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Happy World Tourism Day! It's Time to Replace the Phrase 'Don't be a tourist, be a traveler'

By Gavin Delany
September 27, 2019

Happy World Tourism Day!  The UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization) created the idea of World Tourism day in 1980, 10 years after the organization was founded, with the stated purpose:

"to foster awareness among the global community of tourism’s social, cultural, political and economic value and the contribution the sector can make in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals."

Reclaiming ‘Tourism’ as a net Global Good

Many have heard the phrase: “Be a traveler, not a tourist.” The sentiment somehow implying that "touristy" pursuits are wrong or less authentic than those of a "traveler" - exacerbated by well-intentioned messaging and marketing from the travel industry itself, the independent travel blogger segment, and social media.

We say, its time to reflect and choose our words carefully to keep world travel inclusive and accessible to all.

There’s no one right way to explore our planet. It's time to reclaim the word "tourist".

Young woman on vacation in Paris

What Happened?

Somewhere along the way the term "tourist" became associated with a "less cool" way to see the world. Many travel companies then began an aggressive trend of one upmanship, each trying to portray their anti-tourist itineraries as more authentic than the other.

Some well-meaning travel bloggers also became an influential part of the industry and fed into the “tourist vs traveler” perception with their portrayal of the digital nomad life -  escaping the 9-5 life by getting paid to travel and write. 

Solo travel blogger

Because they are afforded the opportunity to explore the world in a specific long-term way, many bloggers use language that may unintentionally put tourists down, at times dissuading them from travel at all.

This has created a cultural perception and assumption that everyone has the time, budget, and wherewithal to plan their own independent adventures and strike out on the road to experience the world like an affluent or truly intrepid explorer.

But that simply isn’t true or feasible, and in turn, can dissuade those who don’t have the ability or desire to plan it themselves.

When we preach to the masses about being a traveler, not a tourist we are in effect shaming and dissuading many would be travelers from taking the first step.

Young woman climbing the Great Wall of China

They may internalize the idea that their only choices are A) to take expensive ‘unique off the beaten path’ trips - price prohibitive for many - or B) foolishly be “just a tourist” partaking in more mass tourism experiences, ignoring culture or the authenticity of a place, and creating a sense of FOMO in the back of the mind.

Having more people choose to stay home because they feel shamed by affordable ways of traveling the world is not good global citizenship. 

We need more people traveling abroad, however they can afford it, not less.

Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely don’t begrudge the wealthy for traveling in luxury or booking more expensive packages. Far from it. But we also don’t endorse the belittlement of the many other forms of international travel that are more accessible to the masses.

How Your Trip is Packaged Doesn't Change the Fact That You're Going

Group of tourists getting on a bus tour

Whether you choose to go the “all inclusive” route or a bit more choose your own adventure, or something in between, you will be traveling and experiencing the world. And don’t let the term “package” fool you either. 

Through a desire to attract more travelers who have chosen not to be 'tourists', guided travel companies have increased their marketing efforts to reflect unique itineraries and experiences you simply can’t find if you plan on your own.

Large stone lion in hidden garden in japan

Tours  or 'guided trips' are an excellent solution - the logistics are taken care of, no more worrying about how you’re going to get from point A to point B, you get to meet fellow travelers from around the world, and experience both top sites as well as local gems not found in the guidebooks - all woven into the itinerary for a rich, balanced, and fulfilling trip. Plus you get the benefits of a knowledgeable, often local, tour guide.

The Misconception of “Tourist Traps”

Think about it. Even if you don’t consider yourself a “touristy” type of traveler, you’ve probably still gotten a thrill when visiting world icons and very much “on the beaten path” type attractions. Who couldn’t marvel at seeing the Colosseum, or be blown away by the Taj Mahal, or feel moved watching a Haka demonstration in New Zealand?

Haka in New Zealand

Are these experiences common? Yes. Do they cost a bit extra? Sure, sometimes - as do the nearby restaurants and shops. But that doesn’t take away from how you feel when you encounter some of the globe’s most impressive architectural, cultural and natural wonders.

They also provide a context to the culture - seeing and experiencing these things actually makes your travel experience more meaningful.

The thing is, even riding camels in the desert of Morocco or flying in a hot air balloon over Cappadocia could be considered a  touristy activity. So why does the line even need to be drawn? Why have travel companies, influencers, and bloggers made it necessary?

(And by the way, why are the Pisa forced perspective shots “uncool” and touristy, but the salt flats in Bolivia considered the place for a “traveler?”)

Young tourist in Italy Pisa

Regardless of how you feel, there's no denying or diminishing that visiting so called "tourist traps" or even being a tourist can be a unifying and edifying experience.

You’re surrounded by hundreds of people from all socio-economic classes, races, genders and religious backgrounds - all gathered in one place to capture the same photo op, such as Pisa, and all there to appreciate a site of cultural importance.

How To Be a ‘Thoughtful Modern Tourist’

Whether you identify as “tourist” or “traveler,” you’re a citizen of the world. Get to know it. Here’s how to do it with respect and honor for you, the people and creatures who live in the spot you’re exploring and future generations who’ll want to enjoy it, too. 

Tenants of a good traveler, regardless of where they visit.

1. Explore mindfully

Don’t worry about what other people say is cool or “must do”. Find your personal travel stride and wander with confidence.

Tourists in India

Discover new things that interest you and where you’re willing to take risks - don’t worry about how “extreme” or “boundary pushing” it is. 

Challenging yourself is fine, but you don’t need to push yourself beyond your comfort zone just to impress others - via social media feed, at the tailgate, or at a cocktail party - when you DO decide to push yourself, do it for yourself and for that experience, not for the sake of others.

2. Don’t take yourself too seriously 

You may be inspired by your favorite Instagram travel influencer, but you don’t need to push yourself into a box that doesn’t fit. The point of traveling is to embrace the world and be authentic to yourself. 

Forced perspective shot in Boliva salt flats

Want the cliche Leaning Tower of Pisa pic, or finger on top of the Pyramids of Giza? Go for it! Want to skip those popular poses and just experience the landmark? That’s great too!

3. Leave judgement at home

Don’t put others down for their travel style, and don’t judge yourself for yours. If you want a picture with the Eiffel Tower, a guided tour of a castle, or a hiking trip through the remote Amazon, you should do it.

Keep yourself openminded about the cultures you are visiting and be respectful of local customs, even if they may not make initial sense to you. 

We believe that good travelers appreciate curious exploration and recognize that travel is for everyone, with varying tastes.

Tourist and locals on street in India

4. Consider protecting the world when you travel 

When you travel and meet different people from around the globe it becomes ever more clear that we all share a responsibility to care for our home, the world. 

Make an effort for eco-friendly, sustainable travel and do what you can to minimize your carbon footprint.

Check out our top sustainable travel trips & tips >

5. Learn something unfamiliar -- leave with new skills and knowledge 

There are numerous benefits to having new experiences and learning - you expand your mind and stimulate your creativity, overcome fear and discover new interests.

Learning while traveling increases your awareness of local customs, cultures, people, and places. You can gain a deep sense of satisfaction from new insights that connect you more deeply with your destination.

And you might even develop an interest you want to pursue more when you return home! Thereby extending the impact of your travels far after they're over.

Vintage travel writing and map

6. Get in touch with you 

Travel is a gift that allows time & space to let your mind wander. Take some moments to reflect on your life, your relationships, your goals and dreams.

It’s also a time to embrace the unknown and learn to accept flexibility. The way you handle travel issues, problems that arise, as well as opportunities that presented that maybe don’t fit your itinerary - all these circumstances give you insight and a fresh perspective into how you deal with things, and you might make improvements. 

7. Relax & rejuvenate

Regardless of how you relax or feel rejuvenated (beach in Thailand? Camping trip among the harsh elements in Patagonia?), travel is an opportunity to renew. Use the opportunity to reset - so you feel refreshed and ready to approach your everyday life in a new light. Many of us at Stride like to start a trip with some hard adventure and end with a relaxing beach or spa stay. Why choose when a little planning can enable both!

Luxury bungalows in bora bora

8. Talk to your neighbor

Your ride share driver, the person standing next to you at the bus stop, the couple seated across from you at dinner. Often the most memorable experiences come from change encounters with locals living their normal day. 

Even if it’s just to ask for directions, there’s no telling what kind of conversation you could strike up. Maybe they were a traveler in your hometown once!

Get out there - Be a proud, yet humble, tourist!

Groups of people touring the world

It’s time to explore the world your way. Be respectful, be aware, be appreciative, be bold, be curious, be yourself and be supportive of all who wander.

Traveling is not a contest for who has the most authentic experiences or who travels farthest from tourist sites. Rather it is an amazing gift and opportunity.

Never before in human history could so many people of different backgrounds travel so far, and experience people and places thousands of miles from where they were born simply for the joy of exploring the world and connecting with her inhabitants.

Travelers in nepal

There are a million ways to travel - we’re not here to judge the way you choose to do it.

So get out there and soak up what the world has to offer! Visit historical landmarks, try local foods (not sure about fried crickets? That’s fine - try something more familiar instead!), and meet people from all walks of life.

Where Do We Go From Here?

What’s next? How do we reclaim the word “tourist” and encourage everyone to travel in ways that makes them feel the most fulfilled and happy?

Tree lined road

Industry: Take a hard look at how travel marketing can unintentionally turn off potential new world explorers (thereby putting less travelers in the world - a net negative in our view). As Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.''

So let’s shift the marketing tone around “be a traveler, not a tourist” which puts down some travelers in order to elevate specific products.

Tourists: Travel the way it makes sense to you - in your comfort zone, on the edge, in between or way beyond - and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for how you travel, where you go, or who you go with.

The spirit of adventure, curiosity, and exploration lies within all people, and gets manifested in different ways throughout a person’s life depending on their life stage, and personal circumstances. 

Appreciate the journey and find your #travelstride!

Share and Enjoy
507 Views    2 Comments
By Michelle Peters
September 27, 2019 at 2:06 PM
Yes! Find your #travelstride. What speaks to each of us individually, be it a classic European tour hitting all the highlights, or venturing far off the map in Patagonia or New Zealand with a trusted guide and like-minded travelers, is the real treasure of travel. See, do, explore, appreciate, connect, rejuvenate!
By Gavin Delany
September 27, 2019 at 3:14 PM
High five sister!

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