Be a traveller, not a tourist

After my successful approach towards productivity and setting the ambitious goal of posting a blog on a weekly basis, I’m coming back – just two months later – to quickly share the idea of visiting new places. During my seven-month digital-nomad trip, I thought that being a traveller is way more exciting than being “just a tourist”. But, what’s the difference?

Travelling and tourism are often associated as synonyms, but I really like spotting marginal differences between them. Let me tell you that I have not travelled the whole world but, so far, I’m becoming more and more confident with the idea of reinventing tourism.

A quick sneak peek of the discrepancies among these two terms:

  • Similarities: you visit a new place
  • Differences: the way you visit, the way you move, the way you spend, the way you learn, your impact on the place visited
What I consider a big difference – breakfast with locals VS spending your time taking pictures at the paradisiac beach.

What does it mean to be a traveller?

You are a traveller when you care about the experience before the pictures on social media. You’re a traveller when you seek the unknown and unusual, and not the herds. You are a traveller when you care about the place you visit, and not just about yourself. You’re a traveller when you learn not only globally, but locally.

I’ve been travelling through many countries lately, and I am starting to see the differences myself. But during my last stop in Cairo, I had a turning point in my experience. I went with my friend to the Giza Pyramids, a historical wonder (they were already 150-meters monstrous for ancient greeks) full of meaning since my childhood. But the experience soon started to turn more dramatic.

As we were approaching the pyramids, many scammers were attempting to stop the taxi and lead us to the “real entrance” to the pyramids. After paying for a fair price entrance, we stepped under the magnificent monuments, which were bigger than expected.

What we found was a whole army of people chasing our money, basically. And that was a good reason: this is one of the most touristic places on Earth.

I was asked to go for a camel ride and horse ride the whole time, as well as for taking pictures and having some water. We spend over five minutes arguing with a man about wanting a tour guide for the double price that we paid for the entrance.

I just wanted to see the magnificent ancient pyramids but ended up negotiating with the locals about money.

Explore the local life

Imagine that you’ve spent 20 years living in your city. You’ve been fully immersed in the culture and have got some stories. You know the places to go, the streets, the languages, how to move around. You are aware of some “secret gems”. You know people and perhaps have your own traditions and gastronomy. How comparable is the information from Google and the media to your personal knowledge? What advice would you give to someone that just arrived in your city? It’s essential to live with locals in order to live a local life and, in my opinion, the local life is the most enjoyable and rewarding.

During my time in Zanzibar, Tanzania, I spent most of the time with the Zanzibarians and got to experience how their real-life (and issues) was like. I picked up some Swahili words that eventually became phrases and short conversations.

More notable, I lived an unrepeatable moment at a virgin, sunny, warm and humid beach, with a fresh salty seaweed smell. During a jog in the morning, right when the tide was low and uncovered vast shallow puddles, I went into the shallow water and started walking calmly, slowly. In an attempt to believe that I was actually right there, away from the chaotic world, I found a woman leaning towards what seemed to be a small farm of seaweeds.

I came closer and, naturally, said “Mambo vipi?” (how are you?), to which she replied “Powa, vipi?” (good, and you?) with a huge, shining smile on her face. I was curious about what she was doing – it was so local! -, but she didn’t seem to speak English. At all. So I decided to ask her what she was doing before I ran out of words of her language.

However, not only I managed to understand her whole explanation – or at least 70% of it – but also realised that I was already able to put enough vocabulary together to have a more in-depth conversation in Swahili! With excitement and, again, struggling to accept that I was living that moment in a remote spot during a pandemic, I started helping her and “harvesting” algae from Tanzanian waters.

I doubt that I had had the chance of doing something similar if I weren’t trying to avoid “touristic herds”. Surely a safari trip or a natural tour can be life-changing too, but this was one of the anecdotes that I won’t forget either: how they used their coast to grow food in such a unique way that was new to me.

Here’s a picture of Jambiani beach, similar to the place where this happened. You can see the inmense and majestic areas of sand uncovered during low tide – and people driving bicycles (if not motorbikes) around. Source: https://www.pinterest.es/pin/572168327636197341/

Spot the secret gems

Thus, I’ve spotted many “secret gems” that are invaluable.

On the other side, family travelling, for instance, often means having everything planned at least a few days in advance. You know what spots you will see, where you will stay, and, pretty much, what you will do. But as a traveller, you would like to see the (pretty much) unseen: a wonderful spot which is not exploited by mass tourism. This relates to natural places that are not published to the herds, like a less known beach or a mountain, a bar/restaurant frequented by locals or simply a town that others would have no reason to visit.

I felt slightly dissapointed when I visited the pyramids of Giza: they’re unique gems, but the fact that they’re one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world made the difference.

What are your thoughts?

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