Traveller or Tourist, Which Are You?

“Itinerary, please!”

“Send me your must-dos!”

You’ve probably asked these of friends and family as you mapped out travel plans. At times, these itineraries could seem like a lifesaver, giving you much-needed clarity and direction in a foreign land. But step back and you’ll realise that the itinerary you’ve referenced was not only your friend’s, but probably just about everyone else’s, as you find yourself having to squeeze through the crowds and deal with snaking queues.

Have you ever wondered what would it be like if you took the path less travelled instead of being a typical tourist? As someone who used to be from the other side and made it her mission to tick-off every touristy must-do, I’ve discovered that sometimes it’s perfectly alright to just travel anywhere, anytime, and any way you want it.  

Wander Vs. Follow

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Taking the path less travelled doesn’t have to be scary – you can start off with baby steps. You may already have an itinerary on hand for your next trip, but it doesn’t mean you need to blindly follow that itinerary. While I get that there are just some definite must-dos in every country (like having durian or laksa in Singapore, because these are oh-so-good), but not every must-do is a, well, must.  

Reference that list if you want, but to be a true traveller, allow yourself to ditch the checklists and wander. In fact, once you’re comfortable in your new destination, forget about your lists and challenge yourself to only rely on street signs and locals' advice (with prudence). You might end up losing your way and end up nowhere near your intended destination, OR you might also find gems like a hole-in-the-wall bookstore that doubles up as a picture-perfect café and make a new local friend in the meantime.

*Related post: How To Gain Confidence While Exploring An Unfamiliar City

Local Vs. Fast Food

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If you’re the sort that brings cup noodles on a holiday, I have one word for you – don’t. There’s a reason why you’ve chosen to hop on that plane away from your home country, and it’s not to be cooped up in your hotel room eating good ole’ cup noodles. Going to a fast-food establishment is right in the same league. So no, don't even think about it.  

Instead, do as true travellers would and go into the most-local-looking dining establishment you can find. For example: If you're in Japan, a bowl of homemade ramen from the local ramen-ya would beat any pizza from a global fast food joint. Point your way through the menu (that might not even be in English), or just order whatever everyone else is having. No foreign language skills needed – point to said dish, gesture to indicate quantity, smile, and say thank you! Not only might you discover something amazing, and try something you probably wouldn’t have tried had you known what it actually was, but you also earn the travelling badge of honour of dining at somewhere completely local and making it out alive. Now, wouldn’t that make for a great travel tale to recount back home?

Photos: Moments Vs. Landmarks

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Have you really been to Paris if you haven’t posed with the Eiffel Tower or pretended like you were picking up the Musée du Louvre pyramid? I get that sometimes we may want to check off certain landmarks just because you want to see it in person, but if you’re choosing to go somewhere just because everyone else has been there and need that shot for the gram, then you need to quell that FOMO feeling and ask yourself if sacrificing all that time and energy is worth it.

*Related post: Destination X: On Ditching Hashtags For Real Experiences

Instead that time might be better spent on creating unique moments, be it with your travel companions or solo. On my travels, if I find myself heading to an iconic location for the day, I like to challenge myself to find alternative angles of the landmark. Once, I made plans to visit a high-rise building’s observatory. As I mulled over whether it was worth coughing up twenty bucks to gain entry to the observatory-floor, I wandered around the waiting-level, one floor down. In the time that everyone was queuing for their tickets, and waiting to head up, I had somehow found a clear circular window at a quieter corner of the level, which gave me a perfect view of the city’s skyline as the sun set. Best part? It was completely free, and yet a priceless moment.

Making Friends: Offline Vs. Online

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While we all have different reasons for going on holidays, such as wanting to seek adventure, relax or experience a new culture, one thing’s for sure – you can’t achieve all that if you’re staring at your device all the time. Sure, I get it, updating your friends back home is important, but so is enjoying your vacation – one that you spent good money and time getting to.

Instead of making every moment an Instagram story, try experiencing moments sans camera. Instead of spending time replying to friends, save your responses for when you get back to your accommodation, or even better, update them after the trip. Instead being fixated about the friendships back home (don’t worry your friends are still going to be there when you get back!), why not take this opportunity to forge new friendships instead. Often, we think we travel to check off things like food, shopping and landmarks, but what would travelling be if you didn’t get to speak to even one local to learn more about the country, be it about its culture, best eats and even its latest hot topics?  

Souvenirs: Memento Vs. Gift Shops

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Keychains, magnets and t-shirts with cheesy slogans – we’ve all owned or received one at some point of time. While some people love collecting such items, admit it, most of us just chuck it in some random corner of our house, only to throw it anyway a few years down, while doing our annual clean-up. With the exception of special requests from friends and family, I’ve stopped patronising gift shops altogether. Instead, when I go to someplace new, I often think about what I’ll miss most about that country, and bring a piece of that country back home with me.

When I was volunteering in Nepal last winter, my host would make a comforting cup of hot Masala tea for us every morning and evening. Right before I left, I recognised the brand of Masala tea she used when I was doing some last-minute shopping, and snagged a few packets home. Instead of gifting friends souvenirs from my trip, I offered them a cup of authentic Masala tea, specially brewed according to my host’s recipe. Some of my friends even commented that drinking the tea made it feel like they were right there with me in Nepal, as I recounted my time there to them.

Tourist or traveller – we’ll all be one or the other at some point of time in our travels. At times, when thrown into a completely foreign land, it’s nice to stick with the tried-and-tested and familiar. But once in a while (or if you’re brave enough, more than once!), don’t be afraid to step out of that tourist bubble, to wander, to connect with locals, and to do things you probably wouldn’t have back home – you’d be surprised at how much richer your travel experiences can be, just by taking that one different step.


A former communications professional taking a break from the 9-5 life to travel the world at her own pace. While she's not out there seeking new hiking spots, she can be found working out at the barre (and perhaps occasionally also at the bar).

A former communications professional taking a break from the 9-5 life to travel the world at her own pace. While she's not out there seeking new hiking spots, she can be found working out at the barre (and perhaps occasionally also at the bar).