“Tourists come to vacation, whereas travellers come to experience, and ultimately, to growGomio.com

Back in Ho Chi Minh City, one of my favourite hobbies was watching tourists trying to cross the street. Six million motorbikes on the narrow streets flooding every inch of pavement, like an army of ants marching through the jungle. The tourists would wait for a red light or stop at a crossing, soon to discover that the Vietnamese streets only have one rule: you make your own way, any way you see fit.

Seeing those tourists struggle to get through the traffic always reminded me of the typical tourist, trying to see the entire city within a day but never speaking to anyone local other than the hotel receptionist. I’ve never understood how for example buses filled with Japanese tourists could enjoy pulling up at the Eiffel Tower, take 60 pictures in as many seconds before hopping back onto the bus to go visit the Louvre. Sure, their walls will be filled with famous landmarks, their Facebook profiles will be those of a globetrotter. Below the shallowness of photo frames however lies a thing that separates the tourists from what I call the social travellers.

The social traveller is a global citizen. No longer are they bound by their hometown’s social circles, these days they have Facebook friends in Australia, visit festivals in Belgium and play online games against an opponent from China. The world has been flattened by technological advancement, increased global prosperity and the affordability of travel. This has resulted in a different breed of travellers – thinking outside the box and looking for local connections, not just a check-in.

The budget doesn’t really matter; it is the interpersonal mentality that makes the difference. They are the people who enjoy the true local culture by exploring local people. They don’t only visit a destination; they momentarily live it and experience a journey that will define them. Visiting a museum or palace is usually a one-way gain, where only the visitor receives the joy of the experience (a palace can hardly enjoy itself by your visit, I reckon). Actively engaging yourself into the local culture and people will result in a two-way gain, where both locals and visitors benefit from the cultural exchange.

As cultural barriers seem to break down globally, it seems the possibilities of unique exchanges and ventures in new environments are only increasing. We experience a part of the local culture as our own and return the favour by sharing our culture to the local people. It creates much better stories than that one time I looked at the Statue of Liberty.