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How to be a traveler, not a tourist

There is a world of difference between the two groups of holiday makers. Essentially, travelers immerse themselves in the culture of a place. They learn the history, grow from experience and appreciate religions. Tourists stay in luxury, spend a majority of their time on tour buses, take photos of the pretty monuments, buy tacky souvenirs then fly home with nothing new learned except for how to take a good photo. Whilst there is no problem with being a tourist, if the traveler experience is what you want to get out of an overseas vacation, then follow these tips. You will never be called a tourist again!

Stay in local bed and breakfasts, boutique hotels, hostels or couch surf


You can find some great hostels around the world. This is the Oasis Backpackers Palace in Seville, Spain has an amazing rooftop chill out area, complete with a pool.

Spend your money on small local businesses that will give you a real sense of the culture in whatever destination you visit. Stay away from the chain hotel companies that will overcharge you and give you luxury you can get at home. Who wants to feel like they’re at home when they’re in another country? Tourists, that’s who. If you want a cheaper option, choose hostels that offer cheap beds, a place to meet other travelers and usually a few included free extras such as breakfast, walking tours etc. Hostelworld is a great site to compare all options in your chosen city. Airbnb is also a great way to stay in touch with locals where you can rent their house/apartment/room. Couchsurfing is also an option for free accommodation where a local will let you sleep on their couch (or sometimes a spare bed) and are often keen to show you around too!

Eat the local food, drink the local brews


Steak & Guinness stew and a coffee with a shot of whiskey for lunch in a local pub in a small village. If you can’t guess my location from my meal, then I’m probably a tourist.

The only place you should ever consider visiting an authentic Italian restaurant is if you’re in Italy! Every country is filled with unique local delicacies that you won’t find made better anywhere else. Find hidden family run restaurants in small alley ways, drink coffee at small cafe’s tucked away in the backstreets, go out at night to local pubs or bars so you can sample the alcohol they are famous for. Experience the heart and soul of a culture through your belly!

Buy souvenirs and go shopping at local markets

Stables Markets in London, UK. As the name suggests, these markets are housed in old horse stables.

Stables Markets in London, UK. As the name suggests, these markets are housed in old horse stables.

Shopping through local markets at any destination should be on your itinerary already, but if you’re looking to buy some souvenirs then it definitely should be. Buy handmade crafts from the locals for great prices that are super unique. A great place to find a bargain too.

Attend cultural events


Nothing says ‘cultured traveler’ like immersing yourself in it. If you’re in town during a celebration, join in. Most countries have their own traditional dance or performance which you can go and watch, usually accompanied by a traditional meal.

Learn even a few words of the local language


One of the worst ways you can be an ‘arrogant tourist’ is by expecting everyone you encounter to speak English. Yes we are very fortunate that it is the desired language for most tourist places but consider if the circumstances were reversed. Say you were home in Australia and someone came up to you speaking Chinese, Italian or Arabic with no word of English and they expected you to perfectly understand? It just wouldn’t happen and just be mindful of this. Attempt to speak their language and they will appreciate it and, more times than not, reply in English.

Whilst in Europe this year, I met a lot of people who thought the French were rude and nine times out of ten those people admitted to not even trying to speak a word of French. They got told ‘I do not speak English’ by people that sounded perfectly articulate. Yet during my first visit to France, I would use “Bonjour”, “Merci” and even “un”, “deux” and “trois (twa)” – words I am sure 90% of the world would recognize – and found them to be pleasant.

I remember a particular time when I said “Bonjour, deux (and pointed to macaroons), s’il vous plait”. The young girl smiled at me, grateful for the effort and replied “would you like a bag?”

Use smaller private tour companies where possible


An afternoon at a small winery on the island of Starri Grad, Croatia

Tours in general are mostly filled with tourists, but in some cases they are the best way to see a popular attraction. Smaller locally run businesses will almost always give you the best deal, best value for money and will know the most about the area in question. It also helps out the little guy, and that’s what travelers are all about!

An example of this for me would be when my family was organizing a cruise down the Adelaide River in Darwin, a popular spot to see crocodiles. We opted to go with a smaller company, in a small boat with no more than 10 of us. We got so close to the crocodiles we could touch them (although we aren’t that stupid) and had amazing personal stories from our guide who had lived there for over 30 years. We had a home cooked Aussie barbecue on a part of land he owned along the river and it was a highlight of our trip. We drove past the major company offering similar tours, which was a double story boat with at least 100 people on it getting fed the same boring information they feed to their thousands of tourists daily.

Go out and interact with locals and other travelers


Tourists will stick with their significant other or friends/group. Travelers will branch out and mingle with other travelers or locals. Some of my best adventures of mine so far have happened after meeting locals and joining them for new activities I would never do elsewhere. Locals love to show travelers the hidden gems of their country.

Say YES to adventure!

Climbing an abandoned sniper tower used in the Bosnian war in the 1990's - Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Climbing an abandoned sniper tower used in the Bosnian war in the 1990’s – Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Don’t sit around, waiting for things to happen and go explore! Climb mountains, go bungy jumping, get lost in a busy city, sneak into abandoned buildings, swim in freezing cold rivers. But most of all, take every opportunity that is offered and just say YES!

Take the path less traveled

Walking the High Line in New York City

Walking the High Line in New York City

Get off the grid. Find places in town that are local favorites instead of tourist traps. Take day trips by local bus to cute villages on the outskirts of major cities. Travel to countries no one would expect. Going to Europe? Go east to Macedonia, Montenegro or Bulgaria. Traveling to Asia? Why go to places where everyone has been like Bali or Thailand when you can explore unique places like Taiwan or Papua New Guinea?

Being a traveler is like being in a universal community of amazing, cultured people who want to learn from the world around them. You will forever be a part of this family, if only you don’t conform to the ‘tourist way’.


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