How to Travel Beyond the Tour Bus

1 Try the local food. Ask a local where they get their groceries. Visit restaurants where there are mostly local faces—your patronage will be appreciated, and your budget will benefit since often more pricey dishes in foreign restaurants are less expensive than an average meal back home.

2 Walk around and explore. Don’t just go from tourist destination to tourist destination without lifting your head. Strike up some conversations with the locals, or even sit on a park bench and people watch.

3 Look out for crowds of locals. Often a place where there are lots of locals there is an authentic cultural experience lying ahead of you.

Use an “off the beaten path” guidebook like WikiTravel, Lonely Planet or Rough Guide and figure out what most interests you. Try to find neighborhoods within walking distance or easily accessible by public transit (if at all possible) that have a lot of things that you are interested in.

5 Follow your passions. Do you love food? Ask if you can get a “tour” of your favorite kitchen. You love glass sculpture? Find the artist and see whether you can be her apprentice for a day.

6 Be willing to be uncomfortable. Don’t go everywhere first class—one of the richest experiences of your life might be on a third class train in India on a wooden bench for over 14 hours, where you could meet a woman who invites you to her house, where they have one bed between 5 family members, and she says to you, “If you give an Indian your heart, they will share with you everything.”

7 Expect to be moved by your experiences. Reflect on what you see, hear, taste and touch. Allow for transformation because if the journey doesn’t affect your perspective, your sense of humanity, beauty, and the wonder of life, then it is time to do a little soul searching for a way to connect to your heart.

8 Be willing to pay the price. Be respectful of where you are, and act in a manner that will bring credit to where you came from. Ask questions, and really, really listen. Realize that even though what you are doing is perfectly acceptable where you come from, others may find it insulting, or awkward. Be extra courteous to make up for unintended insults.

9 Have fun! Laughter is a universal human language.

10 Share your stories with others. You will find that there is a whole world of kindred spirits who call themselves travelers, and avoid the tourist mentality. Remember how it feels to share your stories with people who aren’t interested, so when you do find a fellow traveler, if you really want to know about their trip, clear your calendar and pack your bag. Your adventure awaits.

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