The negative effects of tourism can be seen all over the world. With a growing global population, overtourism results in pollution, excessive waste, loss of local housing, and much more. As a result, the label “tourist” seems to have gotten a bad reputation. The term “traveler”, on the other hand, evokes images of exploration and adventure. First, let’s look at the difference between a traveler and a tourist. Next, I’ll cover what’s harmful about traveling with the tourist mentality and why adopting a traveler’s mentality is beneficial for all. Finally, you’ll learn how to transform from tourist to traveler with some simple, yet useful tools and concepts.
What does it mean to be a tourist?
What images does the word “tourist” evoke? In popular culture, the word “tourist” can have a negative connotation. When someone says “tourist”, my first thought is someone who kind of disregards local culture and is mostly looking to “get away from it all” with little thought beyond margaritas and the beach. Another image that comes to mind for me is the crowded bus tour where very little creativity or effort is required of the person. Just sit back, relax, and take a back seat, literally.
Here are ways to describe a tourist:
- Seeks comfort
- Goes on vacation
- Prefers to disengage and “check out” from their busy lives
- Asks, “What can I get out of this place?”
- Expects locals to be accommodating in the destination
- Wants to see places to check it off a bucket list or to post about it on Instagram
- Passive participation
What does it mean to be a traveler?
The traveler archetype is embodied when one brings intentionality and curiosity to the journey. Words that describe a traveler include adventurous, mindful, open, inquisitive, giving, and culturally curious.
In contrast with a tourist, a traveler:
- Embarks on a journey
- Engages with the inner and outer aspects of the journey
- Asks, “How can I positively contribute to this place?”
- Does research before the trip
- Wants to visit places because they feel curious and interested in learning and experiencing the place for themselves
- Active participation
- Seeks connection
Why it matters
It’s important to understand what’s harmful about the tourist mentality. It’s also equally as important to understand that adopting a traveler mentality can benefit everyone – the traveler, the local community, and the Earth.
In the past few decades, mass tourism led people to being more entitled and expectant of their every need to be met by locals who work in the tourism sector. As an example…it doesn’t matter that almost all the locals wash up with cold water. The tourists expect, demand their expectations of hot water to be met. You can see how this would have a negative impact on local communities, who report the exploitation of their resources. That’s why you see more and more strikes like the one in Barcelona.
When you travel with intention and respect for the local culture and the planet, everyone benefits. You get a more authentic experience, connect with locals, learn about a different way of life, and become more open minded in the process. Not to mention, going through this internal process allows you to gain confidence, self-awareness, and a closer relationship with yourself. This connection with self and other naturally extends to include plants, animals, biospheres, and the planet in general.
Transform from tourist to traveler
Find your ‘why’ and keep it close
As I started writing this article, a memory came to me. It was my first time in Paris and I hopped into the taxi, said to the taxi driver in English, “Hi! I want to go to the Eiffel Tower, please!” The taxi driver refused to take me until I at least attempted to speak French. At the time, I rolled my eyes and felt upset and a little embarrassed. I told my friends about how rude Parisians are as I recalled the story later that day.
Yet looking back on that moment, I now recognize that this was a huge lesson for me.
The taxi driver taught me humility. I’m a guest in his home, his city. I better start acting like one! It was the wake up call I needed to change my attitude. From that, I learned to tread lightly and respectfully.
Whatever your reason for shifting your perspective, make it a personal one and approach your transformation with intention. When you feel called to make a change, respect the steps needed to make that shift.
It’s about how & why
Being a traveler doesn’t necessarily mean you have to avoid all tourist attractions. Maybe you’ve always wanted to see Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ in the Louvre, or perhaps you want to visit the Colosseum in Rome. Being a traveler doesn’t mean that you’re just too cool to go to popular sites.
It’s about how and why, not what and where.
It’s a shift in intention and perspective. Transforming from tourist to traveler is in recognizing that travel to anywhere is a personal pilgrimage that requires an attitude of reverence.
Practical tools for your shift in perspective
In practical terms, what tools can you use to actuate this shift?
Prepare your mind, body, and spirit. The start of your journey is the moment you answer the calling to travel. Preparation plays a key role for the soulful traveler. Here are some ways travelers prepare for their trip:
- Journal about your intentions for going on the trip
- Research your destination from multiple perspectives
- Choose accommodations, activities, and restaurants that benefit the local communities
- Learn phrases in the local language
When you arrive at your destination, how can you tread lightly and adopt the traveler mindset?
- Use mindfulness as a way to relate openly with your surroundings
- Notice your expectations & judgments
- Keep a journal and write, sketch, allow your creativity to flow
- Be observant and curious
- Be open to synchronicities
- Let your intuition guide you
- If something goes wrong, ask yourself what lessons can come from the experience
Travelers don’t leave the experience behind and go on “business as usual”. As a traveler, you want to take what you learned and apply it to your life back home. You want to deepen your understanding of self, other, and the world. This is the integration process. Here are some ideas on how to integrate your travels to life back home:
- Invent a ritual to honor your trip and what you learned
- Journal about lessons learned, highs and lows of the journey
- Write letters to friends you met along the way
- Make a playlist of music you heard on the road
- Stay curious
- Choose a trusted friend to open up to about your experiences
Being a traveler is a mindset, a way of life, and it starts and ends with YOU. How you approach visiting new places is a choice in the same way as choosing your lifestyle. My vote? Let’s travel (and live) in a way that allows for growth, understanding, and connection to self and other. Who’s with me?