The opportunity to see new places and experience cultures that are different from my own is my favorite thing to do. Travel has been a part of my life since I was young. My dad was in the Navy, and we were stationed in six different locations while I was growing up. After arriving somewhere new, we would head out and explore our surroundings to become familiar with the area and the people who would become a part of our everyday lives. One of the first things my mom would do was call the local Girl Scout office to find out about troops in our area, which was the easiest way to make new friends and help us acclimate to our new home.

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Moving around a lot getting to learn the history and culture of the different places made me want to travel more as an adult. But I didn’t realize that these travel opportunities would guide how I travel today, until I started traveling with my oldest daughter’s Girl Scout troop. The most important thing I’ve learned is the difference between being a traveler and a tourist.

A traveler is someone who explores places and sights to discover more about their world. They want to understand the importance of the places they are visiting and immerse themselves in that culture. A tourist, on the other hand, is someone traveling just for fun, checking sights off their bucket list, and focused on their interests, instead of learning about what they are seeing and why it is important. That’s why Girl Scouts, with their curious and compassionate nature, should always strive to be travelers, not tourists.

Traveling with your Girl Scouts is one the best ways to share the world with our girls, giving them an opportunity to broaden their perspective. Here are a few ways we can help our girls become travelers and not tourists:

1. Foster healthy risk-taking

Travelers are best known for their sense of adventure, allowing them to try new things and learn more about where they are. Show the girls that it is okay to jump in to experiences that are new and different—sometimes taking a risk can lead to the best memories of a trip.

2. Let the girls take the lead

Allow the girls to trust their instincts for what kind of adventure they are ready for. Sometimes unexpected opportunities pop up while travelling—some girls will investigate the opportunity and decide to give that adventure a chance (assuming it meets the Safety Activity Checkpoints), and some will respect their own feelings and decide to give this adventure a pass; both demonstrate good traveler behavior. Be aware that you could have a mixture of the two in your group, so you need to be prepared to handle the decision. Consider splitting the group up so each can participate in activities that suit the adventures they are looking for.

3. Be flexible when things don’t go according to plan

Be open to alternative plans. While you are traveling, there may be times that plans get cancelled, weather changes, or things don’t go as expected. How you handle the change can a make a big difference. A traveler is more apt to adjust to the situation because they trust their instincts for adventure. Unplanned events equal new adventures! A tourist may have a hard time adjusting because they had a preset idea of what to expect and now have a hard time changing their plans. Help your girls be flexible travelers by being upbeat about new plans and opportunities, and not being flustered by changes or challenges.

4. Be prepared

Be prepared for wherever you are going, whether it is a local trip or an international adventure. This includes doing your best to have conversations with residents. Instead of attempting to speak the local language, an American tourist may speak in English and expect someone to understand them, then get frustrated if they don’t. A respectful traveler will take the time to learn some basics, such as how to say “hello”, “goodbye”, “please”, “thank you”, and “where is the toilet?” This level of preparation is not only smart, but respectful to the people who live in the country you are visiting. Who knows, as you learn a little bit of a different language, the locals might enjoy practicing their English too!

5. Try new things, they might be delicious

Try it, you might like it! One of the best parts of traveling to new places is the opportunity to try new foods. You can tell the difference between a traveler and a tourist just by watching where they eat. These days, Starbucks, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut can be found almost anywhere. A traveler is open to trying new foods, especially things they may not have at home. Sometimes the “stranger” it is, the better. If the girls are offered something new, don’t be afraid to ask what it is and give it a try! Even if it sounds like something you might not like, trying it shows respect to your host and their culture, and you might discover something you love. If not, you can check it off your list. Snails are on my checked-off list; I won’t be eating them again, but at least I tried them!

6. Respect yourself and others by being a courteous traveler

The biggest difference between a tourist and a traveler can be seen in their respect for the places they are visiting. American tourists often have a reputation for rudeness earned by doing things like climbing on ruins, talking loudly in places where they should be quiet, or showing no interest in the history or culture of the places they visit. A good traveler (and a good Girl Scout) shows their respect and appreciation of these places through understanding their importance, learning the history and customs of a place, and by sharing their adventures with others when they get home. That way they can spread the respect for all people and open-mindedness they gained by traveling to their communities as they start planning their next big adventure!

Travel is an incredible way to become a better Girl Scout. It broadens girls’ minds, helps them take risks, solve new problems, and build confidence. In the words of world traveler and TV personality, Andrew Zimmern: “Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding the world we live in.”

Bon Voyage, Girl Scouts!

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Sandy NormanSandy Norman—Sandy has been a Girl Scout since 5th grade, during which she lived in Naples, Italy. She has been an Extended Troop Travel learning facilitator for 18 years and has loved helping other leaders learn how to travel with their troops! Sandy has also been leading council trips since 2010 and enjoys sharing her travel knowledge with GSNorCal girls and adults.