“The more of the world I see, the better I am as a journalist. … And the more I work as a journalist, the more analytically I view the world as I travel.”
— Bridget O’Brien (1981-2007)
These words describe so well how I feel after these months of intermittent traveling. As I end my four-month sojourn in Europe, I can only express gratitude for having had the opportunity to voyage to so many places and for having changed my life through such an incredible variety of experiences. As Mrs. O’Brien said, my work as journalist prior to my trips here affected how I traveled, and in return, these travels have and will continue to change how I work as a journalist upon my return.
One principle in particular became quite clear to me when I was in Morocco last month. To see the world, one needs only eyes, but to truly comprehend the world, one needs to travel with heart. In short, one needs to be a traveler, not a tourist.
To be a traveler does not mean one must live out of a backpack and a tent and avoid all the landmarks – they are, after all, famous for a reason. It also does not mean that one needs to have the money for opportunities such as swimming with sharks or living among indigenous tribes. It simply means getting off the high horse of being a tourist and experiencing life with the locals, be it striking up a conversation if the language permits, joining in an event or celebration, playing with the local kids, or even starting a dance party in the streets.
People, despite my cynicism at times, are generally good. If only more voyagers would be willing to interact with locals outside of commercial transactions, perhaps locals in tourism cities would be less fatigued by the throngs of people that come and leave their cities, taking away only souvenirs and leaving only trash. Of course, something has to give on both sides. Locals can also be more willing to stop and help, and offer their ideas without trying to sell anything.
Regardless, as visitors, we should bring along our best etiquette to wherever we go. I’ve come up with three little tips, ones that I myself try to follow as well.
1) Language – if you speak the local language, use it. If you don’t, don’t try to force your native language on the locals. It’s one thing if they want to speak to you in your native language and another to arrogantly use your native language and then complain when they don’t understand.
2) Culture – do some research before you go, especially if it’s a place with a culture that’s much different than your own. Keep in mind the cultural differences and adapt to them as much as you can. There’s nothing more offensive than sticking your nose up at other people’s cultures when you’re in their country.
3) Experience – take time to experience life as it is for the locals. Again, this is not to say you have to spend thousands to “imitate” a local’s life, but do venture out of the ordinary tourist areas. Don’t hide behind the tourist wall.
So join me, friends, as travelers, not tourists, and open your eyes and hearts to our wonderfully diverse world.