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    What is an Open-Minded Traveler?

    While in Laos, I discussed the topics ‘What is the difference between a tourist and a traveler’ and ‘what is an open-minded traveler’ with my friend. Somehow, we agreed that a ‘tourist’ is someone who either books a packaged holiday and remains mostly in one place – with the intent to relax or do some sightseeing (of the most popular sights recommended by a guidebook) and then leaves to go back home again. A tourist does holidays. A traveler, on the other hand, is someone who wanders. S/he is on a journey, rather than on vacation.

    I’m not sure if this is an accurate description of the differences. It’s a fleeting concept. One that cannot be pinned down exactly.

    Buddha in Vientiane Laos - What is an open-minded traveler


    However, for me personally, the main difference is that a traveler immerses him – or herself. It is someone who mingles with the locals, who goes on adventures – and someone who wants to learn about the country they are visiting. Spurred by their curiosity, they put themselves into unfamiliar ‘out-of-comfort-zone’ situations. In other words, their journey becomes their path to growth.


    A tourist, on the other hand, is someone who wants a break from their everyday life and then goes back to the same life. With that in mind, I guess, the focus lies on relaxation and an escape of reality rather than a willingness to expand their horizon.


    Serendipity Tess in Vientiane, Laos - What is an open-minded traveler


    Whilst we were discussing this point, the subject of ‘having an open mind’ popped up repeatedly, in conjunction with what it means to be a tourist or a traveler. Now, what is an open mind? And what does it mean to have an open mind while traveling?

    An ‘open mind’ by definition is ‘the readiness to consider something without prejudice’. That means, if you are a tourist, you don’t really need to have an open mind. You can just remain within the confines of your hotel complex, eat the foods you are familiar with, mingle only with those you know and finally, not even necessarily bother about what goes on outside of your sheltered holiday experience…

    Moung Si Waterfalls Laos- What is an open-minded traveler


    Whereas, the traveler will talk to locals, eat street food, strike up a conversation to the stranger next to him, buy a one-way ticket to some obscure destination, attempt to speak the language of the country she is visiting, travel on public transport even if he fears for his life and ultimately put herself in situations which will have an impact on her. They even travel alone in countries that are pre-conceived to be dangerous.

    In essence, you are up for anything and ultimately, you do not judge what you do not know.



    Reclining Buddha in cave Laos - What is an open-minded traveler


    If these are the criteria to have an open mind, then I must admit, I’ve failed more than once to be a good traveler. Does this mean I am closed-minded? I’m not sure. What I know is, that when I went on holidays in the past, I crossed the line and found myself to be more like a traveler than a tourist so many times. And vice versa, while travelling the world, I sometimes had the attitude of a tourist.

    This relates particularly to one specific aspect:


    Serendipity Tess in Laos - What is an open-minded traveler


    Only recently, during my travels in Vietnam, I have been a complete arse to a stranger. Just having started my solo travels, after travelling as a couple for a long time, I craved some intense me time. I wanted to exist in my own little creative bubble for a while. So, when this lady sat right in front of me while I was eating some streetfood, in the hope to strike up a conversation, I tried to ignore her. She was annoyed. I realised, at that point, that sometimes I am quite happy to put a sign up in front of my ‘traveler appearance’ (you know the whole hippie traveler outfit that you kind of fall into wearing rather sooner than later) that reads ‘Sorry, I am closed (-minded) today!’


    Nature Houang Si Waterfalls, Laos - What is an open-minded traveler


    As an introvert, talking to people can be a challenge. And whilst I love meeting new people (my favourite thing is to couchsurf), I also need those intervals throughout the day where I am unsociable. And there is nothing wrong with that. For a lot of people, if you don’t talk and socialise all the time, something must be wrong with you. Whereas, it is actually quite the opposite. In those moments, I’m blissfully happy and  just recharging my batteries…and it doesn’t make me any less open-minded.

    In fact, my introversion has many benefits. One of my most favourite things to do on my travels, is to wander around with my camera and just get lost. I love to stop and actually take in the beauty of my surroundings and mindfully explore the unknown. Would I have an incessant need to constantly be around other people, I may well miss those serendipitous moments that you are most aware of when you’re not distracted.

    Being alone doesn’t mean that you are lonely. It actually gives you the opportunity to understand yourself better, resulting in you experiencing the beauty of solo (in the literal sense) travel.


    Buddha statues in Laos - What is an open-minded traveler


    Whilst travelling in Laos, where I met up with my friend (an extrovert), she asked our local tour guide questions after questions non-stop. At some point, he could not hide his annoyance and he replied eventually “I will reply after my lunch, but right now, I’d like some peace & quiet”.

    Taken aback by his response, she respected his wish and later enquired in a joking manner whether Laotians would not be used to all the talking from silly tourists. He explained that in Laos they don’t like to talk much. Sometimes, they just like to be quiet and enjoy the nature and the present moment. I then explained that where we come from, in our culture, it is exactly the opposite. People talk too much sometimes. He laughed and nodded.

    It made me realise that a good traveler, develops this emotional intelligence, eventually, to be in tune with how locals interact and adjusts to the best of his ability. A traveler blends in as opposed to standing out and she respects that every country comes with its own new unwritten rules for social interactions that need to be sussed out and understood first.


    Houang Si Waterfall Laos - What is an open-minded traveler


    So, I realised that only because I’m the introverted traveler in the Western sense, i may just be the norm in other parts. It’s all about perspective, in the end.

    I fully acknowledge that I have been much more chatty since I started travelling, but I realised that sometimes I do this, because I feel that that is what I need to do, as opposed to wanting to do it. So the question then is: Is it ever O.K. for a good traveler to not want to socialize?


    Apart from my occasional need for quiet time, I’ve been totally rocking the ‘traveler’ domain: I eat street food almost daily and always love to try new things (Octopus on a stick and drinking coffee form a bamboo tube included), I travel on local transport like a Pro (30 hours by bus anyone?), I write a lot about my travel encounters as this is what I enjoy most about traveling: learning from locals and be inspired by their tales about life, love, womanhood or their spiritual beliefs.

    This one time, I had no choice but to use leaves as opposed to toilet paper. I ate with my hands (not immediately after the leaf incident though). I have slept in the forest in the wild together with locals in a bamboo tent that we had built together.

    I’m a pretty adventurous soul. I’m a traveler….Just an introverted traveler.


    Serendipity Tess drinking coffee out of a bamboo tube - What is an open-minded traveler


    I once read a very interesting book by Christine Caine, called “Quiet”. I realised the tremendous value of introverts in this world and why it is ok to be the way I am. If you are an introvert yourself, or you have someone in your family or in your friendship group who is, I really highly recommend you reading this book. In fact, it will also prepare you for your travels, as you’ll have a better understanding about why certain cultures are less talkative.

    It may also explain, why some travelers you meet, don’t always seem to be ‘so open-minded’ and why you need to keep an ‘open mind’ when it comes to what an ‘open-minded traveler’ should be.

    Remember, we are all on a journey.

    Buddha statues Vientiane Laos - What is an open-minded traveler

    Heart IconWhat is the difference between a ‘tourist’ and ‘traveler’ for YOU? Are you an introverted traveler and how do you deal with ‘closed-minded’ moments? I would love to hear your comments in the section below.


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    Are you travelling with an open mind? - What is the difference between a tourist and a traveler? Sometimes I find myself to be both. Sometimes I am happy to be closed-minded during my travels - especially when it comes to recharging my batteries - a must for an introvert like me. Does that make me a less open-minded person? Perhaps the key is to accepting each other without judging. Perhaps this is what an open mind really is.



    • Morgan Sullivan

      26.03.2015 at 06:44 Reply

      I actually wrote about this exact same thing this week!! My take was a bit different, in that I suggested throwing out the dichotomy all together, but I actually really like the distinctions you made. They seemed valid and well thought-out, rather than simply vilifying the “tourist.” It’s a great point about having an open mind, and I really loved your point about introversion. I definitely consider myself and introvert as well, so I definitely understand the struggle when faced with someone who is set on talking to you. Great read 🙂

      • Serendipity Tess

        29.03.2015 at 14:16 Reply

        Thank you for popping by and your comment! I’m glad you liked it and you understand where I’m coming from 🙂 Ah yes…us introverts…sometimes we just want some…’space’. Or as for me: Happiness is sitting here, somewhere in Siem Reap, sipping on a Vodka Coffe Martini (holy cow this stuff is strong), all by myself (well, there are people around…but you know what I mean…LOL). I just read your blog post – I REALLY LOVED IT. I just realised how much I suck being a traveler…LOL. There so many things I do that a perfect traveler should not do. OMG. I do it all. I actually went to McDonald’s the other night (so the bloody what?!). And of course I went to visit the Taj Mahal – you’d be stupid not to if you travel all the way to India?! The only reason why I skip some tourist attractions sometimes, is because they tend to be quite expensive – so sometimes, I don’t visit them. But I’m heading to Angkor tomorrow….Yeah…again: Come to Siem Reap and not visit Angkor???! Seriously? LOL

    • Norway to Nowhere

      26.03.2015 at 21:19 Reply

      Love this article!

    • Amy Mank

      08.04.2015 at 15:15 Reply

      I too have struggled with the distinction between traveler and tourist. When off for the limited amount of time that American’s get I sometimes just want to relax. I usually end up sending a few days doing more of the traveler type things and a few days re-charging my batteries at a resort. I think a big difference for me also lies in how the traveler and the tourist treat the locals around them.

      • Serendipity Tess

        13.04.2015 at 16:28 Reply

        Yes I totally agree with you! Tourists tend to not necessarily engage with the locals – but then again…this is a generalisation…I always made the effort to connect with the locals and up until recently, I had travelled predominantly as a tourist.

    • Franca

      25.05.2015 at 10:04 Reply

      I used to think that there is a huge difference between a traveler and a tourist and I still think there are some basic distinctions between the two. I’m now more convinced that everyone can be a traveller with the right attitude even if he’s on a short holiday and not on a long term trip. In fact as you said it’s the way people travel that makes the difference not the length of time of the trip. I personally think that even if I’d be on a short vacation I’d still travel the same way I do now that I’m a full time nomad.

      • Serendipity Tess

        26.05.2015 at 00:16 Reply

        Hey Franca 🙂 Thank you so much for popping by and commenting 🙂 Yes, I agree. I can’t imagine ever doing ‘holidays’ in the more conventional sense of just staying in a hotel complex and lounging by the pool the whole day. It’s just not for me – I love meeting the locals and go out exploring and I would do the same even if I only had a 10-day holiday somewhere.

    • Radhika - Fulltime Nomad

      03.06.2015 at 02:31 Reply

      Oh you couldn’t have written a better post! I’m an introvert too and there are days I really don’t want to talk to anyone because I just need to recharge within myself. I just wrote a post (publishing on Friday) about why I want to travel solo, albeit for a short time, and wanting this alone time is a HUGE part of it.

      And Laos sounds perfect for me too! I’d love to go somewhere where people didn’t mind if I just stayed quiet and didn’t ask any questions.

      • Serendipity Tess

        03.06.2015 at 02:42 Reply

        Hi Radhika, thank you for popping by 🙂 Laos is definitely a wonderful place for some ‘me’ time. I actually perceived the Lao to be unfriendly at the beginning of my travels. Then I realised that they simply don’t have this obsession to talk all the time. I remember our guide saying ‘sometimes we just like to be quiet and listen to the nature and enjoy the moment’. Good luck with your upcoming travels! You will love it – of that I am sure!

    • Margy Moore

      04.02.2016 at 13:00 Reply

      As an introverted traveler who was recently in Laos and Myanmar, I feel like you took the words right out of my mouth. It’s hard to explain my need for solitude to recharge my batteries and just take in my surroundings! You hit it on the head! Also love your pictures on Trover!

      • Serendipity Tess

        04.02.2016 at 13:11 Reply

        Hi Margy – fellow introverted traveler 🙂 i’m hapy to hear this resonated – taking in the beauty of this spectacular panet and just BE in the moment is the best feeling ever! Happy you found me on Trover 🙂

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