For most of my life, I thought that travel and tourism were the same. Now that I’m involved in the travel industry, I see a few key differences. There’s nothing wrong with going on a vacation and being a tourist, and we’ve all done it. However, I believe that you get much more out of a vacation when you go as a traveler. Here are some tips to help you make that switch.
For me, the biggest difference between the two is fear. Whether it be fear of being uncomfortable, fear of being dissatisfied with your choice, or fear of the unknown, fear is something that controls a lot of tourists. When I first started traveling, I did the same thing that everybody else does: I looked online to see the “Best thing to do in (whatever area I was going to)” and that’s what I did. When I got to said activity, I was surrounded by other people like me – tourists who decided to play it safe and missed out on the authentic culture that the world has to offer.
However, in the years since, I’ve reevaluated what I want to get out of my vacations. I made the conscious decision that I wanted to truly experience the culture of the wonderful places I visited. A few years ago, I was in Guatemala City. A quick online search showed that the “La Aurora Zoo” was the number 1 tourist attraction in Guatemala City. Fighting against the urge to go see the cute animals in their cages, I decided instead to go visit the Mercado Central (Central Market). While it is still somewhat of a “tourist destination”, I felt that the culture would be much more authentic here. I knew I would be able to meet locals, see handcrafted goods, and taste native cuisine.
When I arrived, I was greeted by the smell of the fresh produce, the meat department, and all the herbs and spices. My eyes were delighted by all the beautifully colored crafts. I got a handmade backpack that I still use to this day, 6 years later. It was a little bit overwhelming to be there alone, trying to communicate with my very broken Spanish, but I still remember that market and the way it made me feel.
That, to me, was a big turning point in the way I looked at my vacations. Instead of taking the easy, comfortable route, I decided that I would do something outside of my comfort zone each time I traveled. It could be trying a local delicacy that was a little frightening (I’m looking at you, fried iguana in El Salvador) or going somewhere off the beaten path for a meal. It’s easy to let yourself go to a McDonalds for lunch, it’s a little bit more difficult to go to a hole-in-the-wall burger place that is in desperate need of renovations.
Making this change in my life has elevated my vacations to a more enjoyable level. I feel enriched by the local culture, and by the time I go home, I have fallen in love with the people, the food, and I can’t wait to share my experiences with my friends and family. I encourage everybody to make the switch over from Tourist to Traveler and start experiencing the world in an authentic way. One of my favorite quotes about this subject –
“There is no growth in your comfort zone, and there is no comfort in your growth zone.” – Steve Clark
Here at New Way Horizon Travel, we aim to take the risk out of changing from Tourist to Traveler. We immerse you deep in the local culture, often meeting with historians, storytellers, or other cultural leaders. With us, you can be assured that you’re getting the true history and lifestyle of an area, all from the comfort of a private tour group.