Just the other day, I read a “travel tips” article that talked about how to be a traveler, rather than a tourist, and tips for how to best experience a new place. I can’t find the article now (of course), but one of the tips was something like “Get to the highest point possible — after all, you want the first photo you share on social media to be a great landscape, and it’s a great way to get a scope of the land.” Anyway, I’ve seen multiple “travel tips” articles like this and I thought perhaps it’d be nice to do one of my own, based on my travel experiences.
Here’s the thing: it’s great to be a traveler, but it’s also great to be a tourist sometimes. There’s a reason that certain attractions are popular; often, they’re a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you shouldn’t so easily pass up just to avoid seeming like a tourist. So I’m not sure I buy into the whole “be a traveler, not a tourist” thing — that’s really just going off the negative connotations of the word “tourist,” and I’m pretty meh about that.
Alas, without further ado… my traveler/tourist (how about both?!) tips:
Look elsewhere for free, public wifi. Whether you’re trying to send a quick email or catch up on your local news, there’s a solid chance you may be looking for wifi when you’re on the road. Many will be quick to suggest a local cafe, but some other options: public libraries. They’re free, warm, usually have comfy chairs, and you can easily hook up to a printer if needed. Many cities nowadays are also installing free public outdoor wifi, so be sure to check out that as well.
Read up on the area before you go. Sometimes you’ll discover little tips that could save you valuable time or money. Examples of this: the Staten Island Ferry, which takes people from Manhattan to Staten Island for free. Invaluable if you’d like to catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty FOR FREE. Or how about the C-Bus in Columbus, Ohio, which does a free loop around the downtown area? These things can save you money on cab fares and the like — money which can be better-spent elsewhere.
Check out your options instead of wasting time. Have a three-hour bus layover? You could sit around in the bus station and wait…. and wait…. and wait…. or you could not. Look beforehand and make yourself aware of the bus station’s location. Is there a library nearby? A cafe? A restaurant, or any other attraction? Why not go there, rather than sitting aimlessly in the bus station? It’ll give you a chance to stretch your legs, see a city you’re ultimately just passing through, and it certainly helps kill time.
Read reviews online… but take them with a grain of salt. It’s always good to read reviews when you’re planning a trip, whether for a hotel, restaurant or attraction. You can find out some useful tips such as the best dishes to order or popular things to do in the area. Of course, it’s important to read a variety of reviews. Don’t take one person’s negative review of a hotel and run with just that — read several and see how different people’s compare. Expectations are different for every traveler, so take it with a grain of salt.
That being said, sometimes reading the reviews can save you boatloads of time and money. For instance, I once booked a bus tour of NYC through Groupon with a certain company. When the day of my trip arrived, the bus tour never showed up at its designated spot, the customer service line was only available on weekdays, and I ultimately ended up demanding a refund from Groupon. If I had read the reviews of the bus company, I would’ve discovered that many people had faced similar issues, with trips randomly being cancelled, and I wouldn’t have bothered wasting my time or money.
So don’t be a traveler. But don’t be a tourist. Be somewhere in between, be both. Enjoy yourself, enjoy your trips. Spend three hours waiting in line to see the Statue of Liberty if you want to; climb a mountain to get an incredible view to share on Instagram. In the end, it’s your life, your vacation and your experience — enjoy it.