Photo by Luke Mattson

What’s the difference between a tourist and a traveller? And how can we have more meaningful travel experiences even while traveling for leisure? To get you thinking, here’s a non-exhaustive list of ten tips for more reflective, impactful travel.

01 | Leave Your Camera at Home
Freeing yourself of the rectangle frame of a viewfinder will stop you fussing about snapping the best picture, so you can more fully inhabit each moment of your trip.

02 | Take Advantage of Study Exchange and Internship Opportunities
There are perks aplenty for students: your university covers your insurance; you get great discounts on flights and sightseeing; it looks good on your Curriculum Vitae (CV); and, you get course credit (that’s a semester or two less of classes you have to take back home!). You can still do the touristy things, but you’ll be more than a tourist – as an exchange student or intern you’ll gain insight into education and employment in another country and meet and spend time with locals in a different context.

03 | Learn and Use the Local Language
Locals are generally supportive and appreciative of your efforts. Even if you can only say “thank you” and “good morning”, using the words you know demonstrates your openness to your host country. This makes a subtle difference to the tone and quality of your interactions – you’ll find that locals, in turn, will be more open to you.

04 | Talk to New People
Never talk to strangers, right? Obviously you should exercise the usual caution – but go ahead and strike up a conversation with the waiter, the check-out individual or the tour guide. When you meet fellow travellers, take down contact details and take up off-the-cuff offers to “give me a call if you ever come to [insert name of town/country]”. Do this often enough and you’ll end up with some unique memories, visiting the homes and families of the lovely new friends who were once complete strangers.

05 | Get to Know the Expat Community
This is a fascinating study in itself. Many newly-arrived foreigners avoid expats and surround themselves with locals in the hopes of getting an “authentic” experience; others isolate themselves with their compatriots. There’s a way to strike a balance and have the best of both worlds. Expats can be a great resource, giving you tips on what to do and what to avoid. They can also help you make sense of your cross-cultural experience.

06 | Change Your Perspective
If you go to a developing country, don’t just think to yourself, “Oh, they’re poor but they’re happy”. Both statements may be true in many places and many situations, but c’mon, you know the reality is far more complex than that.

07 | Ask Yourself What’s a Cultural Difference and What’s Just Plain Wrong
Some things are relative, so don’t be too quick to judge. By the same token, there are things you shouldn’t pretend can ever be okay anywhere, for anyone. Then there are those things that sit in a grey area between the two, as you wrestle with your own culturally-defined morality.

08 | Think Differently
Think about what it means to be foreign, because you’ll always be a foreigner. It’s trendy to go off the beaten path and eat where the locals eat, hang where the locals hang – but are you really getting an authentic experience? And what constitutes an “authentic experience”, anyway? Ask yourself how the locals see you. People will make a stack of positive and negative assumptions based on your foreign-ness, and the “type” of foreigner you happen to be. You’ll probably automatically be more attractive by virtue of your difference, but you might also be promiscuous in their eyes, simply because you’re from a Western country. So, how does it feel to be exotic? 

09 | Talk About What You Learned
Come back and talk about what you learned rather than what you saw. On your travels you’ll see what other places are like and how other people live – use that as a springboard to consider how you live, and why you live that way. Then go a step further and take what you learn to change something about your own lifestyle.

10 | Learn Lessons
Don’t get stuck up about it. Sorry, but however significant or substantial your travels are, you are not a superior human being. Travel can teach you a lot about yourself and the world – and you should share those lessons – but travel should never make you believe you’re wiser or closer to the truth than the ones who stayed at home.

At Conscious, we are inspired by stories that cause us to think differently and think big-picture and so we set out to tell stories with the help of leaders and influencers within the social good community. You can read more stories like this when you join as a member.