Many travel lovers think their way is the best way to travel. You’ll find tons of “best practices” and “ultimate guides” online, and your friends who constantly venture abroad will tell you that traveling is easy if you replicate their methods.
They aren’t wrong, but they also aren’t entirely accurate.
Some wanderlust enthusiasts are so passionate about their approach that they try to impose their travel style onto other people. I’m not pointing any fingers here — I’m just as guilty.
Truthfully, our travel styles aren’t feasible for everyone, and there’s no one-size-fits-all method. We mean well, but we come off a bit pretentious, overbearing, and judgy at times.
So, let’s take off some of the pressure. Here are five types of travelers you don’t have to be!
1. The Overzealous Backpacker
When I see backpackers with their giant backpacks filled with just the bare essentials, I envy their minimalist style. They live frugally, pack light, and aim for cultural immersion at the lowest cost. Backpackers usually have some of the best stories.
But the Overzealous Backpacker has a few hangups. If you have the pleasure of sitting next to one on a 20-hour bus ride, you’ll easily spot the Overzealous Backpacker by the way they smell (I’m a victim of such stench). A few of my companions are this type of traveler, who, because they want to save money and spend as much time as possible exploring, skips a shower or five.
The Overzealous Backpacker makes going abroad a game of Survivor. And they turn their noses up to travelers who aren’t “roughing it” at the sketchiest campgrounds or using the most unconventional means of getting around.
But travel doesn’t have to be difficult. We don’t have to “smell like outside” to get cool points. I tip my hat to the Overzealous Backpackers who can survive in unideal circumstances, but that approach isn’t everyone's cup of tea. Some prefer a bit of comfort, and that’s fine too.
2. The Extreme Penny Pincher
The Extreme Penny Pincher can make a dollar stretch across six meals and three countries. They are money-saving pros who always find the lowest transit cost, the cheapest excursions, and reasonable accommodations. They’re the best travel buddies for folks who want to take a trip that’s easy on the pocketbook.
At the same time, the Extreme Penny Pincher can be so cheap that they miss out on great adventures unique to the places they visit. They go for the freebies and are hesitant to pull out their wallets for anything else.
While you can sightsee in many places for free, some things cost money. The truth is, if you want to climb to the top of the ancient ruins in Tikal National Park, you’ll have to pay the entrance fee to that part of the Guatemalan rain forest. If you want to learn the basics of Tango dancing in the birthplace of Tango, you’ll have to pay for a class in Buenos Aires. Some experiences are worth shelling out a few extra coins. There’s no need to feel bad about it. If you have the money and want to do it, treat yourself!
3. The Solo Traveler
Tons of nomads rave about solo traveling. They talk of learning about themselves through quiet reflection and living according to their own schedules.
As an extreme introvert who loves being alone, solo travel sounded enticing. Not long ago, I took my first solo trip to Morocco, and it was the worst trip abroad I’ve ever had. I was groped, was grossly overcharged for transportation, fell victim to one incredibly frustrating tourist trap, and found myself lost and lonely in the mazes of the old city of Marrakech. Much of this could have been avoided or at least handled better if I’d had a buddy.
Despite all of this, I’m about ready to try trekking on my own again. But I learned that flying solo isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t for every place (I’ll choose my location wisely in the future).
Sometimes, it’s nice to have company to watch your back, a drinking buddy to hit up the local bars with, or a friend who understands the language. Other times, it’s great to get cozy with a book or journal on a beach by yourself.
4. The Free-Spirit Wanderer
These are my favorite types of travelers. They roam without an itinerary or a plan. They hop off the plane, train, or bus and figure things out along the way. Sometimes this leads them on one-of-a-kind excursions; sometimes it gets them stuck in less-than-ideal situations.
I once saw a distraught American couple on the Guatemalan side Guatemalan-Belizean border. They didn’t realize that there wasn’t much public transportation near that part of the border and that a car needed to be arranged prior to arriving. I’m not sure what happened to them. They may have had to make lemons out of lemonade and adjusted their trip a bit.
The Free-Spirit Wanderer is flexible, and they have to be. They won’t always reach their target destinations, but they’ll have some interesting (sometimes challenging) experiences on the way.
Every traveler doesn’t have pro-yogi flexibility when it comes to exploring new places, and we don’t all need it. For some of us, it helps to do a bit of research, even if we don’t fully solidify plans. Some of us are planners, and we embrace it. Regardless of our personalities, it always helps to leave a little wiggle room for a few unexpected adventures.
5. The Anti-Tourist
The Anti-tourist is the best at finding the hidden gems in their travel destinations. They take the unpaved, less traveled road, and venture to low key spots with lots of charm. They’re great at finding authentic experiences that haven’t been watered down or overpriced because of tourists.
But the Anti-tourist sometimes looks down upon people who prefer the popular tourist spots. Sure, as adventures we try not to spend too much time in heavily-trafficked areas, but we don’t have to be pretentious travel hipsters.
It’s okay to do touristy things. Why not visit the Great Wall if you happen to be in China? Or ride the London Eye if you like Ferris wheels? And, if you’re in a safe and appropriate environment, there’s no shame in whipping out a selfie stick.
Though traveling will change us, we don’t have to change who we are to travel. We don’t have to fit anyone’s definition of what a traveler should be. We can be free spirits and/or planners, penny pinchers or luxury tourists. Each travel personality comes with its own unique strength. Like they say, “different strokes for different folks.”
The “right way” to travel depends on the experiences we’re looking for.