An avid traveler, I have found a passion in the experience of discovering a new place and falling in love with it and its people. As I discover and cultivate this passion, I have discovered I’m quite particular in how I travel. In particular, I have learned that “tourism” in its typical sense is one of my least favored ways to travel. I want to share why that is the case, and why I would encourage others to reconsider traveling as a typical tourist.
Travel is one of the most incredible ways to experience the diversity and culture our planet has to offer. Being a student of the world allows one to truly see from a variety of perspectives that reading or hearing about could simply never fully do, how one chooses to travel can make a huge impact in the depth and quality of such growth and perspective.
Tourism is important to many local economies and plays a role in the global economy, and while that is vital to appreciate, it also means that many who experience travel purely through the perspective of the mainstream tourism industry are missing out on a really valuable and hidden part of travel; seeing/living a place the way locals do.
Think about it this way; in one’s home town or city there are certain places the people who live there get to see and experience that tourists almost never do- these places are what makes the city what it is, it is how people live their daily lives in a place. Little shops, hole in the wall cafés, record stores, and farmers markets… these are all things that are unique to the places they are located and the people who frequent them, they are places that visitors rarely see because they are too focused on standing in line or pushing through crowds to see that one famous land mark.
By being intentional about meeting new friends, striking up a conversation with the hotel receptionist, or even just getting a little lost one finds new, unexpected adventures. There is a hidden value found through experiencing a place by its people- going places that are typically only known to locals, exploring, not being afraid to be around people who don’t speak your language, wandering into the corner shop with a sign you don’t quite understand…etc. By taking the risk of not planning a travel experience minute by minute, or attraction by attraction and instead leaving some space to just go, it creates an itinerary that holds within it the ability to truly fall in love with a place and people- not just the single landmark you spent hours waiting in line with a stomach grumbling of hunger to see.
If this seems neat, but you’re not quite willing to give up your trip to Mount Rushmore or the Eiffel Tower, then do this: set aside one day, just one day out of a trip, to experiment with living as a local. Just for that one day allow yourself to hop on a train and ask the driver where the best place to grab lunch is. For that one day go down that colorful street that you didn’t see in your guide book. If you’re abroad learn how to say hello and thank you in the language of the place you are visiting- use those words as often as you can and take note of how your interactions change. Be safe and smart of course, but don’t be afraid to step a little out of your comfort zone. I promise it will be worth the risk and the reward will cumulate in memories and experiences that better shape how you see the world around you as well as leave you with some crazy cool stories and more than likely some wonderful new friends!