By Susan Ho
It’s a truth nearly universally acknowledged among those who travel: the worst thing to be, even worse than the person snoring on the overnight flight, is a tourist. Travelers love to mock the tourist’s white sneakers, outdated guidebooks and preference for loud conversations in English.
But while these attributes mark an obvious tourist, what about the more subtle gradations? A market can be touristy, as can a restaurant, a neighborhood or an action–’tourist’ is more about attitude than style.
We’ve set out to determine the real differences between tourist and travelers, and the steps you can take to see the world as a true traveler.
Travelers search social media hashtags to find the local favorites not yet included in guidebooks
While guidebooks can offer valuable historical context for famous sites, they’re all too frequently outdated when it comes to opening hours–not to mention their meagre selection of restaurants, hotels and shops (swarming with tourists, obviously). Travelers know to get their recommendations where the locals do: online.
Social media is a boon for unearthing local finds, whether your interests tend to food, fashion, architecture or something else altogether. Scouring Instagram hashtags can be one of the best ways to learn about trending local spots. Consult residents’ profiles for their haunts and to learn about relevant hashtags. Even simple ones like #LondonLocal, #NYCHotSpot or #ParisJetaime can lead you to top-notch spots you’d not have otherwise discovered.
Travelers avoid overhyped, overpriced markets where they’re more likely to find gimmicky souvenirs than local gems
Some markets are great, but all too many have succumbed to the tourism machine. They sell overpriced “handicrafts,” fresh from the factory. A little research will help you determine whether your market of choice is the real deal or not. Scrolling past those first Yelp or TripAdvisor reviews and scour traveler photos to assess the goods for sale.
Fortunately, for most disappointing markets there’s an authentic equivalent. Keep in mind that this might not be a market at all. For example, if you’re interested in artisanal leather goods in Florence, you’re better off heading to the Scuola di cuoio (leather school) than trolling the Mercato San Lorenzo.
Travelers think twice before working with a travel agent
Not all travel agencies are created equal. Thanks to a fee structure that prizes cruises, partnerships and big sales, travel agency pricing is notoriously obscure. While you can circumvent some of the nastiness by forming a relationship with a travel agent, oftentimes this requires just as much time and more money than DIY planning!
Travelers arm themselves with a network that understands the local scene at their destination. Thanks to social media, this is easier than ever. You’ll find interest groups ready to help on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, or whatever your preferred social network site is. They also know to consult local publications and blogs that have already completed the vetting process.
Travelers do their research before booking a package tour
Depending on your location and the style of trip you’re looking for, a package tour can either be a boon or a bust. Unfortunately, looking at the website or the carefully curated landing page will rarely offer you the details you need to determine whether you’re heading for a deal, or preparing yourself for an overpriced disaster.
Consult the company’s about page and learn about their expertise. See where their most popular tours go, and find out about the credentials of their tour guides. It is frequently the case that companies offer a cornerstone tour they excel at, along with a variety of supporting excursions that don’t have quite the same pizzazz. See which tours they highlight on their website. And remember, smaller is better to ensure that you go on a trip you’re excited about, not a field trip for adults.
Travelers don’t stress about packing because they have their suitcase routine down pat
No one wants to be that tourist with the garish suitcase circling on baggage claim. Avoid this embarrassment by turning your packing routine into a carefully planned strategy. Consider whether a hard or soft suitcase works best for your travel style (most serious travelers prefer rugged hard sided cases), and learn how to pack it correctly so it doesn’t overflow. Choose your shoes carefully, make sure things coordinate and remember to add space for souvenirs (because not even travelers can resist a good keepsake).
Susan Ho is the founder and CEO of Journy (www.gojourny.com), a mobile app that pairs you with a personal concierge to plan your perfect trip. Susan grew up in Shanghai and has been to over 30 countries. She created Journy to make it easy for people to travel the world with confidence. Prior to Journy, Susan was the VP of Customer Service and Operations Strategy at Fab.com, where she managed a team of over 120 people. She has also consulted for NYC’s fastest growing startups, including DigitalOcean, Blue Apron, and LearnVest.
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