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The Gap Year Blog

5 Ways to be a Traveler, Not a Tourist

3 Jul 2017 13:15 PM

What’s the difference between a traveler and a tourist? It’s a bit of an ambiguous question to answer, and while the two terms aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, mindset and approach play a key role in separating a travel experience from a touristic one. We’re here to give you 5 tips on how to get the most out of any trip you make by embracing your inner traveler!

1.    Don’t let your trip by defined by a checklist

Wherever you’re going, there’s bound to be an extensive list of must-sees out there: a checklist, basically, on what constitutes a successful trip. I mean - if you didn’t go to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Elysee, were you even in Paris? Okay, maybe we’re hyperbolising a little bit - obviously such lists can be helpful pointers and we’re not shaming anyone who wants to see all the sights. Nevertheless, the point is that traveling isn’t about ticking boxes, but about letting yourself get a feel of wherever you are. Sure that may include some sights, but it also means finding ways to get a taste of local, everyday life.

If you wanted to show someone daily life in your hometown of London, for instance, it’s unlikely you’d bring them exclusively to Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Tower Bridge (and if those are your daily hangouts, then that’s some life you’re living!) So roam the streets, chat to locals and just let yourself drift to wherever your legs may take you.

2.    Engage with the local culture 

Wherever you are, don’t forget that within the places you are visiting there are functioning communities, with rituals and beliefs that may be disturbed if guests do not behave respectfully. When taking in magnificent sites such as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Oman or the Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia, it is important to remember that whilst being breathtaking, these are also sacred places of worship for the local community. Be aware of things such as attire and noise levels, and you will find it much easier to blend in and observe, rather than disturb, your surroundings.

Equally, there’s no better way to get a sense of a place than by interacting with the local community. In many cases, cultural differences can be better understood when we take time to understand other people’s attitudes and beliefs. Of course language can be an issue - depending on where you are people may not speak English, and you may not have been able to cram enough vocabulary before your trip. Nevertheless, some things (such as food) are a universal language, and small things such as showing a willingness to try the local cuisine will give you the chance to share a local experience.

Image courtesy of Hamza Butt

3.    It’s a journey, not a holiday - and everywhere is a destination!

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take a week or two out from daily life and relax on sunnier shores. We associate holidays with comfort, convenience and relaxation - and although sometimes that’s just what we need, the true travel experience comes with a lot more winded roads and prickly paths. Traveling is a chance to experience new things, face your fears and reach out and connect with people around you. Be flexible and spontaneous - some of the best experiences happen without any prior planning, so be open to whatever opportunities may come your way. And if it turns out that something wasn’t for you, then don’t worry - it’s all about the ups and downs! (Although hopefully it will be mostly ups)

4.    Leave your comfort zone

A great goal to set yourself during each trip is to do at least one thing that scares you a little. Obviously, we mean this within reason - we’re not talking reckless, irresponsible behaviour but more about personal victories over things that you may have been anxious about it the past. This can range from approaching another traveler in a hostel or finally trying those grilled crickets you’ve been dubiously eyeing across the market stalls. Whatever it is, challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone, because not only will it make for great memories but it’s a huge step towards personal improvement. As cliché as it sounds, traveling can be a great way to get to know yourself and to push your boundaries a little - you’ll never be able to grow if you don’t make space first.

Image courtesy of Frontierofficial

5.    Be honest about your reasons for traveling

Traveling is as much a personal experience as it is a social one, and it can be a great opportunity to explore your interests. Similarly, it’s also the time to let yourself be driven by what you want to do, not what you feel you should do. Whether you’re interested in exploring the music of different cultures or want to experience the local wildlife, this can be the moment to open your eyes to another country’s take on your passion, as well as meet other people who share your interests. Take time to experience different things, and go with whatever feels right for you - connect with the people you want to connect with and do the things you want to do. Leave your inhibitions on the plane and follow your own nose!

Being a traveler demonstrates an appreciation and understanding of the world, and gives us the important responsibility of fostering cultural exchange as well as bringing a positive impact to international communities and allowing them to have a positive impact on us. Through travel, we can stimulate debate, broaden our horizons and foster our understanding of others as well as ourselves. So let’s get exploring!

By Laura Hallensleben - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!