My current identity is defined by a love of travel. I am always focused on planning my next trip, I start to feel stir-crazy when I haven’t left New York City in a few consecutive weeks, and I spend each day both personally and professionally encouraging others to embark on their own travel adventures. Yet, my parents can tell you that less than seven years ago, I was a girl who would often turn down a trip to fulfill my teenage dream of hanging out with friends in my hometown.
I recently returned from a nomadic month, where I managed to spend time in five cities on two coasts of the US. I began to reflect on how much I’ve changed as a traveler. Everyone has a travel style, but I can safely say that in my short life of 24 years, mine has shifted significantly. In fact, I’ve experienced the world as five types of travelers, and with each evolution, I’ve learned a lot about how I see the world and a lot about myself:
1. The Supportive Sidekick
I started off traveling alongside my assertive parents who luckily love to travel and provided me with a great foundation for my own future adventures. Meanwhile, I was simply down to go along for the ride, learn what I was told and see what I was brought along to see. I took on the role of being enthusiastic about any plans for the day and then offering the occasional suggestion when I found something interesting as I flipped through the guidebook.
Skill Learned: How to use the phrases, “That would be fun!” and “That looks really cool, let’s do it!”
Personal Lesson: You get out what you put in.
2. The Guilty Volunteer
When I was in high school, I went on two summer volunteer trips with the non-profit organization Global Works Travel, first in Puerto Rico and then in Ecuador. These trips were amazing opportunities for a high schooler to gain a large dose of perspective. For a while after though, I felt guilty whenever I would go on vacation and not do any form of hands-on community volunteer work.
Skills Learned: How to mix cement, the most effective way to move a pile of bricks from Point A to B, communicate with people across language and cultural barriers, and have a prevalent social conscience.
Personal Lesson: Find a balance between voluntourism and regular tourism by alternating trips or splitting up one trip with some immersion.
3. The Bucket List Tourist
In 2012, I took the typical American college study abroad adventure in Europe and became a master Bucket List Tourist. From my home base in Prague, I took trips almost every weekend to a different major city and powered through a list of top 10 sights with friends in tow. Looking back, that was exhausting and I’m not entirely sure how much adrenaline I must have been running on for an entire four months. I think the most impressive whirlwind trip was managing to fit in both Berlin and Dresden in 2.5 days!
Skill Learned: How to maximize a weekend by motivating, prioritizing and managing time wisely.
Personal Lesson: Constant traveling burns me out to the point where it becomes hard to appreciate what I’m seeing.
4. The Experience Collector
On a flight back from Southeast Asia, I was sitting next to a man who spent six hours showing me photos of all of his adventure and the friends he had met before then asking me to snap a selfie with him. This rubbed me the wrong way, yet I’ve made many great travel memories trying to collect experiences: road-tripping to the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, TN; braving a campsite at Oktoberfest in Munich; and meeting my own group of backpackers in Thailand.
Skills Learned: How to say yes to the unknown and live in the moment for the story that I can tell in the future.
Personal Lessons: Experiences and relationships gain meaning when appreciating quality over quantity. One time at Oktoberfest was enough.
5. The Chameleon Observer
While teaching English for a year in the small town of Znojmo, Czech Republic, I discovered how much I could learn from traveling just by taking it slow, blending in and being open. I now love the ability to travel to where I have friends and to let them guide me through their daily lives and to their favorite places in a travel destination. Maybe I can go off on my own to some of the tourist sights, but the most enriching moments are when I get to pretend for a short moment that I am a local.
Skills Learned: How to block out the pressures of others’ expectations and come to terms with the uniqueness of my own experiences.
Personal Lessons: Maintain friendships across any distance–you never know who you will meet and where you will meet them again. The world will always be there, and not seeing everything just means that there’s a reason to go back.
A wise friend once taught me the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler. I’ve come to appreciate a mix of travel styles somewhere in between and this continues to keep my adventures all the more interesting, impactful and inspiring. Which type of traveler are you?