From “Tourist” to “Traveler”

In this day and age, many of us are no longer contented to settle in package tours and simply limiting our trips to landmarks and tourist attractions. We aim to travel and experience on a deeper level, instead of merely touring.

For this week’s feature, we bring you several effective and down-to-earth tips to make your trips more meaningful.

  1. Take public transport.

Instead of taking the usual touristy cruises, opt for public transport instead. One of these is the public ferry catering to Shanghainese traveling across the Huangpu River – cruises can cost up to 200 RMB (40 SGD), while the ferry ride costs 2 RMB (0.40 SGD). Not only are these a whole lot cheaper (especially for the student traveler on a budget), they bring you closer to the local community without compromising on the value.


A photo of Shanghai’s skyline was taken from a public ferry costing only 2 RMB (0.40 SGD)

If you get an opportunity to talk to the public transport providers, do jump at it! I once had a conversation with a bus driver in Taipei, and he not only told us interesting stories about his previous passengers, but also gave us useful tips on how to travel around Taiwan and recommended lesser-known places of interest.

  1. Try to speak what the locals speak.

People always take to that sense of familiarity, so if you are not a speaker of the local language, try to pick up some phrases before your trip or even while you are there. It always helps endear you to random people you meet along the way.

Be it a simple “kob-khun-krap” (“thank you”) in Bangkok, or “sa-bai-dee” (“hello”) in Cambodia, even making an effort to pick up simple phrases makes you a lot more approachable than the average foreigner walking down the road.

  1. Help fellow travelers.

If you are fortunate enough to be a speaker of the local lingua franca, do help fellow travelers in need! That way, you not only travel in that particular place, but also get to know more interesting people. I got to know a friendly couple from New York at a calligraphy stall in Shanghai, all while playing interpreter between them and the Chinese stall owner. For that simple favour, I got to hear all about how the calligraphy piece was for their son back home, and even more amazingly, about their month-long travels through numerous cities in China. Chats like these not only brighten up your day, but also add to your life experiences.

A short disclaimer though – do be observant and careful about who you speak to especially if you are traveling alone. Personal safety always comes first.

  1. Roam, simply roam.

Move yourself off the beaten track, and explore the places where tourists do not usually venture. (Yet another gentle reminder, but I cannot emphasize more the importance of maintaining your personal safety.) But upon some “responsible” roaming, you will see the sides to a city or town which the average tourist will never experience.

For instance though, while hunting for a wine bar in Shanghai, I chanced upon a quaint neighbourhood, took some good photos and strolled through some interesting shops. I ate delicious 葱油饼 (congyoubing), a type of onion pancakes which are widely popular in China.


First stop of my trip – an ordinary neighbourhood with extraordinary experiences

  1. Plan (flexibly).
Image credits:  A not-so-spontaneous itinerary

Image credits:
A not-so-spontaneous itinerary

If you are looking for a spontaneous trip, the above would probably not be an appropriate itinerary. Having a tight schedule down to the hour will make you focus only on the particular spots you have originally planned to cover, leaving you oblivious to the rich experiences along the way.

A personal recommendation would be to pick a couple of spots you would like to cover for each day, and take your time in between them. Relax and take in the sights along your journey. Alternatively, visit a few more places on the spur of the moment.

As a final tip of sorts, you do not necessarily have to travel abroad. Regardless of how vast or tiny the country you live in, there is always something new to explore or a new area for you to take on the role of a traveler. I thus leave you with a photo I took while on a spontaneous trip to the Holland Village area in Singapore.


The rustic Chip Bee Gardens neighbourhood

So what are you waiting for? On your next trip, try swapping the “tourist” label for a “traveler” one. You might get whole new insights and see things from entirely different perspectives.


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