On Being a Tourist Vs. Being a Traveler

The beautiful Paris on Spring of 2014
Europe is perhaps one of the most visited tourist destinations. To see the Eiffel Tower of Paris, walk through the ancient ruins of Rome, smell the tulips of Holland, taste the famous paella of Barcelona. These are just some of the few touristy things I did on my recent Eurotrip.

I have been reminded again of this trip about the difference between a Traveler and a Tourist. "A tourist sees what he has come to see. A traveler sees what he sees." Europe can be very overwhelming, especially for first timers and it is quite difficult to plan a trip that wouldn't lead you to tourist traps. Most of the people would rather see what everyone else has already seen. It is not a bad thing, however, I just believe that if given enough time, there is really more to see of what we already know about a city.

Taken at Keukenhof, Netherlands: Most of the people were only looking at the tulips but missed to see this beautiful lake at the center.

So I came up with a list of things that I did/did not do that somehow defines the difference between being a traveler and a tourist.

1. A Tourist spends a 15 day-holiday on more than five cities while a Traveler spends it in one or two cities.

Since almost all of the countries in Europe are very easily accessible via train or short flights, it is very tempting to just see every thing in one big trip. It is normal for every first timer to try to squeeze in as many cities to visit as they can. I totally get it. That's what I did. I thought that it is more practical to just do everything in one trip because I didn't even know when I will be back again. But this kind of trip really exhausted me. I only had 15 days to visit 8 cities! 8 sounds too ambitious and that's what a tourist would do! However, I would not recommend it and here's why:

a) If you have a month-long or more vacation, then I think it's okay. But if you have a very short period of stay, it might be very rushed. Staying 1-2 nights per city was really never enough for me. 

For most part of the trip, I have to wake up very early in the morning to try to make the most of our day and see as much as we can. So during the train rides, I had to steal in some naps and miss some (or maybe not good) views. I had to just opt to bring food and eat it inside the train. I don't mind it really as it saves a lot of time to just do two things (eat+travel) at the same time, everybody does it anyway. But I think it will be better if you have more time then you can eat in an actual local restaurant. 

Having crackers for lunch at Pisa Centrale

b) You might end up more of just actually "seeing" the sites, but not really "feeling" what the vibe of the city is all about. You will be more focused on following your tight time table and schedule of the day. 

This is how I felt when we went to Barcelona. I only had one night and had to leave a day earlier than the group. Our flight from Rome to Barcelona got delayed as well so we lost a few hours of sight-seeing. I have regretted doing it. I would need to go back to Barcelona.

Inside the Sagrada de Familia, Barcelona

c) It is exhausting! It doesn't feel more of a vacation

2. A Tourist only sees what everyone else has already seen, but a Traveler sees what there is more to see.

Because really, the city is not as beautiful as what it is most famous for. There's got to be more of Paris than just the Eiffel Tower. Try to go to places where tourists normally don't go to or do things that not everyone would do. You might be surprised that those unseen parts of the city are even more beautiful and those other things to do are even more fun and interesting. Plus, you don't have to fight your way against the crowd.

We had a very interesting first night in Barcelona. One of my friends organised for us to join a Paella Cooking Class! I have never ever been in any cooking class so to do it for the very first time, in a beautiful city of Barcelona and to actually learn how to cook its famous dish from a local was a priceless experience!

My special participation in the class was to read the steps. :)

We took Marta's Paella Cooking Class which is set in her humble home. We got to meet other Filipino travelers too and a couple from Canada. Not only did we learn how to cook an authentic Paella from a local, we got to meet other people too and exchange travel stories and experiences. It was really more than just a cooking class experience.

Paella and Wine for our first night in Barcelona.

3. A Tourist follows a guide, A Traveler is his own guide.

I can't blame other people who choose to pay for travel agencies for big trips like this. I totally get the comfort that it brings - you just have to wake up, ride the bus and enjoy the trip. You don't need to worry about where you will go on that day or how you will get there. You already have a very detailed itinerary for the day and a guide to follow. But I don't really like this kind of arrangement. I like to have my own time and do things at my own pace. When you are in a large group, you always have to stay with the group, you have to be complete in order to move on. When you are on your own, you are your own guide. And I find that more challenging and more exciting to just have things your way. I very much prefer DIY trips because it is more flexible according to your time and to do what you want to do.

Montserrat, Spain

We did a DIY trip. It was a bit challenging to plan especially for four people, as we had our own preferences of the things we wanted to see. But in the end, I believe it was still much better that we did it on our own.

4. A Tourist gets the comfort of riding the tour bus while a Traveler gets the story of the city by walking.

I guess everyone has just different preferences when traveling. My preference would always be to do what the locals do - ride the metro and walk. Not only you can save a lot of money, you actually get to see more of the city. It is very tiring though but I really love the idea of being lost in a city that I have never been before. That's where the real adventure is - getting lost in the crowd and the actual journey towards finding your destination is just priceless. You will definitely see beautiful streets or corners that are not even on any travel books. I find that more interesting. 

We've mostly took this tram from our B&B to the heart of Rome.

5. A Tourist can't put their cameras down, a Traveler would take a few shots and be in the moment.

I do love taking photos. I actually used up my 8 GB memory card for the whole trip. But there were brief moments wherein I would just put down my camera and just enjoy the view. It was so much better to actually see it with my own eyes rather than from the camera lenses. When you just keep taking photos, you are very much occupied on how to get a good angle of the photo and not really paying attention to the view. It is good to have photos to look back to after the trip but it is better to relive the moments in your mind.

During the Bernina Express ride from St. Moritz to Tirano, we had the whole passenger car for ourselves, so it was really very easy to switch sides where the better view is and take a photo. I was taking a lot of photos then but I had to stop and just admire the beauty of the Swiss countryside and told myself that even if I had the most advanced camera in the world, it could never capture its real beauty on just a photograph. 

The Swiss Countryside

6. A Tourist spends more money for comfort, A Traveler only needs a bed.

If you'll be always out during the day anyway and sight-seeing, I definitely don't see the practicality of staying in a fancy hotel. We've mostly stayed at B&B's during the duration of our trip and I loved it! Not only it was way, way cheaper, you get the comfort of being in an actual local home plus you get to engage with the locals too (who sometimes live in the same house or area). The basic things that a hotel room provides such as towel, soap, shampoo, hairdryer, internet are provided on B&B's too. Most of them even provide free coffee, tea, cereals and even free use of washing machine (which I'm sure are not free on hotels). We definitely saved a lot of Euros for this option of accommodation.

Airbnb has a lot of options to choose from so I highly recommend this site. But be sure to check for the latest comments of other travelers who have actually stayed there.

Our room in Rome.

Kitchen area
I actually prefer to meet locals and ask them what and where are the best options of almost anything in town rather than consulting travel books. They give you more of an insight from a local's point of view rather than from a visitor's point of view.

7. A Tourist needs a wardrobe to travel. A Traveler only brings what he needs.

All packed! From St. Moritz, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy

When it comes to travelling, I can't pack light. It is because all of the girly stuff I need (well, mostly just clothes that I want to wear to look good on photos! #OOTT). But I was quite impressed with myself for this trip that I manage to just fit everything in one backpack for 9 days! I learned how to mix and match and just really bring what are necessary. It had its pros and cons though. Pros - easier and faster to walk around especially on stair cases. Cons - if you are a tiny girl like me, it will be very tiring to carry it especially during long walks.

Good thing I had one extra large foldable bag. It came in handy in Florence.

8. "A Tourist only sees what he has come to see, a Traveler sees what he sees"

Unless you're a history buff,  an audio guide or a local guide will come very handy when visiting museums and sites. Although some parts of the sites have some labels on it and tell you what it is and a brief story about it, I think it is still so much better to have someone who is knowledgeable enough to tell you more of what you can actually read. I know it is a "touristy" thing to do but a real traveler would want to know more about what he is seeing rather than just taking photos of things he thinks look good but know nothing about. 

The Colosseum, Rome

When I visited the Colosseum in Rome, it just literally felt like looking at gigantic, old stones. Sometimes, I would catch myself listening to tour guides of other groups (ha!) and I am telling you, they give much more interesting stories than what you think you already knew. Suddenly, a plain, normal rock has actually some significant part in the world history! So if you do not want to be another tourist just walking by and taking photos around the sites, better get a guide and actually make your trip meaningful. Not only you get to see the sites, you actually learn to appreciate it more and learn some history.  Of course this may take a lot from your time but I really think it would be worth it.  

You can only read what they want you to read.

"Please be a Traveler and not a Tourist. Try new things, Meet new people and look beyond what's right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in. " - Andrew Zimmern


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