By Radney Wood, Co-founder of GlobeKick
Who in the world wants to be a “Tourist”, these days?
The term itself suggests a sort of buffoonery: A Tourist is a visor-wearing, fanny-packed, tone-deaf simpleton. A Tourist wants to travel not to better themselves or to understand the world. A Tourist travels to take an Instagram pic and waste their whole trip watching the likes tick up. A Tourist is a line-padding, street-clogging zombie. You make your way through the throngs of tourists to a meaningful trip. A Tourist is the antithesis of travel, right? Of course!
Any traveler can tell you that when a place gets “too touristy,” it’s just a nice way of saying the whole spot has lost its charm, that it’s gotten far too popular with these kinds of people.
So, the natural reaction of any self-respecting traveler is to seek to be the opposite. To eschew the fanny pack and become The Local.
The Local walks down the plaza and shakes hands with every smiling face he meets. She plays soccer in the street with the children, and scores the winning goal at sunset, only to be invited in by the neighborhood matriarch for a full five-course meal. He eats at a local dive that nobody else knows about for breakfast and stumbles into a daylong excursion that unearths secret underground chambers. Clearly, to be The Local is a far more rewarding existence than to be A Zombie Tourist. Right?
The truth is, no such obvious bifurcation of travelers exists. Nobody is a true tourist (not even my Great Aunt Virginia who does love her American Flag visor) and nobody can ever achieve the Shangri La that The Local status offers (at least, by only staying a few weeks in an area). And that’s fine. It can be counterproductive to a truly beneficial experience to seek “Localness” and completely denounce the fact that, well, you’re new around here.
Because the very premise of being a traveler undermines the idea of being a local.
Instead, aim to travel in harmony with locals.
No matter what country you visit I welcome you to follow these four very important steps to feeling at-one with a place, whether you’ve got a penchant for chanting U-S-A, U-S-A, or not.
STEP 1: LEARN SIMPLE, EVERY-DAY PHRASES
Ok. Seems obvious, but putting it to practice can be difficult. Those who take the time to learn simple pleasantries, ask directions, and order food begin the much important process of bonding with people you meet. You can’t get much out of a place unless you learn the lingo. There is an obvious element of fear of messing up that often keeps us from practicing, but most people love the effort and it’s worth it. Just think, if somebody came up to YOU and spoke genuinely and kindly in broken English, you’re probably gonna try to help that person out, right? It’s all about human connection!
Speaking of human connection:
STEP 2: YOU GOTTA SPEND TIME WITH THE LOCALS
Whether it’s taking a language or culture class, connecting with people on CoachSurfer, staying at an airbnb where the host lives with you, or visiting a local watering hole or restaurant it is IMPERATIVE to spend time with people who actually are from where you’re traveling. It will open up the city or town in ways you cannot imagine. I still have memories of an art party I went to one night in Copenhagen that was hosted by a famous Danish artist. The only reason I was able to attend was due to the local I was living with. Talk about an inside track, right?
STEP 3: EMBRACE LOCAL CUSTOMS WITH OPEN ARMS
This doesn’t mean walking around Paris with a black and white striped shirt and beret. You really shouldn’t do that. Embracing local customs means understanding when it’s appropriate to embrace someone versus shake their hand, what times of day or night to order certain foods, and whether there are cultural/religious traditions that may influence how you dress or act. One gesture in your home culture can be QUITE DIFFERENT in other cultures.
STEP 4: JUST BE A GOOD HUMAN!
Above all else, if you fail at learning the language, finding local friends, or bungle your way through a hello or goodbye, if you travel with humility and love and openness you will be able to experience a new city or country in a way that is in harmony with the locals and you will learn invaluable lessons.
In the end, travel is about learning; learning as much about yourself as much as the world we all live in. That’s the true difference between traveling well and not. The more genuinely you travel, the more different and diverse your experiences become, the better off you are.
If you go through each day exactly the same, you will never be the change you want to be. It takes doing different things in different places with different people to truly improve. Open your eyes to the rest of the world and do it with open hearts and harmony.
Oh, and sorry fanny-pack wearers out there. We love you too.