There’s a new trend of wanting to boast about one’s travels and describing oneself as having a case of “wanderlust.”

I think the real meaning and value of travel has been lost, however. Being a traveler does not mean expensive bikinis and EDM concerts at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean. If there are umbrella drinks involved, you probably went on a vacation, not on a genuine adventure.

Travel is being integrated into a culture that values diverting from the beaten path, talking to locals and exploring an area as one of a kind. Traveling means attempting to blend in and wanting to leave as an altered and more educated person.

Nothing is wrong with taking a vacation. Every so often, a voyage to a beach with clear water and air-conditioned accommodations is warranted. However, a trip that involves pool attendants and a concierge is not a cultural experience, per se.

Traveling means staying in hostels and befriending other travelers, as well as locals. It’s drinking at neighborhood bars and dives rather than rounding the tourist club circuit. It’s straying from tourist traps and sites and instead, searching for the more elusive history of a country and its people.

If you want to really travel, you must eat, drink and live as a local. Walk, bike and take public transportation. If there is a language barrier, learn key phrases and attempt to start and finish conversations in the native dialect. It may seem silly or arduous, but you’ll be appreciated for trying.

American tourists, in particular, have a terrible reputation for being obnoxious, inconsiderate and rude vacationers. Young people will push a map into a local’s face and say, “How do I get here?” without bothering to attempt the local language or even start with a greeting or small-talk. It’s because of these kinds of encounters that many vacationers return home saying that whatever country they visited hates Americans.

Well, what other countries don’t appreciate is ignorance — and Americans don’t like it, either. If a Spanish-speaker walked up to you in your city, thrust a brochure in your face and asked you for directions in Spanish, you’d probably be pretty put off. Learning to travel as a non-tourist and a non-vacationer will take you so much further in a foreign country and will lead to a more rewarding experience.

Real travel is not just about seeing new things, but also about seeing things with a new and refreshed perspective. It’s important to take a step back and simply enjoy the moments you spend visiting another country or place. Meditation and awareness can make a voyage incredibly fulfilling.

It’s also true that a genuine traveler will make as much of an impact on the place he or she is visiting as that place will make on him or her. Some of the greatest compliments I received while traveling ranged from my ability to fit in to the positive impression I left as a visiting American.

Many Americans will be substantially friendly with locals, but fail to be engaging. Being told that I’m relatable is a huge compliment and being embraced when I return to small bars is an incredible feeling.

There are millions of reasons to travel — really travel, not just vacation — and the thrill of integration is truly worth it. Traveling is more active than it is passive and it’s a great way to recharge to return as a new you. A vacation is easy to book — domestic states like Florida and California aren’t going anywhere.

Get stamps on your passport and create your own life-changing experiences that will lead you to find happiness.


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