Many years ago, traveling involved saddling up a camel, a horse or a donkey, or getting on a ship for a long, unpredictable journey. As time has gone and technology has progressed, man has managed to maximize comfort, while maintaining part of the touring adventure. This is largely what differentiates the traveler from the tourist: The willingness of an individual to step beyond their comfort zone into unknown territory and unknown cultures.
Once you are willing to take a step beyond your comfort zone, you slowly transform from a tourist into a traveler. With an open mind and adventurous spirit, a whole new adventure awaits and you experience something which cannot be captured in words or images alone, but which will fuel a yearning for more adventure, more discovery, and personal growth.
Here are five top tips to embrace on your journey to become a traveler:
1. Head Off the Beaten Track
As tourists, groups may arrive at their hotel in an air-conditioned bus, visit sites together in a huddle, eat familiar dishes at the hotel restaurant, and request luxury amenities. The most important quality a traveler can possess is a curiosity for that beyond the popular and the known. After seeing the Eifel Tower or the visiting the Colosseum, the traveler is interested in knowing what lies behind the city streets. How do the locals cook, live, and celebrate. There is a yearning to see more than the obvious.
Heading off the beaten track may involve breaking away from a tour group itinerary, or simply planning your own route altogether. Climbing a mountain, staying in a local setting, heading to a more remote part of the country, and exploring lesser known local activities as opposed to tourist activities is all part of the adventure.
2. Ask a Local
Who would know your destination better than the locals themselves? Why isolate yourself within your tour group when the only way to truly experience your travel destination is by learning from the locals.
Talk to them, ask them about their favorite things to do and places to go, and find out about the cities “hidden gems” and “local secrets.”
3. Do It Like the Locals
A tourist stands out like a red rose in a field of yellow daisies. Camera, map, and possibly an oversized safari hat. A traveler blends in as far as possible with the local scene. You may still stand out because of your complexion or race,
but if you eat like them, learn to say a few words in their language, and respect their culture and dress sense, you may well earn a little more respect. There is no better way to experience a new destination and new culture than by submerging yourself in it firsthand. Don’t just be a spectator, blend in.
4. Pack Light
Packing light allows you to venture out with more ease, and also makes it less obvious that you are touring somewhere as a foreigner.
It will most likely mean that your favorite teddy might not make the packing list and that one or two other items of comfort will have to be left behind until you return home. Believe me, you will be grateful for a lighter backpack.
5. Use Your Feet (and Public Transport)
I have learned that taking a taxi or traveling around in a tour bus allows one to travel in comfort, but only to truly be engaged in your destination on arrival. When walking, or taking public transport, one is so much more aware of your surroundings, the smells, the people, and the architecture. You are included in the daily life of the city, as opposed to being transported around in an air-conditioned bubble where you view things only as an outsider. Walking allows you more time to absorb the surroundings and also to talk to locals as you pass by their shops or grab a snack for the road.
In all the above, it is always important to put safety first. Venture off the beaten track and try some street food, but depending on your destination also be wise in how you go about it. Make use of local guides, but most importantly don’t look down on another culture just because it is different from your own. You don’t have to participate in anything you don’t agree with, but embrace the unknown and allow yourself to grow in loving the mystery of what lies beyond your comfort zone. Be a traveler, not a tourist, I dare you.