There is a difference between being a traveler and a tourist. What is the difference? To start with, a tourist usually goes to a specific location in order to be able to say they were there. A traveler visits and immerses themselves in the culture around them. Check out these tips to help you be a traveler and not a tourist.
Learn the Language
Tourists rarely know the language or lingo of the place they are visiting, but travelers will at least know a few words — even if it’s just “hello” and “thank you.” Before you visit a location, spend some time learning a little bit of the language. You will enjoy your adventures more deeply when you can understand what the locals around you are saying.
Don’t Take Cheesy Photos
We’ve all seen them: The lady appearing to hold up the Leaning Tower and some such. Tourist photos are all about proving that you were there. Real travel photos are the ones that show the scenes away from the beaten path — the villagers who are grinding corn, the rocky waterfall that you had to hike a mile to get to, or the girl weaving the basket back behind the marketplace.
Skip the Normal Souvenirs
Okay, who wants a t-shirt saying “I (heart) Machu Pichu” to prove you were there? Skip the “souvenirs” that were made in China or printed with the location’s name or special phrases. If you want to bring home mementos from your travels, look for things that really represent where you’ve been and what you did there: A handmade necklace from a local marketplace, a woven purse from a man trying to provide for his family, or perhaps that henna tattoo that will eventually fade, but you will never forget it.
Eat Local Foods
You can find a McDonald’s almost anywhere in the world. Sure, it might be familiar and comfortable, but when you’re traveling, immersing yourself in the culture means eating the local foods too. If you’re adventurous, try a few local dishes and enjoy some of the local flavors of the culture.
Learn About the Culture and Place You are Visiting
One thing tourists rarely do is learn about the culture and the location they are visiting. A traveler spends time getting to know the history and the culture of the place they are visiting. Read and research before you go, but once you get there, ask questions of local people. Ask about local history, celebrations, legends and lore. The key is to get to know the place and the people you are at.
It’s easy to be a tourist, but it takes a little more work to be a traveler. Spend some time sinking into the culture as you travel and you won’t be sorry!