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Traveler or Tourist? + 5 best travel tips

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

Okay, okay. This notion of “are you a traveller or are you tourist” has come across in conversation for many years now. Firstly, I’ll note that the US English spelling is ‘traveler’ and the Australian English is ‘traveller’, so pardon any back and forth as we go. Having lived in Aussie for 5 years, I still find myself not remembering which is which - like saying car park instead of parking lot or pushie for bicycle.

Secondly, I want to tell you a story about my time in Colombia, South America. I was living with a group of the Hare Krishnas just outside of Medellín and decided one day to take myself to Guatapé. Guatapé is the pueblo where Pablo Escobar has his mansion, in which you can *at least in 2015* go paint balling - cool right? I didn’t do that, though. I went to this massive monolith of a rock where you climb over 700 stairs that gets you to this vantage point.

Many green islands surrounded by emerald waters with a lady standing in front
The view from the top of the monolith. Guatapé, Colombia

There had been a few trials and tribulations up until this point in my journey in Colombia, of which maybe I’ll write about later, but for now, just imagine yourself in your early 20’s with stress and worry - somewhat of an existential crisis and not knowing where life will take you next because of some life altering choices. As soon as I arrived off the bus and I looked that monolith up and down… my stress and worry felt like it literally melted off of my body. I felt the shackles dissolving off of my mind. It was such a freeing moment. I was stopped in my tracks, in total awe and wonderment at such a landscape. My worries became small compared to this rock in front of me.

A town with buildings nestled amongst a hill side with a monolithic rock with over 700 stairs leading to the top
See the switchbacks within the rock? Those are the +700 stairs to the vantage point!

This is a moment I will never forget and has shaped me as a person - especially then because on my way back to the Hare Krishna village, I lost my way on the bus and needed to speak the best, most proficient Spanish I could in order to get back on the right bus that would take me to this ‘off the beaten track’ village.

So, I ask you… what do you think is the difference between ‘travelling’ and ‘tourism’, if there is one?

In my opinion, travelling gives you time to soak in the culture and cuisine of the local places. As a traveller, you’re able to enjoy the luxury of time and energy. Perhaps you take a moment to learn the local language and better understand the history and heritage that history books, google, and travel manuals can’t teach you. You might like to follow less of a strict itinerary, and allow for the spirit of the land to guide you where you need to be. To be a traveler is a lifestyle because we can never stop the spirit from continuing its travels, even if it’s just in our own back yard!

Waterfall with mossy rocks and a woman sitting on top with her hands in the air
Exploring off the beaten path in Guatapé, Colombia

So what is a tourist? There’s this saying out there that people just go on to “collect flags” or passport stamps from country to country. Meaning, their motive is more to show-off how many places they’ve been than to truly allow the experience to envelop their intention. Tourism can be a watered-down visit of the town, an overview of the most ‘on the beaten path’ places. Likely, there is not enough time to make long enough stops to actually chat with locals, to submerse yourself in the language, or to soak in the spirit of the place. What can really set apart a tourist from a traveler is the strict itineraries with no wiggle room to change plans. Sure, having a skeleton or blue print for things you’d like to do, places you’d like to go, excursions to go on is fun and enticing, but leave room in your schedule for the freedom to explore once you’re at your destination. Doing this leads to different types of connections with others in your new home for those days/weeks/months.

Allow the country and the locals to offer their advice on the do’s and don’ts of their homeland. Meet fellow travellers and let them spill their tea with you on their experiences. It’s the best way to learn, so create the space for it! You’ll also likely avoid paying premium prices on your excursions because when you pre-book in your home country, you may not be receiving deals and discounts like you could in-person - which leads us into my first of five best travel tips!

But before I reveal my best travel tips, travelling is all about your intention and your action. What is it that you want from your travels, why do you want to book your next trip? Perhaps you want to book a group trip with a local guide so you can experience the history and spirituality of the place (like our India Retreat!). Or perhaps you need some reprieve from your work-life and need a little holiday in the sun (like our Thailand Retreat!). Or maybe you want to explore new places with a trusted guide and group of people because solo travel seems daunting (keep opening our newsletters for our travel & yoga retreats!). Or maybe you froth over solo travel (like me!). Whatever it is, set your intention, and take meaningful action wherever you are in the word.

5 Best Travel Tips

  1. Source yourself a travel credit card - make sure to pay off your scheduled payments each month, and you’ll start earning rewards back for flight tickets, hotels, rental cars, etc.! I personally use Captital One Venture Card.

  2. Use SkyScanner or Hopper to review and compare flight costs - then go directly to the airline of choice. I will sometimes book directly through SkyScanner, but it is a 3rd party, so you won’t always get your money back if there is an unforeseen event *like the pandemic* as you would if you book through the airline directly. Or just add insurance with your booking!

  3. Trip and health-travel insurance? Your travel credit card will likely offer you trip insurance when you book your airline tickets with that card - so don’t pay for extra insurance through the airline! Also, most travel credit cards will also reimburse you for any medical claims you need to make while travelling. For example, if you need to purchase a prescription or you need to go to the hospital, pay with your credit card and they’ll likely reimburse your claim.

  4. Get yourself a Manduka yoga mat for your travels! They are light, only weigh 2 pounds, and you can roll it up/fold it up for your carry on. I will literally roll my mat out at the gate while I wait to make sure I’m stretched out before the flight!

  5. Prep your carry-on bag with essential oils like lavender (great for soothing nerves and promoting sleep), peppermint (great for head tension, bad breath, and a queasy tummy), on-guard (helps your immunity and as a hand-sanitizer), and breathe cough-drops (perfect for take off and landing that opens your airways). Having all your essentials handy makes for a smooth and soothing flight. You’ll be feeling fresh and smelling great for your arrival. Save 25% on these or any oils of your liking through this link.

What other travel tips do you have for me?! Comment below.

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