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map pinsYou have the list — maybe in your head, maybe written down — of all the places you’ve traveled to. Maybe you even have a map marked off somewhere, with little pushpins or computerized dots peppering the globe. You fly frequently and far, your passport has more stamps than the post office, and your international snow globe collection is reaching insurable proportions. But what some globetrotters and island-hoppers don’t realize is that there are miles between the distances you traverse and the experiences that shape you as a global citizen. The following are five signs you may be traveling more like a pedometer than a cultural sponge.

You visit a new place just to check it off a list.
I am guilty of this, though to be fair, the itinerary was not my own. My trip of a lifetime onboard a world cruise with Semester at Sea was fantastically jam-packed with datelines and diversity, but overwhelming in the sheer number of countries and cultures I had to digest over a limited period of time. While I don’t regret the experience, I still feel like I would need to go back to many of the places we docked to say I truly know what it’s like to visit there. Traveling to new places is an opportunity to immerse. This isn’t the Travel Channel; don’t get to know a place for an hour and then reach for the remote. Once you step foot on the soil of a new frontier, many would say it’s fair game to cross it off the omnipresent list. What would be better is to have a story to tell about that time you stopped in a local Tuscan market to buy groceries for a picnic lunch, but didn’t speak a lick of Italian, so you asked for Saltines, got sardines, but struck up a conversation with someone else in line and now they visit you every summer. Okay, sort of a romanticized version of experiential travel, but better than just getting back on the tour bus.

You never stray from familiar destinations.
You vacation two, three times a year, but it’s always to that resort you like in Mexico, where, like a Telemundo version of “Cheers,” everyone knows your name in a Spanish accent. While favorite locales are a good standby for getaways in a pinch, you can’t rack up too much travel cred if your only world view extends just south of the border … or along the same chain of islands. Travel should stretch the coordinates of comfort, and leave you exposed and vulnerable — but in that “It’s Christmas morning and I don’t know what is under the tree yet” sort of way. Venturing into the relative unknown is a spectacular way to accumulate those once-in-a-lifetime moments that can only be seized when you’re not seeking them. I would never have seen the sunrise on the beaches of India or ridden on the back of a moped in Vietnam if I didn’t throw a little caution to the wind and let curiosity outweigh fear.

16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

You expect the comforts of home … abroad.
While the “Americanization” of many cultures has led to expectations of Coca-Cola, Big Macs and a side of English in any corner of the world (and many times you will find them, believe me), creature comforts and familiarity should come as a surprise in a foreign land, not as an assumption. I can always forgive first-time travelers for some misgivings about varying international standards in sanitation, service and local cuisine. But if you’re asking for an exotic adventure to the Far East, don’t act blindsided when — gasp — people actually do eat all the things you’ve heard rumors about and, well, it’s not weird to them. Apart from culinary delicacies, many cultures don’t even partake in meals until what most Americans could consider bedtime. Harsh though it may seem, my best advice for anyone looking for all the conveniences or hair gels of home while traveling abroad is: Stay home.

You view your adventure from a bubble.
Most of your panoramas include a snoozing elderly man — not because he’s asleep on a stoop in a charming old Mediterranean village, but because most of your sightseeing has been through a tour bus window and he is sitting two rows in front. Don’t get me wrong — organized tours can be a great way to gain access to sites and information that would be difficult to arrange on your own. However, if the only people you speak to during your trip are your guide and your buddies on the bus, you’re missing out on a key aspect of the travel experience: the locals. More and more tour companies are infusing local interactions into their activities, including village visits and even meals in local homes. Or you can go off wandering on your own — befriend a shop owner or a student who speaks English if you’re a bit lost in translation. My best experiences abroad continue to be those made possible by the people indigenous to that area.

You refuse to change.
If you drink to have a good time, try a traditional caipirinha in Brazil, but don’t get so drunk that you forget what beach the bartender recommended. If you like to stay connected, create an Instagram or Vine of the Angkor Wat temple, but don’t stay so locked to a screen that you forget to look around and miss that awesome Cambodian monkey stealing a camera. Researchers say that the best time to quit smoking is while you’re on vacation because your habits and routine change so drastically that you’re essentially distracted. Embrace a change of pace during travel. Some are forced upon you — jet lag and time zone changes are unavoidable — but the “When in Rome” mentality is not for naught when traveling. New places are the ultimate atmosphere for trying new things and for imagining yourself apart from the items that typically comprise our every day. If you can’t let loose on the other side of the world, then what are you traveling for?

4 Tourists We DON’T Want to Travel With

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

15 Responses to “5 Signs You’re Not a True Traveler”

  1. Andrea Bocelli says:

    Great article and beautifully written!

    • Marnie Sweet says:

      Andrea Bocelli is a world-class traveller with a heavenly voice.
      If he reads these postings and comments on one, I would think
      he merits at least a ‘Thank you for your comment.’

      • Hi Marnie,

        We have no way of knowing whether this comment was left by the famous singer or from someone with the same name (or from someone using the name as an alias). That said, we appreciate all reader comments!

        Happy travels,

        Sarah Schlichter
        Senior Editor
        IndependentTraveler.com

  2. Debra M says:

    One more to add: If you rent a car at your location don’t just take the motorways/highways/freeways. The back roads (as long as they are in a safe country)can bring some beautiful vistas & unforgettable experiences like the small town pub or the herd of highland cattle casually strolling down your road or the ford in the river (no the sign did not mean there is a dealership ahead).

  3. Christy says:

    These five are spot on, speaking as a confirmed true traveler. The last one about change is something that constantly amazes me. I never set out to change in a particular way when traveling, but I often return and find that I have changed in some minor or major specific way. It’s fascinating.

  4. whew! I am still an authentic traveler after all these years!

  5. John G. says:

    Taking the train & other local transportation opens up a whole new world. You realize that many people speak english in foreign countries and they are eager to practice speaking and help you discover local sights. This has been a fantastic addition to my travels

  6. Anna says:

    Let’s not be too harsh on tour groups. Take me for example. I am a single 63 year old woman. I have driven my car alone and with others all over the United States and Canada many times. I have been to all 50 states. I even drove to Alaska and back. On many of my trips, I took my mother, who was elderly and in a wheelchair. It wasn’t easy, but I did it anyway. In the past, I had been to Europe three times, all with privately organized tours — school groups, choral groups, etc. I do not have a traveling companion right now and I don’t expect to find one. I have a small but manageable disability — nothing anyone else would notice — that is likely to get worse. I have to be careful where I go and what I do so I don’t fall. I recently flew to Ireland and went on an escorted tour with 38 strangers. It was an excellent experience. Would I have rather rented a car and driven around by myself or with a buddy? Well, sure. And in a perfect world I could do that. But there’s no way I could do so at this time. So what I did was see and experience as much as I could from the motorcoach and on the organized activities. When I had free time, I did walk around and explore on my own. My friends at home think I’m very brave. I just laugh at them because there’s nothing brave about what I’ve done. But it worked for me this time, and hopefully it will work for me many more times in the future. Thank goodness for such tours. If it weren’t for them, I’d have to stay at home and stagnate. I consider myself a traveler. If I could hike across the Andes with just a water bottle and a toothpick, I’d do it. But sadly I can’t. So I do what I can and am thankful for it.

    • cher says:

      Good for you…..I so wish I could do what you are doing. Why can’t I….well, husband just lost his job and now wants me to be his best friend and keep him company after many years of not doing much together. Also have an almost 91 year old mother who lives 125 miles away and wants more than anything else for me to live there….not happening! And a 91 year old mother in law nearby though with him not working, I let him deal with her.

      I have traveled some, not nearly as much as I’d like though…hard to find buddies who are interested in the same activities, or have the money and time to go. I wonder about going alone…there was a groupon recently for what looked to be a fabulous trip in the Rockies with some tent camping. I thought, sure I can do that but then what if the others are all couples and/or have a companion and I’d be lonely or a third wheel. I know one has to take a chance to meet new people but I just seem to be stuck….unable to make that next move.

      So I admire what you do and how it works.

  7. Marsha says:

    Wonderful description, I hope some people see the errors of their ways and try to embrace real travel.

  8. tl says:

    #1 & #2 are kind of Yes and No. People in the States in average has only 2-3 weeks of vacation time every year, so it is not too easy to hang around in one place for an extended period of time. As for not straying from familiar destinations, it has to depend on which country. I’ve seen someone’s camera got snapped right off his pocket just a block away from a “tourist site”, and you don’t really want to stray away too far in some countries especially for female travelers.

  9. Clare says:

    As interesting as this article is, being a traveler is not an either/ or experience. If you do it “the right way”, it’s implied in this piece, you are a member of club. If you don’t do it “the right way” the article actually actually suggests you just stay home. Wow.

    Travel is meant to be a way not to just see places, but to experience different ways of living. So can I offer a suggestion? While you’re opening your mind to the viewpoints of the locals you meet, why not extend the same courtesy to your fellow travelers? Let people decide for themselves if they’re a “true traveler.” By imposing your very restrictive idea of what an experience must be, aren’t you guilty of exactly the same sin you accuse the non-“true travelers” of committing?

  10. vicki di says:

    Disgusted. The elderly man went to work his whole life.. putting kids through school, paying bills, etc. Now he wants to travel but the aging body may not allow lots of walking or venturing out.
    Where is your empathy? This could your grandfather.

    You are agist. You too will age. Did it occur to you that many people reading this might be older? I hope you check out “Media takes on Aging” before you write about elderly . I am unsubscribing from this site. I can go elsewhere for info.

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