I’m a Traveler, not a Tourist (and so are You!)

When I was a senior in high school I went to see a speaker from the National Geographic channel at Marquette University about being a traveler versus just being a tourist. A few weeks ago, I read a truly inspiring post about traveling, which got me motivated into writing my own piece.

Long story short, when it comes to traveling: It’s your trip, and throughout my travels, I have learned a couple of things:

1. Don’t try to see too much in one trip.
2. Travel is best done slowly (and I am a much happier traveler when I travel slow). It’s best to integrate yourself within the community instead of just hopping from place to place.
3. I like active or group activities, such as climbing or hiking, walking tours, bike tours, cooking classes, food tours, etc.
4. I don’t really like museums (there, I said it- in general, they don’t interest me!)
5. There is no such thing as a “must see” sight- you decide that based on you.
6. It’s okay to pack and splurge so you’re comfortable.
7. Travel alone, at least once

1. Don’t try to see too much during one trip
2. Travel is best Done Slowly: (Stay with me through this background story):

In 2010, I was in France for the second time (though this was the first time by myself.) I was also determined to see all of the continent in 4 months, especially on my very limited budget. A lot of people told me to take the time to see and get to know the region in which I was living, but in my 19-year-old eyes, that was probably the stupidest thing anyone could have ever told me! Plus, that’s boring! In my head, I thought that when you came back from study abroad you are supposed to list off 10 or 15 countries to which you had traveled! It’s not fun or impressive to simply state, “I stayed in France.”

In 2010, I managed some pretty great trips: two long weekends to London and Amsterdam, a weekend skiing in the French Alps, a five-day stay and weekends in Paris, and of course, my two week spring break trip to Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark– Scandinavia. My 4 and 5-day trips were perfect. All of these cities were rather close and for us and as Americans a 3-hour train ride is nothing. However, my two week trip is another story.


Although I absolutely do not regret My two-week trip around Scandinavia with my two friends, I came to one obvious conclusion: we moved TOO fast and we were too scheduled. For example, we only spent a day in Copenhagen, a city that I absolutely loved, and in which I wish we had spent more time. We only spent 4 days in Iceland– in the future I would like to return there and take a road trip around the island, as I fell in love with Iceland and it’s capital, Reykjavik. I also feel I didn’t get to see enough of Stockholm, because our travel days were dominated by buses and it was exhausting, and all we wanted to do was rest. I thought we spent too much time in Norway, which drained my savings account because Scandinavia and Norway especially is not friendly to budget travelers. Finally, because of the volcano and our tight schedules, we lost a lot of time and money rescheduling our itinerary. I felt like we were always moving and worried about where we were going next instead of just enjoying the new cultures in which we were integrated. As I said, Yes, I was in Copenhagen, but I didn’t get to know Copenhagen. And yes, enjoyed myself, but I know I would have enjoyed myself more had we picked maybe two places instead of 4! Additionally, there was so much of France I never saw in 2010 because I was too busy taking quick trips across the borders- and I wish I had taken more trips around the amazing country that is France!


The next year in Japan, I learned my lesson; I took all of my travel time to just see Japan, specifically Nagasaki, Kyoto (though I wish I had given myself more time there), and Tokyo, because there is so much to see in Japan! In fact. The only thing I didn’t get to was Mt. Fuji.- hopefully next time! Additionally, currently time around in France, I am devoting much of my vacations to see other parts of France- more specifically I devoted one week of vacation to Barcelona (one city- not one country) and then the second week to my own beautiful region of France.


Again, travel is best done slowly. In Japan, France, and Barcelona, I had the chance to really get to know the city (or country), relax, move at a slow pace, and pick and choose what I wanted to see (and enjoy them!) instead of just being so rushed from place to place! Some of my most memorable and most meaningful days of traveling are when I had the chance to take the time to stumble upon new activities or adventures– people watching in the parks, bustling through the busy markets, and going to see an amazing folk band in Barcelona, sitting at an amazing cafe in Stockholm, riding my bike through the gardens of Versailles and through the streets of Amsterdam; hiking up the mountains of Etretat, or strolling through the streets of London at 3 AM; Staying with locals in Paris, spending all day in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, and spending all night eating and drinking and karaoking with my Japanese friends.


Here is my advice: even if you are determined to see four countries in two weeks, I strongly advice you to choose one or two countries and see a few great cities and really get to know the country and the people. Furthermore, do not be afraid to change your schedule if you can afford it and are enjoying yourself wherever you are. Integrating yourself amongst the locals is a very rewarding and memorable part of traveling– much more than hustling and bustling from one tourist site to the other (I promise you will remember that time you had an an authentic dinner with locals than the time you took a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower!)

Numbers 3-5 are going to be grouped in this next (much shorter) stint:

3. I like active or group activities, such as climbing or hiking, walking tours, bike tours, cooking classes, food tours, etc.
4. I don’t really like museums (there, I said it- in general, they don’t interest me!)
5. There is no such thing as a “must see” sight- you decide that based on you.

I feel happiest traveling when I am taking walking tours around the city. As I said, I have taken 4 free Sandeman Walking tours and have immensely enjoyed each one. Additionally, each time I have rented a bike or taken the time to stroll or hike around a monument or park and really take in the sites, I have had a great day. In the future I would really like to take bike tours or a Segway tour, as well as a cooking class!

I don’t really like museums– there, I said it. (Am I alone!?) I mean, okay, I have been in plenty in Paris, London, New York City, Chicago, Milwaukee, Oslo, Lille, etc. But, unless there is something in each museum I really want to see (ie: Mona Lisa in le Louvre, the Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki/Hiroshima, the Titanic and Paris Exhibitions in Milwaukee, the Harry Potter exhibition in Chicago, the DDAY Museums in Caen and Bayeux, Modern Art at the MOMA in NYC and le Centre Pompidou in Paris) or unless it is raining or extremely cold, then I really don’t want to go, especially if I only have a limited amount of time in a city. I never took (or really wanted to take) an art history class (and maybe that would have made a huge difference), and in all honesty, I would rather spend my time on the streets getting to know a city than inside a museum (but again I know I am in the minority). For example I went to the Musée Océanographique in Monaco— it is supposed to be one of the best in the world, but really, I didn’t care for it that much. I more enjoyed exploring the castles, the port, and the winding streets of the old city.


This brings me to my next point: There is no such thing as a “must see” attraction. This is YOUR trip. You are the one paying, so you are the one who gets to see and experience whatever you want. I believe guidebooks are a great place to start, but don’t be afraid to stray away from them. Cater your trip to your tastes and your interests. (like I said, if you’re not into museums, don’t fill your trip with them just because the guidebook tells you that you should. Of better yet, just pick one museum based on your interests instead of five, even if it is off the beaten path.) If you are traveling with other people, don’t be afraid to spend some time apart if your friend/sibling/partner wants to see one thing but you’re dying to do something else. For example, I never stayed out past 4 AM in Spain. Most true Spaniards are out until 7 or 9 AM! But with my limited time, I just didn’t want to! But I still feel like I got the most of my time in Spain, and experienced nightlife even if i didn’t stay out until the sun came up (even though there were times I felt guilty not doing so!)

6. It’s okay to pack and splurge so you’re comfortable.

I hate living out of a backpack. I really hate it. I talked about packing for a trip here, so please check it out. But long story short, don’t overpack, but don’t be embarrassed to pack certain things if they’re going to make you more comfortable and happier during your trip.

For me, I have come to this recent splurging realization: I am really over hostel dorms. I just spent 9,90€ per night (this is nothing!) to stay in a mixed (male/female) 9 person dorm in Barcelona. And although I saved a crap ton of money, I think I am just about ready to splurge on a private room. There’s something really great about staying in a hostel and meeting awesome people, but then retreating back to your private sanctuary at the end of the night. Sleeping with 8 other people, I didn’t really sleep very well- people are in and out all night, you share the showers (which were surprisingly quite clean!) etc. I’m (hopefully!) not going to be afraid to do this in the future.

7. Travel alone at least once

Seriously, do it. I had my doubts but traveling alone I had an absolute blast! I met a ton of people in the hostel (many of whom were also traveling alone) and there is never another time when you can do exactly what you want, where you want, when you want. You learn a lot about yourself when you’re alone; you truly start to find yourself.


Do you have any other advice to add? Do you disagree with everything I just said? Let me know in the comments!



2 thoughts on “I’m a Traveler, not a Tourist (and so are You!)

  1. Hi Dana! Thanks so much for the kind words about the ‘How to be a Traveler not a Tourist’ article that I wrote – I am so humbled that you enjoyed it! What a great post you’ve written – I can especially resonate with the benefits of slow travel and going at it alone at least once in your life. All the best with your blog & travels!

    1. Lauren- It means the world to me that you commented on my blog! That you so much!

      Your post is fantastic- and is true on so many levels. Your post helped me out everything I wanted to say into words!



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