Where Exceptional Begins

5 Ways To Be a Better Traveler


Posted on April 11th, by Ashley Sams in Study Abroad. No Comments

A few weeks ago, I embarked on my first solo journey to Italy to meet my mom, and it gave me the most incredible sense of empowerment. Granted it was only a bus ride, two flights and an overnight in Barcelona, but gosh darnit – I did it, and I loved every minute of it. It also inspired me to post a photo showcasing one of my new favorite quotes. The quote was said by Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel and goes like this:

“Please be a traveler, 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 makes a great point. Why settle for being just another tourist, frequenting every destination your guide book recommends? Why not get a little bit more out of your trip? I’ve been trying to live this mantra more and more and I’ve found it has made many of my trips better. For example, many of my friends and family ask why I haven’t spent much time outside of Spain because every weekend my friends and I journey off to a small town nearby or the like. In the 3 months I’ve been here, I’ve only been outside of the country twice and both were when my mom visited. 3 months and I’ve only really seen Spain?! Guess what, I think its way better that way. I am studying in the Basque Country, home of some of the greatest pintxos to grace the earth, stunning beaches and Basque pride. And I feel like I’ve had a great time getting to know this area. I mean, afterall, I am spending an entire semester here. What would the use be if I came home and could only show pictures of every weekend I spent away from my home.

Nonetheless, as I am about to embark on a two-week travel spree, I am reminded that traveling is much better than touring. And as a result, I came up with a few ways to be a better traveler, versus a tourist.

  1. Try the local cuisine  I know this sounds like an obvious one, but you can’t imagine the number of people I’ve heard of eating McDonald’s and Burger King when visiting a new place. Please don’t do that (unless desperate measures call, of course). Instead, spend five minutes researching the area you are visiting and what foods/plates they are famous for. Or, if you don’t have the time before, try a restaurant that looks local and ask the waiter what his/her favorite dish is. Either way, it will be worth it – trust me.
  2. Pack light • Or should I say, perfect the art of packing light. Realize that there are some things you can live without on your 10 day trip. Also, take note that unless you’re visiting Death Valley and sweating gallons everyday, chances are your clothes aren’t really that dirty. Pack heavy on the things that matter (never skimp on underwear & socks!). But no one is going to know that the shirt you have on, you also wore yesterday (and the day before).
  3. See the popular tourist sights – because you want to • Too many times I’ve been somewhere and went to see some of the most popular places and got nothing out of it. How boring is that?! If you have time to plan beforehand, research a few places in the area that actually interest you – you will be much more engaged and enjoy your trip more. If you must see the spots that everyone sees and you’re really not interested – find a cool tour guide or tour book. Half of the time I wasn’t interested simply because I didn’t know anything about the place.
  4. Don’t be afraid to get lost • Actually, try to get lost. What better way is there to get to know an area than to get lost within it, responsibly. Don’t wander down back alleys, alone, at night, but head outside and walk around. See what you can discover. Some of my favorite spots I’ve found while traveling were ones I just stumbled across.
  5. Stay open minded • This is probably the hardest tip to follow, but its also the most rewarding. Wherever you travel to, things will be different. Sometimes better than what you’re used to, sometimes worse. Take it as it comes and learn from it. Embrace the fact that you are participating in a new culture. It can be super easy to write-off things that are different as “wrong,” but honestly, don’t. Try to avoid doing all the things you’re accustomed to doing or criticizing the way things are. Whats the point of a trip if you don’t experience anything new from it?? Don’t reject the culture or fear the unknown. Take it all in and grow from it. Expand your mindset. After all, the journey is the destination, right?

On that note, I’m off to spend a week in southern Spain with some friends and then cross a huge item off my bucket list in Norway with Zak. I hope you all have a wonderful semana santa as well, and maybe even get to give these tips a try.

Buen viaje!





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