The Wild Pair

How To Be A Traveler, Not A Tourist

In Travel Tips on March 28, 2008 at 6:51 pm

Tips From The Wild Pair:

1) The Glass is Always Empty

A fellow travel journalist once remarked that most travel is calculated to keep tourists separate from people who live in the country they are visiting. In fact, tourists generally see the destination through glass. Either they are riding in a tour bus, staring out through a restaurant window or observing the village or city through the well-cleaned windows of a hotel room. The key to becoming a traveler is to see the world directly – not through glass. When there is glass, there is separation. When there is no glass, it’s the beginning of integration. You can touch, smell, hear, feel and interact with the environment and the people who live there.

2) The Teacher Isn’t Looking

When you were in school, you were subjected to a form of torture known as grammar rules. In French, you probably squirmed through the subjunctive. In Latin, you sweated over whether a word was masculine, feminine or neuter. In German, you watched in horror as a simple verb became a concatenation of unpronounceable syllables. You took tests, your papers came back splotched with red ink, and maybe your teacher had a disapproving look when you squeaked out an ungrammatical phrase or–if luck was on your side– a sentence. Here’s the good news: on the road, there’s no teacher, no tests, no grades. When you travel, the goal is to communicate, not to perform or be perfect. You can cobble together sentences formed by words plucked from Mexican soap operas, Rilke’s poems, world music lyrics, Dostoevsky’s novels, bumper stickers, signs, dictionaries, menus or vague classroom memories. The only failure is not to try. A simple “thank you” uttered in a foreign tongue can evoke a smile, a nod, or even lead to a dinner invitation.

3) A Rude Awakening

Ask your guide, waitperson, concierge or just about any local to tell you what is considered rude in his or her country – or in his or her part of your own country! If showing the soles of your feet or patting someone on the head or arguing in public is frowned upon, don’t do it. Cultural sensitivity engenders respect and trust. Knowing the inside skinny on a culture deepens and enriches a travel experience.

4) A Whole Lotta Taking Going On

When we travel, there’s a lot of taking involved. We take pictures. We ask questions. We expect answers. We take advantage of the sites. A real traveler knows the pleasure of giving something back. If you snap a photo, offer to show the subject what she looks like on your camera’s screen. One travel writer we know shoots children with a small Polaroid camera everywhere she goes; then she gives the kids the photos. Maybe you can bring pencils for students, or show pictures of your city or your family. How about a few small tokens from your home town? It’s great to receive on the road, and it’s great to give back.

5) Travel Globally, Eat Locally

If you are in really exotic climes, you know the maxim: nothing raw, nothing that can’t be peeled, no ice cubes, no tap water, nothing that’s been standing around since the 20th century. Beyond these caveats, be adventurous. Munch on a fried grasshopper. Dine on krill. Hold your nose and sample durian. Say yes to caribou chops. Sample eel. You’ll either have a fine culinary experience or a fine story to tell when you get back home. Don’t forget to photograph what you are eating and the fact that you are eating it.

6) Silk Is Smooth, Traveling Isn’t

Things go wrong on the road. Planes are late. Air conditioning fails. Attractions are closed. Travel mates and bugs can be annoying. There’s a downpour as you set out on a hike. Complain once, if you must. You’re allowed one unexpurgated curse, wail, sigh, frown or gesture of frustration. Then move on to solutions and adaptations. A tourist expects everything to work. A traveler is flexible and knows that part of the adventure is NOT having things work as planned. It gives you a chance to test your resilience and deep yoga breathing.

7) Pack A Laugh

When you travel, take along your sense of humor. Humor transcends language and nationality. Humor can come from a look, a mime, a comical gesture, a funny noise, a pun, or any spontaneous act that creates a smile or shared laugh with people in your host country. No matter how foreign a culture is, a bridge is formed by open-hearted (never mocking) humor. Somewhere along the life line, we were taught to stifle our laughs, behave like adults, act professionally. On the road, laugh and enjoy and be your funny, creative, kid-like self.

8) Wonderwoman and Wonderman

A real traveler is full of wonder. She marvels at the smorgasbord of life, beauty, nature, culture and art on our little blue planet. She looks, listens, observes, feels and appreciates the riches of the road. It is not cool to be blasÈ on the road. People with a been-there-done-that attitude are definitely tourists.

9) Permission Slip

A tourist takes things for granted. A traveler asks. May I take your picture? Is it okay if I ask questions about your religion? May I sit at the back of the Zodiac? Have a second dessert? Give your kid candy? Is it all right to look inside your tent? If the answer is no, accept it. if the answer is yes, you have been graceful and respectful and you can be sure it is appreciated.

10) E.T… Call Home

You have given your family and friends emergency contact information, and of course you can call or check e-mail if you’re worried about or missing someone at home. But, to the degree possible, unplug when you travel. Try to be where you are. Try not to be at the office. Every trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Every trip is a chance for adventure, learning, exchange, immersion and challengeäwhere you can be moved to tears or gasp at the beauty of the natural world and the people who inhabit it. When you get off the plane, put away your iPod, Blackberry, spreadsheets and deadlines. Just be where you are. You deserve the total experience.

Bon voyage!

ABOUT THE WILD PAIR: Ellen Barone and Judith Fein,

They’re smart, sassy, savvy, award-winning travel journalists and photographers and now they’ve joined forces to become THE WILD PAIR, bringing you cutting-edge information and tips on how to turn your next vacation into a life-enhancing experience.

© Ellen Barone and Judith Fein. All Rights Reserved.

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