There is a distinct difference between a traveler and a tourist, but once you learn it, and experience it, you will never go back. A traveler goes into the world to experience new places, meet new people, and bring some of that place back in the form of personal growth. A tourist goes to a new place to see what they have been told to see, to check off boxes, and to go home. For a traveler, each journey is a rich experience of tastes, sights, and people. The stories they might share from a recent trip to Paris might include the patissiere they got their coffee at each morning, the woman who led their cheese tasting tour, and the goats they watched “mowing” the grass at the park outside the Louvre. A tourist will return from Paris with a list of all the sights they saw. A traveler returns home changed, a tourist just returns home.
The decision to be a traveler in the world starts before you board the plane. It begins at home, in the preparation for your trip.
Pre-trip learning, is one of my favorite hobbies, it sparks excitement for my next trip, expands my understanding of the world, and gives me practical skills and knowledge that will make my trip more enjoyable.
Here are Five Tips for pre-trip learning that will help you be a traveler not a tourist.
- Go to the Library: Check out everything! Head to the travel section and take home an arm full of guide books. Whether you know where you are headed or are still working on an itinerary, take the time to read through multiple guides marking interesting tips, restaurants, museums and more with sticky notes. Leave the books out for everyone in your family to look through. What catches your kids’ eyes might not catch yours, and it will give you great insight into what they might enjoy seeing. Many travel guides have beautiful images that can capture your family’s imagination and start growing everyone’s excitement.
- Go BACK to the Library: Once you know where you are going, do some research into books (fiction and non-fiction) that are set where you are going. Don’t be afraid of taking a deep dive into fiction, the cultural tips you will pick up as well as historical information will be both helpful and build excitement. My daughter Sarah read a YA romance set in Paris that had a scene where the kids had “drinking chocolate” on a date. What is drinking chocolate? Her curiosity was piqued – we googled the best drinking chocolate in Paris and found a place called Angelinas for us to visit. It was heaven in a cup, and she got the credit for introducing us all to this wonder!
Before this same trip, we also read about the French experience during WWII. It gave each of us a framework to understand the importance of the D Day landings at Normandy. While we only had one day to explore the landing sites, the knowledge we had gained before going made this day extremely impactful.
- If you are headed to Europe listen to and watch all things Rick Steves: I love Rick Steves. I grew up watching his program with my parents on PBS. The beauty of Europe that he showed on his program captured my imagination, and probably is a foundational piece of my love affair with all things Europe. You can watch Rick Steves on PBS and the PBS app. You can also listen to his podcast. He has years of episodes you can look through to find topics that match your trip. Rick is passionate about helping Americans get beyond the tourist traps and see the real culture and beauty of places. His tips and discussions on everything from how to order coffee in Italy, to the Christmas markets of Bavaria will prepare you to engage in the true culture of your destination.
- Learn a little Lingo: Americans have a terrible reputation for only speaking English, and for expecting others to as well. A little bit of local lingo will help you immensely. We love the app Duo Lingo, and for a deeper dive, Rosetta Stone. Our family has made sticky notes of common phrases and stuck them on the kitchen cabinets for months before exploring a new country. Being able to greet waiters and shopkeepers will get you better service, and is just the polite thing to do.
Our daughters have visited 10 – 15 countries. They can greet people in six languages. We play a little game at our house where one person greets the other in a foriegn language, the other replies in a different language and so on until someone is stumped.
“Gruss Gott” (German, used in Bavaria)
“Buongiorno!” (Italian, formal)
“Ca va?” (French, informal)
‘Bien, gracias” (Spanish)
Our family is not bilingual – although the girls are working on it. We do take the time to work on basic phrases before heading to different countries. It is one way to practice having good manners, and respecting the people we will meet. While it is true that many people you meet around the world will be able to communicate with you in English, there is a vast difference between walking into a store in Mexico and starting a conversation with “Hola! Como estas?” than presumptively diving into asking questions in English.
- Tap into social media. Pinterest and Instagram can offer a tremendous amount of insight into any community you are going to visit. Follow hashtags related to where you will be visiting. Other tourists’ photos on IG help me to see the setting of restaurants so I can learn where the best place to have cocktails at sunset is in Rome. (pss… it’s @thecourtrome) On Pinterest I can see packing lists ideas and reviews of the best walking sandals. (Josef Seibel Tonga in my opinion). You can also find private or off the beaten path tour guides that specialize in passions such as food, local history, art or cultural movements. These smaller tours are often less expensive and more personalized.
As you look ahead toward your next adventure, I hope these ideas of pre-trip learning will help you make the most out of your trip. I would love to hear what resources you find most helpful as well. Drop a comment below and share your family’s favorite travel related learning tip.