5 Ways to be a Traveler, Not a Tourist

Are you a traveler or a tourist? We certainly prefer being a traveler—read on to learn why. Plus, you’ll get our 5 tips on how to adjust your style so that you too can be a traveler, not a tourist.

Your airline tickets are purchased and your suitcase is full—it’s finally time to explore a new city. But once you land, how will you take it in? Will you experience the city like a traveler, getting lost in new neighborhoods and making friends with locals, or like a tourist, opting for relaxation and sticking to a pre-planned itinerary? While both have their benefits, being a traveler is much more rewarding. Here’s why: tourists mostly stay within their comfort zones, are bound by time, and focus on seeing popular sights, while travelers slow down, go off the beaten path, and experience the true essence of a place.

Thinking of changing the way you travel? Read on for 5 ways to be a traveler instead of a tourist.

1. Stay longer

While short-term stays are refreshing, the longer you stay in a city the more you’ll get a local experience. Think back to your last weekend getaway: you probably had a few things you wanted to check off the list, didn’t get much of a chance to explore without a schedule, and likely left without a very deep understanding of the place. When you stay at least a month, you’ll have that chance to explore, learn, and gain a deeper appreciation.

Long-term stays also leave room for flexibility and allow you to experience a city without a rigid schedule. While you’ll still have a rough idea of what you want to do, a longer stay will give you the opportunity to connect with a city rather than feel like you’re only passing through. Find a restaurant you like? You can go back more than once during your stay. Need to find a cappuccino made just how you like them? You can sample all the local coffee shops to find your perfect match.

Staying longer gives you a little room to play, to experiment, and to get a feel for a place. Which leads us to our next tip.

2. Take your time

It can be tempting to try to pack in a full day of sightseeing and activities. You want to see all the sights! Do everything! You didn’t come to this new place to sit back and not explore. But let us suggest something: you don’t need to do it all. In fact, your experience will be better if you don’t try to tick every box.

Travelers tend to take in a place more slowly. This doesn’t mean that you can’t prioritize seeing a few major attractions—just don’t do it all. Pick the attractions that most appeal to you, and plan to visit a few of those during your stay. Otherwise, leave yourself unscheduled. This lets you have time to venture off and explore Chicago’s architecture instead of pushing through the crowd at the Bean. Or to nix Navy Pier and enjoy an afternoon of people watching in your neighborhood.

This slowing down means a couple things. We all know that experiencing something more slowly helps us experience it more fully. If you’re moving too fast, your trip will be a blur. Slowing down and doing less also means that you’ll be around fewer tourists (and more locals). You’ll get a better feel for the authentic place itself—not just what its tourists are like.

And on that topic, our next tip:

3. Live like a local

When traveling to a new place, live like a local. Ditch the upscale hotel and opt to stay in an apartment or home. After all, one of the best parts of renting during a long trip is the comfort of home. While staying in a hotel may be convenient, you’ll feel like your stay is temporary (even if you’re staying for a long period of time). When you’re in a rental, you can cook yourself dinner, have friends over, and easily do your laundry. It feels more like your regular life (in a good way). Pro tip: bring your favorite candles or blanket for a personal touch.

Renting will often give you the option to be in a residential neighborhood (major benefit!). What better way to feel like a local than to live with locals. You’ll have the chance to get to know your neighborhood, to pop into that corner bodega, and to find some of your favorite local spots. This is the antidote to the impersonal, downtown hotel room.

To live like a local is to eat like one too. There’s a McDonald’s at home—try local restaurants and regional foods that you wouldn’t be able to experience otherwise.

4. Use public transportation

Sit back, relax, and enjoy a window-seat view of the city (hop on a local bus or surface rail for the best views, or if you’re feeling really adventurous, grab a bike). Not only will this give you a break off your feet, but it will allow you to see more of the city, catch a glimpse of new neighborhoods you might want to explore, and start to learn your way around.

Some of the best conversations with locals happen on public transportation. You’ll be surprised how many people will be more than happy to give you a quick guide to their favorites in the city (see our next tip). Don’t worry if you get lost—your phone (or a local) will save you. Though it may be a little nerve wracking, getting lost and reorienting yourself is the fastest way to learn your way around a city.

5. Meet new people

One thing you can count on in any city is the people. Whether you’re traveling alone or not, locals can be a major help and talking to them is a great way to immerse yourself in a city’s culture. Remember when we mentioned stepping out of your comfort zone? Now’s the time: open up and chat with your neighbors, stop someone as they’re walking by, or go to a bar and make a friend—learn from people who know the city best.

Meeting people in a new city is a great way to connect with others who have similar interests and to develop diverse friendships. Who knows? The person you met outside of the museum could lead to something unexpected, like a personalized tour around town, a dinner with a group of new friends, or even an invitation to your next trip.

There are several ways to experience a new place, and while sometimes seeing as much as you can in little time may be your only option, we think the best way to truly get to know a place is by planning a long-term trip. Ready to be a traveler? Search our locations and find your next city.