The travel season is fast approaching, so before you set out on your next adventure, consider this: Are your a traveler or a tourist?
The ability to travel the world is an amazing privilege that has the potential to be one of the most fulfilling opportunities of your life. When you travel to new cultures, you encounter new worlds, but to truly have the most authentic experience, you have to be intentional about it. That’s why it’s important to know the difference between a traveler and a tourist.
Here are five marks of intentionality that make the traveler different:
1. Travelers pack lightly.
If you want to be intentional about your journey, then you have to start well before your journey begins. Tourists pack to experience the least amount of discomfort possible; travelers pack to experience as much of the culture as they can. That’s why it’s important for the traveler to pack lightly.
When you pack lightly, taking only what you can carry, you’re able to navigate through the city center, luggage in tow, and move on to the next adventure with just a moment’s notice. You don’t waste your mornings debating over what to wear or spending an hour drying and straightening your hair. Instead, you’re sitting at the café without a care in the world while sipping your second cappuccino, the only choice you have to make being where you’ll head next.
2. Travelers learn the language.
It’s true—if you’re an English-speaker, you usually don’t need to be fluent in the language of the country that you’re visiting, but a true traveler doesn’t want it to be that easy. We’re the ones visiting, after all, and a traveler travels precisely because he wants to be immersed in a culture.
Learning a bit of the language shows your hosts great respect and also allows you to become a participant rather than a bystander. All of a sudden, you’re one of the gang (well, at least more than you used to be). If you only know a little in the local language, at least learn to ask in that language if the person you’re speaking to speaks English before rattling off your list of questions. Nothing makes you look more entitled than when you assume, and we all know what happens when you assume…
If you only know a little in the local language, at least learn to ask in that language if the person you’re speaking to speaks English before rattling off your list of questions. Nothing makes you look more entitled than when you assume, and we all know what happens when you assume…
3. Travelers respect the customs.
Tourists bring their customs and beliefs with them wherever they go alongside their over-packed baggage. They’re just there to get a taste of the culture, and they’re not willing to give up their creature comforts or worldview to do it, either. They walk around wearing their tennis shoes (barely any European wears tennis shoes every day) and their college baseball cap (yep, you’re American!), taking pictures with their iPads during Mass (it’s a little big for that, guys) and standing all over the escalator so you can’t get through (as the British would say, keep right).
Well, joke’s on them, because they end up over-tipping in restaurants, eating the bread that’s not free, and paying way too much for drinks because they think they’re getting free refills. A traveler, however, reads up on the culture long before she sets foot on foreign land. She’s reflective, observant and eager to learn and participate in the eccentricities and traditions that make a culture unique, even if she does feel a little embarrassed or out of place.
4. Travelers eat locally.
I know it’s neat that their McDonald’s menu is different, but eating at McDonald’s in Spain won’t teach you much more about the heart of Spanish culture than eating at McDonald’s in the US.
The table is a gathering place in every culture, and when you eat the food of the region you’re visiting, you learn about that culture’s history, values, and customs through an entirely sensory experience. Plus, when you eat at the hole-in-the-wall restaurants instead of those marketed to tourists, you’re surrounded by locals, you get to practice your language skills, your meals are cheaper, and you just might get a sampling of a secret family recipe passed down for generations.
5. Travelers leave room to wander.
Above all, what makes the traveler different from the tourist is his curiosity. A traveler always leaves time to wander, because that’s where the best experiences are found. Whether wandering through a park, a menu, or the underground on the local transit system, the intentional traveler is an explorer at heart. And it’s only explorers who discover new worlds.