The Enlightened Traveler
10 tips for getting the most out of the places you visit.
It’s no secret that travel is an education in itself and I believe, there is nothing like it to grow as a human being. Travel will introduce you to new cultures, opens your mind to new ways of thinking and often shifts your perspective. New experiences take you out of your comfort zone as you are exposed to different lifestyles.
But there is a correct way to travel, different from being a tourist, and it is what I like to call “the enlightened traveler.”
I recently had a conversation with someone who talked about how she loved to travel. She started boasting about all the places she’d visited. Her objective was to see as much of the world as she could, so they made it a rule to visit each site briefly, and only once.
I find this type of travel superficial. You only see the place on a surface level and are, a “tourist.”
I meet a lot of people who hop around on trips, staying in each place for two or three days before they zoom off to another location. They’ll decide to go to Italy for ten days and spend only three days in each place — for instance, Rome, Florence, Venice.
This sort of itinerary is fine if you just want to get a taste of a place with the intention of coming back for a longer stretch. But I ask, what can you possibly learn about a place, their art, their culture in 2-3 days? Rome, for example, is over 2000 years old – how can you “see” a place in such a brief time?
Personally, I like to stay long enough to really get to know the location, meet some of the locals, begin to fit in, learn the culture — even learn a bit of the local language. This is the reason and real beauty of travel. To learn something new, see different lifestyles and explore another culture. It enlightens us and expands our way of thinking.
I cringe when I see tourists invade sacred or historical places like the Pantheon in shorts and flip flops with no respect for the local dress code, sitting sloppily against the 2000-year-old marble, eating fast food from paper wrappers.
It seems as if they come to take pictures just to share on Social Media and only brag about all the places they’ve been to.
So I’ve made up a checklist below to help you be more of an “enlightened traveler” for your next trip.
10 things to consider when traveling to a new place:
1. This is someone’s home – so have respect.
2. Learn about the local customs and culture beforehand.
3. To really discover a place, get lost without a guidebook or Google dictating where to go.
4. Have an open mind and take time to learn about the local culture, how people live, what they eat.
5. Make friends with locals. Go to the market. Start up a conversation at a café. Ask the locals where to visit and eat.
6. Ask before you take photos — in some cultures it’s sacrilegious.
7. Learn to say hello and thank you in the local language – “Bonjour and Merci” can be magic words.
8. Experience new things, taste the local foods, adjust to the local time zone. Don’t be upset because you can’t find a restaurant open for dinner at six pm or you can’t find a burger on the menu.
9. Make an effort to blend in. Italians and French, for example, are fashion-loving people and take pride in the way they dress. Don’t expect to get into the Vatican in flip flops, shorts or a tank top – you’ll be turned away.
10. Take local transport or walk. You won’t see much if you rely on tourist buses or taxis.