We all know about those must-go destinations around the world: Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and so on. These beautiful landmarks with incredible history are obviously worth visiting, but sadly also infected with the economy-driving pest: tourists.

Don’t get me wrong, tourists are great (um, well, aren’t we all?), they help the local economy and they genuinely try to enjoy their trip. However, what I really dislike – or better said, feel bad about, is how this massive amount of tourists have set and keep following the same bad traveling standards. For example, going to that touristic attraction and taking that picture with that pose.

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Or rush to a popular spot, take a picture – along with other dozens of tourists (like the tourist hell on the picture below), and move to the next one.

Imagine being smaller than everyone else and having a wonderful view of these one-of-a-kind tourists, oh and that original Mona Lisa painting in the far background. Yes, I was there. Does that make me a typical tourist like everyone else? Hell yes, and that was indeed sad. Plus, I couldn’t even look over anyone’s head. – IMAGE SOURCE

Isn’t that sad?

Everyone, including myself, has at least once fallen victim of this lame and standard habit: spot-picture-next, spot-picture-next, spot-eat-picture-next, spot-picture-next, and so on until we can’t feel our feet anymore. I really understand, we all dream of traveling to these amazing destinations, want to do all recommended activities that everyone else has done, rush from one spot to another, take a picture and share with everyone that we were there.  We want to document our memories, hence we take hundreds of pictures and not let any moment go uncaught by the camera.

Be a traveler, not a tourist.

The moment I went to Paris for the first time was the moment I realized how awful being a basic tourist is. I loved Paris, it’s a gorgeous city. I almost cried when I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time, I never imagined I’d be there that soon and I couldn’t believe I was standing in front of it. I also couldn’t believe how horribly crowded it was.

I was barely starting to travel and quickly learned that just going to such destinations and doing what everyone else does is not really traveling at its fullest. It is not that meaningful, fulfilling, or inspiring. By just visiting these popular spots, I learned almost zero about culture, local people, and the city’s real charm.

Luckily, my trip to Paris was also a visit to a great old friend I met in my first year abroad. She could give us a bit of the real Parisian experience: the one of a local. We went out for a night with her friends, had delicious home-cooked family lunch in the suburbs of Paris, and got in a closer contact with what represents a culture the most: its people.

The best kind of traveling is mindful, meaningful, and immersive.

There is much more in traveling than what touristic guidebooks offer.

The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to experience a culture by connecting with locals and seeing them as world neighbors. Whether it’s through its people, food, history, traditions, events, music or landmarks, be present at every single experience, appreciate, understand and value.

Good investment in your travel is a good investment in yourself.

Opening yourself to new people, spontaneous unfamiliar experiences, and different realities help you develop life skills like mindfulness, patience, humility, awareness, and cultural sensitivity.

At the end, experiences have different meanings for each person, everyone is free to decide how they want to enjoy their travels and which travel routines they wish to follow.  Take how many pictures you’d like and go to how many places you’d wish, but for a more meaningful travel experience choose people over places, always.

P.S.: For the next post I’ll share some useful tips for mindful, meaningful and immersive traveling. If you are interested, keep an eye out next Sunday!

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