As the New Year is beginning, I find myself wondering which new places I will visit in 2016. That has got me also reflecting on the places I’ve been and what I’ve learned about traveling thus far. One thing that really sticks out is this idea: There is a big difference between a “tourist” and a “good traveler”.
A tourist may only take away pictures (from the most important sites, of course), while a traveler takes away experiences.
Learning to be a good traveler isn’t always easy, and I wouldn’t say that I’ve quite mastered it yet. But taking the steps in the right direction will put you on the right path to getting the most out of your visit- gaining a deeper cultural insight, new knowledge about the place, maybe learning a little more about yourself and, if you’re lucky, some really crazy stories!
Here are my top ways to be a good traveler (1-5):
1. You have the knowledge of a newborn.
If you’ve never visited this place before, especially not even the country, then think of yourself as a completely blank slate- clueless. Guidebooks and Internet research can tell you all about what you should see or do- but you shouldn’t consider these your absolute rules.
Instead, ask around. Cab drivers are one of the best guides out there. They know the city in-and-out, they are a captive audience for at least a few minutes and, from my experience, they are usually pretty blunt about what’s cool and what’s not. Hostel, Airbnb or hotel owners and staff can also be really helpful, but sometimes I’ve found that they have a partnership with a certain bar or restaurant and therefore just guide all their guests there.
2. Meet people.
I’m not saying go out and make friends with that sketchy-looking person in the park, but if you’re somewhere where it would be okay to strike up conversation with another person, such as a bar, a park or even on public transport go for it! Maybe they would be interested in hearing your story and letting you know their favorite places to go (especially in a smaller or less touristic place). If you’re with a group of friends maybe they would also be interested in inviting you to join them for dinner or a night out.
3. Be spontaneous!
A good traveler knows that rigidity while traveling is always a no-go. Challenges are bound to arise no matter where you go, and if you aren’t able to change plans without an anxiety attack, this may cause some problems. Even if you’re simply planning the days activities- be open. Sticking to a rough plan will give you a guideline of where to go, but being absolute in this will create the risk that perhaps you miss out on a really cool, unique experience. One of my favorite things to do when I visit a new city is to simply walk around for a few hours before I plan to go to or see anything.
4. Get off the beaten path.
Especially in really touristic cities, the beaten path is overrun by footprints of the many tourists that have come before you. I’m not saying that there isn’t the right time to be a tourist, take a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower, bend your head in shame and move on, but I generally find that the really fun stuff happens when you get outside the most visited areas. Plus, you tend to save some money this way too, as many of the locals know that tourists are there to spend money and therefore prices are higher in these areas. Try heading out from the center in any direction, finding a run-down looking bar or café, sit and have a drink and chat with your waiter about where to go next- works almost every time!
You may find some interesting sights such as these pictures I took from a recent visit to Serbia:
Or, if you’re in a less urban area, just find a dirt path, a map and head out!
5. Leave anywhere better than you found it.
I always cringe a little when I see someone, especially one who is obviously a tourist, just throw his or her trash on the ground or leave it lying around. Even in cities where the idea of recycling (or even throwing away garbage in the proper receptacle) isn’t hugely important, there is no reason not to leave it nicer than you found it. Someone has to pick it up don’t they? Or shall it just sit there to rot? A good traveler leaves it as nice or better than they found it. Let’s work together to make the world a better place!
Those were some of my top ways to be a good traveler, stay tuned for the continuation….