Remember, youre a guest in their country, keeping an open mind and flexing to their cultural demands (however foreign or unusual they may seem) will set you apart from the other tourists.

4. Ask before photographing anyone

This is huge, and a great way to demonstrate that youre respecting local people. It is very much the case that some cultures strongly believe that to be photographed is to lose part of their soul. In other places, the custom for locals allowing themselves to be photographed comes with the expectation of a tip. And if that street performer or vibrantly dressed individual riding some exotic animal declines, respect their wishes as you would hope a traveler in the opposite situation would do for you.

5. Learn a few key phrases

Even if you have to muscle through them, there is a) nothing more frustrating abroad for both parties than when you cant communicate basic needs to someone who is trying to help you out but doesnt speak your language, and b) locals will recognize and almost always appreciate the effort youre making. Even just knowing the essential simple phrases like hello, please and thank you demonstrates a wealth of respect.

6. Meet some people

Honestly, one of the greatest things you can collect abroad is friends. People will remember that time... infinitely better than you will remember your trip looking at some kitschy souvenir that likely broke on your way home. Plus, theres a lot you can learn about other countries and cultures by speaking directly with someone who lives it every day (and better still, they can show you places and sites you would have never found on your own).

7. Buy local

A good guide will take you to parts of the country that are less glamorous, for the opportunity to pick up handcrafted souvenirs made by local artisans. While they may not mention it, not only are those one-of-a-kind crafts a way more awesome thing to take home than a plastic model of whatever city youre visiting, but also buying those directly benefits the craftspeople and the town they live in. When you see statistics about tourism stimulating economies, thats a huge part of what theyre talking about, and those villages and towns depend on your dollars much more than those kiosks adjacent to main attractions do.

8. Look into a home stay

Nothing will give you a more authentic experience in any destination like a homestay. Theres something to be said about a proper home cooked meal, no matter what country youre in. Again, youre supporting local families, youll gain privileged insight into what real life is like in that place, and youll make a whole family of friends without having to proactively introduce yourself to a bunch of strangers.

9. Try the food

One of my biggest regrets as a traveler is flying halfway around the world, just to eat Burger King and drink Starbucks. For a long time I was too meek to eat at local restaurants, let alone get as far out of my comfort zone as would be required to eat at a foreign cart food. Then I realized everyone who lives there does, and for good reason. If you want a genuine taste of what another country has to offer, eat the local food where the rest of the locals are eating.

10. Breathe

One of the biggest differences between a traveler and a tourist is the mission. As a tourist, you might attempt to greedily collect photos of major attractions like Pokemon, so that no one viewing the slideshow later knows that you only spent 10 minutes passing by the Louvre on your way to the Eiffel Tower. Trying to do and see it all means youll likely get to do very little, and see it all for only an instant. Breathing, slowing down, and tossing the itinerary frees you up to experience things as they come, and more fully immerse in the experience you want. Traveling can also be quite stressful, especially when all the plans go haywire, you miss a connection and are stranded somewhere even-more-foreign, or you do something catastrophic like lose your wallet (as I have done, twice). Breathe then, and remember that its all part of the adventure.

11. Be spontaneous

With your newfound itinerary-free time, do whatever sounds good in the moment, and change your mind often if you think something else would be better. Enjoy being liberated from doing what youre supposed to do and seeing what youre supposed to see. Youve got limited time, but rather than trying to cram as much as you can in as little time as possible, maximize your experience by going with the flow, and live at the pace you want to live at.

12. Get lost...it’s fun

No seriously, get properly lost. Then breathe, and remind yourself itll be okay. Then give yourself the opportunity to get acquainted with a place thats so much more than an aerial view printed on some paper. Weave between streets, duck into alleys, ask for help if you need it, but explore like youre discovering the place for the first time (because you are, after all, discovering the place for the first time).

13. Ditch the tour group, do it on your own

While it is convenient to be with a group of other vacationers and have a manufactured experience delicately balanced for controlled culture shock, theres a lot to be gained by tackling a new place on your own. Sure, the tour group method will help you see everything you may want to see and more, but on the merits of your research you could likely do the same or better, for much less money. Plus, you dont have to wait for a herd of people to stop staring at a sculpture you dont find particularly interesting, nor do you feel herded for wanting to spend an afternoon staring at a painting that your guide has only budgeted 15 minutes for.

14. Seek the road less traveled

Not just the road less traveled by tour groups, but the road less traveled in general. You know those hole-in-the-wall places in your hometown? Or your favorite deserted lookout spot? There are those places literally all over the world, and they just take a little finding.

15. The best things in life are still free, no matter where you go

Walk the streets, hike the hills, play in the ocean. Visit a park, people watch, and just be generally stoked to be somewhere completely new. You probably paid a bunch to get there, now revel in all the things that dont cost a dime.

16. Take public transit

When in doubt, do as the locals do, and the locals take public transit. Its way cheaper, youll probably meet some people along the way, itll help you get to know the place youre in better, and you may even get a little lost.

17.Realize that your ideal vacation might not be where you expect to find it

Its been ages since your last vacation, and you just want to get away. Visions of palm trees and crystal clear waters crashing on amazing beaches flood your mind, and you can almost feel the sun on your skin and the warm white sands between your toes. Theres nothing for miles but you and your book. So (if youre like me) the first thing you do is Google Hawaii vacations, like hundreds of thousands of other people every day. Theres nothing wrong with going to Hawaii, and sure there are spots on the islands where you can have everything you envisioned, but you may also have to share it with a ton of other people. The more readily a vacation spot comes to mind, the more likely youre not the only one with that idea, so the perfect getaway might take a little more research. Fortunately, theres a trillion other fascinating and perfect little islands all over the world, and a wealth of resources to help you find the one that will give you the experience youre looking for, plus perhaps a pleasant surprise.

18. Travel

Whether youre an aspiring traveler, a gung-ho tourist, a genuine globetrotter, or anything in between, one of the greatest things you can do for yourself is to just get out there. We live on an amazing planet full of wonders that none of us will ever see all of in our lifetimes, but that should in no way stop you from trying.

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