In Defense of the “T” Word: When Did Tourist Become So Negative?

At some point, the word tourist became an insult.

Article upon article has been written on how to travel the world without acting like one. Just a quick Google search has plenty of sites shaming tourists, calling them cheap, loud, drunk, and more.

Even Rick Steves, the famed travel writer, wrote an article called “The Ugly Tourist (and How Not to be One)” in which he divides visitors to Europe into two classes.

As you can guess, the “bad” one is, “those who view Europe through air-conditioned bus windows, socializing with their noisy American friends.” If you do any sort of tour or don’t hang out with random strangers that you meet on the street, you’re clearly traveling wrong. You are (dare I even say it?) an ugly tourist.

Oh, and god forbid you want to take a photo. Apparently, to Rick, “the worst ones have selfie sticks.” If you’re traveling alone, forget about taking a cute pic of yourself because if you whip one out you’ll quickly be labeled as a narcissist and that dirty “t” word again!

Outside of the internet, I’ve met countless backpackers on my trips who offhandedly dismiss destinations, cities, and even entire countries as too touristy. For full effect, make sure you imagine this being said with a tone that indicates they’re clearly above the base location, and definitely won’t be adding it to their to-do list.

Is there anything more ignorant and close-minded than that?

In defense of the tourist, the Oxford Dictionary defines one as “a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure,” and Merriam-Webster states that a tourist is “one that makes a tour for pleasure or culture.” By these definitions, a trip to seek enlightenment with the monks in the Tibetan Mountains is just as touristy as a spring break vacation to an all-inclusive resort.

If you’re not one of the few exceptions, like an expat working in a foreign country, I have some very, very bad news for you: you’re a tourist.

Call yourself a backpacker, call yourself a traveler, call yourself a digital nomad or a million other names, but the facts are that you’re a tourist when you travel in a new country, and being a tourist is not bad or wrong or anything to be ashamed of.

I travel full-time and some of the most amazing places I have ever seen are solidly of the tourist persuasion: Machu Picchu in Peru, the Great Pyramids in Egypt, and pretty much the entire city of Florence, Italy. Sticking to the off-the-beaten-path destinations would mean missing out on the best that almost every country has to offer, and the truth is that touristy places are often popular because they’re cool, unique, and worth visiting.

There’s plenty of touristy things I love to do that the internet vilifies.

I hang out with other Americans I meet, don’t speak every language fluently when I visit a new country, and I almost never choose to do a homestay to “immerse myself with the locals.” ‘Cause you know what the locals are doing? Going to work from nine-to-five, then coming home to watch Netflix.

Sometimes… I even eat fast food. Honestly, whether you choose a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant or an international chain, it doesn’t matter. Your travel experience is no one else’s to judge as wrong or right.

However, even though I’m a tourist there are still plenty of things I don’t do when I visit new countries. like insult local customs or expect everyone to speak English.

You know why I don’t do these things? Because I’m not a dick. My behavior in other countries has nothing to do with being a holier-than-thou traveler, and everything to do with being a decent human being.

There’s a wrong way to be a human, but there’s no wrong way to travel.

As long as you are kind, thoughtful, and open-minded, you do you. Take a bus tour, or renovate a bus and get off the grid. Wait in insanely long lines at famous restaurants, or do a homestay and learn to cook the local cuisine.

Explore somewhere new the way you see fit, enjoy your travels, and please stop using the infamous “t” word as an insult, because it’s not.

 

Agree? Disagree? Think I’m totally wrong? Comment below with your thoughts!

You may also like The Truth About Traveling Full-Time

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Slight North

Collect memories, not things. 

Cost of Living in Romania: Our 5 Week Budget Breakdown

If you’re considering a move to this country, the first question that will come to mind (if you’re anything like me) is “What is the cost of living in Romania?”

Daniel and I spent five weeks in the charming town of Sibiu, exploring the northern part of the country called Transylvania. We found the cost of living in Romania to be incredibly affordable, but of course that term is subjective. So, here’s our complete budget breakdown for five weeks in Romania.

 

Accommodation in Romania

If you’re planning an extended stay in Romania, you’ll end up somewhere in Transylvania. It’s the most beautiful part of the country, and much better than the capital of Bucharest. We chose the quiet and colorful town of Sibiu.

Here, our Airbnb for five weeks cost a total of $700, which makes it $617 per month.

This was a great deal because the studio was in a restored historical home. It was super spacious, had high ceilings, and was just steps from the main square, bus station, and supermarkets.

The amazing location definitely bumped this price up, so if you don’t mind living in the suburbs, you can bring this cost down significantly.

 

Food, Drink & Fun Money

Outside of rent, this is where most of our money goes.

Sibiu has two big grocery stores outside of the center, Carrefour and Kaufland, so getting good food at good prices wasn’t a problem. We spent $50 per week on groceries. For five weeks it totaled $250 (which was wayyy less than we were paying in our Colombia and Peru budgets!)

Eating out is a different story… we kind of just ate and drank what we wanted, when we wanted too as long as we stuck to the budget we set for ourselves. We spent extra money to try craft beer in Sibiu and eat in the best Sibiu restaurants recommended by the locals. So keep in mind that if you practice a little more self control than us or seek out restaurants and bars outside of the city center you can cut this category big time.

In total, we would spend about $50 during the week and $180 on weekends. So, excluding the weekend trips to Brasov and Bucharest (counted below) our total food/drink/fun money spent in our 5 week Romania budget was about $800.

 

Transport Costs

We were so close to everything we needed that we took a total of four taxis during our stay in Sibiu. So, the cost of that was about $30 for five weeks. Nice!

Bus and train costs for longer trips are included in the category below.

 

Travel and Weekend Getaways

We spent one weekend in Brasov and a second in Bucharest on our way to our next stop in Sofia, Bulgaria. Otherwise, all of the things we did were in Sibiu or day trips from the city.

Weekend in Brasov

Bus to Brasov: $7.50 per person / $15 total
Accommodation at Mountain Tale Hostel: $56 for two nights in a dorm
Fun Money: $120 for food, drinks, transport, entrance fees
Train back to Sibiu: $5 per person / $10 total

Weekend in Bucharest

Train Sibiu to Bucharest: $18 per person / $36 total
Accommodation at Cloud 9 Living: $70 for two nights in a private room
Fun money: $95 for food, drinks and ubers in the city
Bus Bucharest to Sofia: $32 per person / $64 total – get more details on how to get from Bucharest to Sofia.

Other Day Trips and Travels

Day trip to Corvin Castle and Cisnadioara: $26
Volunteer in Sibiu at Sibiu Animal Life: Free
Rent a Bike to Explore the City: $7 for two
Visit the ASTRA Museum: $19 for two with transport and beer

 

Miscellaneous Expenses

The only miscellaneous expense I can think of for our Romania budget is the cost for our phone plans. I cancelled my Sprint phone plan and have had nothing since entering Europe, and Daniel is using Google Fi. Unfortunately with extra data usage and international call fees that came out to $60 for the month 🙁

I guess I can include our health insurance here to, which runs us $280 per month for a US plan that we can’t even use… yeah. So for five weeks that costs $350.

For Americans no visa is necessary and we were able to stay in Romania for 90 days every six months for free.

 

Total Cost of Living in Romania: $2,681

This is a basic breakdown of what we spent during five weeks in Romania. However, there’s some things to keep in mind.

First of all, a budget like this will let you drink at bars, live in the city center, eat at the more expensive restaurants, and take weekend trips (while double paying for accommodation).

If you’re trying to cut costs, it’s possible to reduce this significantly by taking advantage of more of the free stuff to do in Sibiu, living farther from town, eating out and drinking less, and skipping visits to places like Brasov and Bucharest. Also, not paying ridiculous US health insurance costs would definitely help!

Finally, this cost reflects the number for a couple, and it’s important to note that we work during the weeks. If you’re trying to fill every single day of your stay as a vacation, this budget estimate probably isn’t for you and I would expect you’ll spend more.

 

Anyway, let me know if you find this helpful, and if you spend time in the country comment below with your own cost of living in Romania!

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Slight North

Collect memories, not things. 

How Much Time Should I Spend In Medellin and Bogota?

TL;DR: Five days between both cities is more than enough time if you’re on a short trip.

When traveling to Colombia, you’re likely going to end up in Medellin, Bogota, or both at some point during your stay. They’re both interesting cities worth visiting, and there’s a lot to do both in the cities and the surrounding areas.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of amazing places that are farther away as well, so you have to decide how much city time you want during your stay.

However, rest assured that you can see much of what both cities and surrounding areas have to offer even if you’re limited on time.

 

How Much Time Should I Spend In Medellin?

We spent six months in Medellin, but we also had friends and family visit Colombia while we there.

Some of our friends stayed in Medellin for five days, and our family stayed in the city for three days. Based on our long-term experience and their shorter experiences, it seemed that three days was plenty for those on a shorter trip.

In those three days, you can:

Although there’s more to see and do around the city, those are the highlights that you really need to see as a tourist.

Once you’ve done that, it’s easy to get to get a flight to Cartagena or a bus to Jardin. If you only have 10-15 days in Colombia, there isn’t much reason to stay longer than those three full days.

 

Medellin day trip to Guatape

 

How Much Time Should I Spend In Bogota?

During our time in Colombia, we spent a weekend in Bogota (arrived late Thursday and left Monday afternoon) and found it to be more than enough time to explore the city, see the sights, and enjoy the nightlife.

Bogota is a big, crowded city and doesn’t have the nicest weather because the high altitude makes it chilly and rainy year round. 

Although it’s interesting and definitely worth seeing, I wouldn’t recommend spending more than two days here if you’re on a time limit.

In that time, you can:

  • Visit the colorful La Candelaria district
  • See the imposing government buildings
  • Enjoy the sweeping views from Monserrate
  • Have a wild night out in Zona Rosa
  • Visit Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá

Unless you really like crowded streets and crazy nights out, you’ll soon be ready to move on to the jungles, beaches, and more the Colombia has to offer.

 

View from Monserrate in Bogota

 

Wait, What Else Can I Do In Colombia?

If you’re on a 10-15 day trip to Colombia, that still leaves you with 5-10 days to visit other parts of the country. You could easily fit in the chilled out coffee districts of Salento and Jardin if you want to be out in an authentic small town with plenty of nature, or you could go spend time in Cartagena (or even San Andres Island) if you want a sunny beach and colorful old town.

Although it really comes down to you and your own preferences, I definitely wouldn’t spend more than five days between Medellin and Bogota if you’re on a shorter trip in Colombia.

There are just too many other amazing things to see throughout the country.

 

If you have any questions or opinions, let me know in the comments section below!

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Collect memories, not things. 

Learn to Travel for Free with the Beginner’s Guide to House Sitting

Bob and Fara aren’t your average forty-somethin’ couple. While most are busy with the day-to-day lives of raising kids and keeping their career afloat, for them that’s not the case.

In 2017, they found themselves singing a familiar refrain that is all to common amongst long-term travelers: “I quit my job, sold everything, and hit the road.”

Ok, it wasn’t quite as simple as that, but you get the picture.

Then, they made the mistake of starting their travels in Scandinavia where they immediately blew through their budget. After that, Bob and Fara quickly made their way to greener (aka cheaper) pastures in Eastern Europe and started searching for ways to save money so they could travel longer.

That’s when they discovered house sitting.

Bob and Fara have learned a lot as they navigate the wonderful world of house sitting jobs and snag free accommodation across the continent. Now, they’re here to share their expertise with you in the complete beginner’s guide to house sitting!

 

1. How do you find house sitting opportunities?

There are two different ways to find house sitting jobs while traveling.

Membership Websites

Our primary sources are two paid subscription websites that pair homeowners with house sitters:

There are numerous other websites out there, but these are the two which we have had the most success with.

In our experience, a homeowner will post an opportunity to the site with the important info (dates, approximate location, expected duties, photos of the property and pets, etc.). Then a house sitter can apply for the ones that interest them.

Many house sitting platforms are also set-up for a house sitter to post their availability (dates, locations, pet/maintenance experience, etc) and have a homeowner contact them when they have a need. However, we’ve never received any leads in this way.

Word of Mouth

As we meet people on our travels, it often comes up that we are house sitting as a way of financing our trip. Sometimes these chance encounters turn into leads. For example, Fara had met a nice Croatian woman through a knitting Facebook group and, before ever meeting her in person, she had connected us with one of her friends who needed a last-minute pet-sitter at the same time we were in Zagreb. Homeowners from previous house sits will also contact us when they or someone they know have upcoming trips planned before posting the opportunity to one of the house sitting websites.

We hope these word of mouth and repeat customer leads become a more significant percentage of our house sits in the future.

 

2. How much do you get paid?

Since we are traveling on tourist visas, we don’t have the right to work in any of the countries we visit and can’t legally charge for our services.

With that being said, there are still plenty of extra perks.

Financial Benefits

All of the homeowners we’ve house sat for offer us free lodging for the duration of the sit and often extend it to a few days before and after they are gone. Often we are left with at least basic staples with instructions to make use of anything that will spoil while the homeowner is away, including anything in the refrigerator, pantry, cellar or freezer.

We’ve been traveling primarily with a rental car, but some homeowners will let us use their vehicle while they are away as well.

We use a bit of fuzzy accounting when figuring out how much we make house sitting. If you look at it as money not spent on lodging, food and transportation it can easily amount to $50-100/day that stays in our travel fund during the duration of the house sit.

Travel Perks

There are several intangible benefits we receive by house sitting.

We get to “live like a local” for a little while, sometimes in a part of the world we would otherwise never consider traveling to. The homeowners we have met have all been wonderful people, who love travel, and warmly welcome us into their homes despite being practically complete strangers. We’ve taken part in local festivals that foreigners rarely attend, and finally, we get to be around animals without having to figure out how to travel with our own.

 

3. What responsibilities can you expect during a house sit?

Before every house sit we meet the homeowners in person and prefer to spend a day or two with them running through their daily routines with the pets and other responsibilities. Most homeowners have a detailed manual with all the important information for the house sitter, but it is not a replacement for hands-on interaction. I guess a very trusting homeowner may do everything electronically, but it would be counter to our desire to meet and interact with the locals.

Most of the house sitting opportunities posted (and the ones we’ve experienced) include caring for the homeowner’s pets. The most exotic pet we’ve cared for so far has been chickens, and we had to collect and eat the eggs.

Most of the homes we’ve cared for are at least partially heated using a wood burner, so in the winter there could be some chopping and bringing in the firewood and tending to the fire.

In the spring and summer there could be some light gardening and yard maintenance or tending to a swimming pool.

At the very least a house sitter should be expected to keep the house at least as tidy as the homeowner left it to them.

We’ve seen house sits posted that included duties such as tending farm animals, keeping an eye on contractors making improvements to the home, or even helping to run a hotel or bed & breakfast… We’ve declined to apply for such “opportunities”, but they may appeal to others.

 

4. How much flexibility does house sitting require?

Flexibility can be defined many ways when it comes to house sitting. You are dealing with two private parties (homeowner and house sitter) who are operating under a mutually beneficial agreement, so anything is possible.

It has been our experience that dates need to be a little flexible which is why we prefer to build in a few days on either side of the homeowner’s expected departure and arrival just in case of some last minute change in travel plans. We’ve never had a homeowner cancel on us, but it can happen. We know of some house sitters who draw up a basic contract in case of cancellation to recoup some costs associated with such an event.

During the house sit, Murphy’s law dictates that something will happen you are not fully prepared for. This is just a fact of life and successful house sitters are flexible enough to handle these cases in stride. Pets may gets sick, but the homeowner should leave you with contacts for veterinary care. Something in the house may break or stop working, but our own homeownership experience has taught us to fix what we can and call an expert for what we can’t. This flexibility is part of the job description of a house sitter.

When talking about locations, flexibility will open up many more opportunities for the house sitter. A significant number of house sits tend to be located in rural areas or small villages with limited access to public transportation, restaurants, and shopping. Even when an opportunity is found in a major city, it will likely be located in the more residential areas, away from the central tourist districts.

In the off-season, house sits can be more easily found in what would be considered a vacation destination. It is also worth noting that the more popular a destination or season is, the more competition there will be with other house sitters.

 

5. How many house sits have you done and how many are set up for the future? 

We’ve completed five house sits since last December which is when we got serious about using house sitting as a form of lodging. The shortest duration has been a three or four day weekend and the longest was two weeks not counting the time we stayed before and after the homeowner was gone.

These have taken us to rural Ireland, London, the Pyrenees in France, Zagreb, and Lake Balaton in Hungary. We have confirmed sits upcoming in Transylvania, back in Croatia, and Luxembourg and at least a couple others we are in the process of negotiating the final details.

Every few days Fara is finding new opportunities to apply for that will fill in the gaps between the upcoming sits.

 

6. Can you give me an estimate on how much time and money you invested to land each one?

Money: We currently have memberships on five different house sitting websites which cost approximately $30-120/membership/year. 

Time: I tend to just read emails that have been sent to us by the house sitting platforms.  

For example Trusted House sitters sends me two emails a day (morning and evening) based on the sits they have received in that timeframe before made public on their website. The email is organized by country and alphabetical so I can quickly scan to see if there are any sits in countries that we are near or plan in the future to be in or close to.  

On a weekly average I might spend 30 minutes looking at these house sitting emails. If I see something listed in one of the emails that looks like it might fit our needs I will send it to Bob for his opinion and if he thinks its a good fit then he will let me know and I apply for the sit. Bob keeps track of our Visa dates for permitted time within a country. So often he will have to run a calculation to determine if we have the available time to do that sit based on the Visa situation at that time.

There have been three sits that we had to turn down based on inadequate Schengen Visa time although we would have loved to perform the sit.

 

7. What does a typical process look like from the first application to getting the job?

After submitting an application the ball is almost entirely in the homeowner’s court, so there is a lot of waiting on our part. If we don’t hear back within a few days and it is a house sit we are particularly interested in, Fara will follow up with the homeowner to show interest and prompt a response.

At this point the application will go one of two ways. The homeowner will give us a “no” response (and a continued lack of response we also take as a “no”) or they respond to schedule an interview.

The interview is typically over video chat, in some cases it will be entirely via email, messenger or text, and in one unique case we were in the same general area as the homeowner and scheduled an in-person interview at their home.

This interview is as much for us to interview the homeowner as it is for the homeowner to interview us and in our experience has always ended with both parties agreeing to continue with the house sit.

 

8. How do you make sure your house sitting requests stand out from the rest?

Fara tries to tailor each application to the homeowner rather than just sending a canned, boilerplate request.

Adding personal touches such as relating past experiences with animals to the homeowner’s pets or showing knowledge and interest in the location they live in makes a difference. We try to emphasize that our story is unique in that we’re neither twenty-somethings straight out of university nor retirees enjoying their twilight years traveling.

Above all else, we try to portray ourselves with as professionals with many years of experience from owning and caring for our own homes and pets.

 

9.What surprised you the most about house sitting? Is there anything you wish you knew before you started?

The most surprising thing for both of us is how much we needed to treat house sitting as a business with us as a service provider and the homeowners as clients.

We went into it a bit naively thinking that we’d make our travel plans and pick up house sits along the way. This resulted in only rarely finding opportunities we were even available to apply for. It wasn’t until we changed this mindset and made our itinerary flexible enough to accommodate going where the house sitting opportunities were, that we were successful finding and landing house sits.

If we had known what we know now, we would have also built up our house sitting resume before embarking on our long-term nomadic trip. Without a history of successful house sits, it took the right homeowner to be willing to select an apparently inexperienced house sitter.

 

10. What has been your favorite house sitting experience so far? Would you recommend it to others that are interested?

It may sound a bit like a cop out, but it would be impossible to pick one favorite experience as they are all memorable for different reasons.

The Ireland house-sit was exhilarating because it was our first sit and everything was brand new. Despite us not really having a clue what we were doing, the homeowner is willing to let us watch her pets again later on this year.

In France we took part in their Carnivale celebration where we were the first Americans anyone could remember being in attendance.

The pets we took care of in Hungary now occupy a special place in our hearts. We went back a few weeks later to pick up something we left behind and they were all ready for us to stay and take care of them again.

We love this “job” and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone wanting to experience real life in a foreign place.

 

Read more about Bob and Fara’s travels on their blog at Can Do Latitude and simplify your travel plans with their Shengen Visa calculator!

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Slight North

Collect memories, not things. 

How to Get From Bucharest to Sofia

There are two main options to get from Bucharest to Sofia.

First you need to decide if you want to go by train or by bus. After careful research Daniel and I found that the bus is the best option for most people simply because the train is two hours slower.

So, if you’re ready to go from Bucharest to Sofia by bus, here’s everything you need to know to make the journey!

 

Cost: 125 lei / 32 usd / 27 euro per person

Location: Filaret Station at Strada Doctor Constantin Istrati 1, București, Romania

Time: 7.5 hours

 

Timetable for the Bus from Bucharest to Sofia

Busses leave from Bucharest to Sofia at 6:30 am, 1 pm, 4 pm, and 10:30 pm.

Daniel and I took the 1 pm bus on the TPAHC 6 brand (which doesn’t seem to have a website) and it was a small but comfortable minibus. The 10:30 pm bus is also TPAHC 6.

The 6:30 am and 4 pm buses, on the other hand, are run by a company called the etap Group and Grup Plus – for them, I don’t know what size of bus, stops, or timeline you can expect.

 

Timeline: Bucharest to Sofia

1 pm – Board the bus and leave the station.

2:30 pm – Cross the border into Bulgaria (we stayed in the van and gave the driver our passports, crossing the border took 10 minutes).

2:45 pm – Stop at Pyce Station in Bulgaria for one hour. There are restaurants here where you can get food and drinks.

3:45 pm – Leave Pyce Station.

6 pm – Stop at Pleven Station for 20 minutes.

8:30 pm – Arrive at the Sofia Central Bus Station.

 

Important Information

You can’t buy bus tickets for this route in advance. Daniel and I went to the station a day early and the lady just waved us away and told us to come back tomorrow… so don’t waste your time.

That being said, there’s no reason to. When we arrived at the station again 30 minutes before departure there was only one other person waiting to board it with us, so don’t worry about tickets selling out.

Also, make sure you change some money into Bulgarian levs before you leave Bucharest. We forgot and were unable to buy any snacks, food, or drinks once we crossed the border (which is only 1.5 hours into the trip). Luckily, they at least let us use Romanian money to pay for the toilets.

Once you arrive in the Sofia Central Bus Station, you can walk about 20 minutes to the center or take a taxi for around 4 levs (Uber was banned in Sofia, but you can download the TaxiMe app to make sure you don’t get ripped off).

 

Honestly, I thought the ride from Bucharest to Sofia would be way worse than it was.

The minibus was comfortable and didn’t feel too crowded, and the views were really nice in the last two hours leading in to Sofia. Just make sure you have some Bulgarian money and download a few new episodes on your Netflix app, and you’ll be good to go!

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Collect memories, not things. 

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