Are you a tourist or a traveller? Think back to the last trip you took. Did you pre-book a hotel? Did you visit all the “must see” places? Did you, horror of horrors, buy souvenirs? Ask yourself enough questions and you may find yourself typecast as a tourist. But there is a way around it. There is still hope for the masses queuing outside la Sagrada Familia, or those being herded into the Eiffel tower elevators. Here are five ways anyone can become a traveller:
Visit your favourite monuments at nighttime
Of course, “the good traveller’s guidebook 101” would suggest avoiding popular monuments altogether. Yet, being a traveller does not necessarily mean foregoing the experience of visiting important historical and cultural monuments for the sake of being authentic. There is still room for authenticity; a simple alternative to mass experiences is to visit your favorite monuments at nighttime. Replace the old hop-off hop-on bus tours of Rome by renting a Segway at night and going all around the important monuments. Evening picnic by the Eiffel tower anyone?
- Replace paper guides with people guides
The daring traveller who leaves behind his restrictive paper guides to “lose himself in the right direction”, might just find himself lost in the wrong direction, disrespecting local etiquette or stumbling upon a bad neighborhood perhaps. Everyone needs guidelines when visiting an unknown country, even the most adventurous of travellers. If you find yourself tired of browsing through all those print and online guides, or of coming across the same names across hundreds of lists of “the best this and that” then it is time to go back to basics. Tap the shoulder of the local sitting next to you on the bus and ask him what his favorite restaurant is. Go to the local bar and ask that group of friends sitting by in the corner what drinks they recommend. Find the courage to do it, and you might just make new friends in the process.
- Do not just taste the local cuisine, experience it
Almost every travel guide book out there recommends trying out the local cuisine for a taste of the local culture. Yet, the locally produced wine they serve at the “go-to” French restaurant for tourists represents more than a tasty beverage. It represents a range of practices and processes that make up the local culinary culture. The thirst of the yearning traveller is not merely satisfied by tasting; he wants to know what makes the wine so good. Whether it is by going grape-picking with the locals or attending a wine dégustation, there is so much more to be learned through experiencing local culture, rather than by merely tasting it. Do you enjoy Swiss chocolates? Then why not visit a nearby chocolate factory? Better yet, why not attend a chocolate workshop and learn how to make chocolates the Swiss way yourself?
- Capture the moment without a camera
The struggle of not taking a selfie with the Mona Lisa in a photo-obsessed era that asks “if you do not take a photo, did it even happen?” is real. Yet, recent studies suggest that constantly taking photographs can prevent people from forming detailed memories. Even without scientific proof, it is obvious that if you take too long taking pictures of the moment, the moment will just pass you by. And at what cost? Unless you are an expert photographer, chances are that the photo of the Mona Lisa you are taking is the same as one of the people standing behind you, and the person standing behind him, and behind him. Why not focus instead on how the moment makes you feel? Perhaps make a note of it, or doodle something on your phone. Next time you are standing in front of an important monument and feel the urge to reach for that camera, try to resist. Remember that if you want to see that monument again you can always look it up online, but if you want to live it, well, that is what you are there for, is it not?
- Collect souvenirs that only make sense to you.
The coaster from that bar that served those huge pitchers of Margarita, the broken shell you cut your toe on that evening on the beach, anything can be a souvenir. While the purpose of a souvenir is remembrance, it is often the case that all that mass produced souvenirs make you remember is the crowded souvenir shop where you haggled over the counter for a better price. The difference between a tourist and a traveller is that the tourist is fed stock souvenirs and processed memories, while a traveller makes his own. So who would you rather be?
Better yet, who do you want to become? It is never too late to become more than just a tourist. So go ahead, leave those “must-do” and “to-do” lists behind and just do, go out there and experience. And remember, the road not taken looks pretty good, but there is nothing quite like the road you make yourself.