This is a topic that’s been beaten to death in the travel blogosphere, but for good reason because it’s always so easy to pick out the archetypes of people who travel.
The standards that you will see in blog write-ups and in real life include: The partier, the checklister, the beachgoer, the photographer, etc.
Drawing on my own experiences visiting different places and melding with different types of people, I’ve come up with my own simplified version of categories. These are based not on the types of activities that people pursue in their travels, but rather on their behavior when they travel.
After reading this article, you should know what type you are, if you don’t already. The information here should be used as a guide for traveling with people of other types, or on how to adapt your behavior to a new type if need be.
Here is my list of only 4 basic categories of travelers, with descriptions of each.
Each trip is planned to a T. If you travel with a planner, don’t expect to go anywhere that isn’t detailed in Lonely Planet. A planner isn’t likely to hit the road without his/her two best traveling companions—a guidebook and a notebook.
The planner will have bus and train stations marked on a map and connection times recorded, or even memorized. Each day of the trip will be predetermined and spelled out, in the notebook of course.
Even in a place no one in the group has been to before, the planner will know where to go and how to get there, or at least pretend to.
“I don’t think we can go there… it’s kind of out of the way.”
“Hold on. I have it written down somewhere…”
To the queston: “Do you know where we’re going?”
“Totally. It’s just another three quarters kilometer up here and then around the corner to the left. Follow me.”
“We just have to make sure there’s room for that in the budget.”
“We have to hurry. The train leaves in 12 minutes!”
Being a Planner:
If you find yourself doing any of these things often, you are a planner. Be proud of that. The planner is often the leader of a trip, so embrace this role and make the trip of a lifetime for your friends.
Just be careful of getting too stressed when things don’t go according to plan. There will always be variables out of your control, especially in a country you’ve never been to with a language you don’t speak.
When the guidebook fails you and so does plan B, it pays to think on your feet, improvise, but most importantly—remain calm and remember it’s not the end of the world if your plans have to fall a day behind. The adventure is half the fun, anyway.
Dealing with a Planner:
Remember that the planner prefers things to go as planned, every time. Lack of a premeditated plan, or a plan falling through, is major source of stress for the meticulous traveler. Try not to make things worse by running off with your own agenda if it will ruin the plan for everyone else. If something does go wrong, help the planner come up with alternatives, but avoid the gut reaction of just saying “screw it, we’ll figure it out tomorrow.” The planner requires more solid peace of mind to sleep at night.
The planner probably prefers to lead. Just let them do it, or at least make them feel like they are. If you have your own ideas for how the trip should go, be sure to discuss this with your planning friend a day or two ahead of time. They will be much more likely to cooperate.
Traveling with a planner is often the best way to go. They can make any trip go more smoothly, and will make sure you don’t miss out on anything at a destination that you might overlook or not otherwise know about.
Plus, following a planner means less work for you. They enjoy doing all the boring prep work themselves; so just let them have it.
That classic phrase describes this type of traveler. Being lost implies that you don’t know where you are, but also that you don’t know how to get to where you are going. There are those who get ‘lost’ on purpose.
The wanderer travels with a general area in mind, and maybe a few specific destinations to definitely not miss, but the word itinerary is as foreign as any language could be.
The adventure is all the thrill of any trip. Just pick a direction and walk in it. You’ll be sure to find something you’ve never seen before.
The wanderer is always up for anything and is usually outgoing, quick to ask for directions if need be, but usually forgets what they were soon after hearing them.
He or she is usually most happy while on the go, even if going to nowhere specific. Just walking in circles around the outskirts of town is better than napping in the hostel all afternoon.
“I wonder what’s down here? Lets go check it out.”
“Do you know how to get to the airport?”
To the queston: “Do you know where we’re going?”
“Then I found this friendly old gypsy guy who took me on a tour of the docks and let me crash on his couch for a few days.”
“We’re not lost. We just don’t know where we are.”
Being a Wanderer:
If you are a wanderer, you know it. You simply have more fun when figuring out a new place on the fly. You would rather navigate using intuition and the sun rather than a map. You love meeting new people and experiencing new things, whether planned on or not.
As a wanderer, you are perfectly comfortable being either a leader or a follower in the group. When there is a plan in place, you are perfectly happy to sit back and let someone else do the mental work, but when improvising is the way to go, you don’t mind heading up the show.
Just be careful not to stray past the point of no return. Getting legitimately lost can happen, and in real life not every back alley is a good place to explore.
Also, remain conscientious of the others in your group. Not everyone may be stoked on leaving a 2-week gap in the schedule for ‘exploring’, and some people may much prefer the expensive train ride to hitchhiking.
Dealing with a Wanderer:
Remember that the wanderer has a short attention span for ‘sitting down and figuring things out.’ If there comes a point in the trip where the group must pause to make decisions or further planning, keep a close eye on the wanderer or you may lose track of your friend. But try to oblige him or her as much as possible, and just go with the flow if you can stand it.
Also remember, however, that wanderers don’t always have the keenest sense of self-preservation, so follow them with caution.
Planners and wanderers can usually act as either a leader or a follower, but some people just find it hard to pull their own weight.
A follower prefers to have the trip planned out and run smoothly, but not do any of the planning his/herself.
Followers are content to run on other people’s agenda. They generally haven’t done the research on a destination ahead of time to even know what they could be missing out on, so blissfully unaware is often the attitude of their journey.
“I’m down for whatever you guys are”
“Are we there yet?”
To the question, ‘Do you know where we’re going?’
“No, I thought you did!”
“I didn’t know the Eiffel Tower was in Paris!”
“My feet hurt.”
Being a Follower:
There is no shame in being a follower in certain situations. If you are an inexperienced traveler, if you don’t know the language at all and are accompanied by someone who does, or if you are traveling with obsessive planning-leader types, then following is definitely the way to go.
If you find yourself following all the time, even in different groups of people, you may be a certifiable follower.
This is fine as long as you don’t drag down your group with lack of input or motivation. Habitual followers can sometimes tend to be complainers; so don’t let this be you.
Dealing with Followers:
If you are comfortable as a leader, you may prefer your friends to simply follow, but keep an ear out for input if they have it and try to make democratic decisions. Other people have opinions too, you know.
If you are annoyed because you just can’t get someone in your group to give input, or you feel you can’t rely on them to operate independently, they may be a follower by nature.
Go out of your way to encourage their input in group decisions, and fill them in on necessary info about your destination. Maybe give them the map or the guidebook for a day. The follower may just need to be coaxed out of his or her comfort zone.
There is one of these in every hostel. That one person who you want to ask, “Why are you even here?” All the sitter does is hang out in one place.
Usually traveling alone, but sometimes in pairs, sitters are perfectly content to lounge in a hammock and read a book, rarely venturing out of their comfort zone to experience the place they are in, except for maybe an occasional trip to the nearest beach.
Sure, we all need some time for R&R in the midst of a hectic travel schedule, maybe even a day or two never getting out of bed, but the sitters make a whole trip out of doing nothing.
“It’s just not my thing.”
To the question ‘Do you know where you’re going today?’
“I’ll probably hang out here and read.”
“This is one of the best hostels I’ve been to.”
“This is one of the worst hostels I’ve been to.
Being a Sitter:
If you are a sitter, you probably won’t admit it, even to yourself. You may claim to seek out far-flung and adventurous destinations, but once you get there, everything seems so overwhelming, so expensive, or just somehow not what you expected. If you find yourself repeatedly turning down offers to join in on a day trip with friends from the hostel, STOP IT. Don’t waste the experience of a lifetime doing exactly what you would do at home. Try to live a little.
Dealing with a Sitter:
Be understanding and patient with them, but persistent. A person may be a sitter because he or she is in the middle of some intense soul searching, or maybe they are exhausted from full days on the road and late nights in the bars, or maybe they are just lame. Talk to them and try to figure out their motivation for being unmotivated, and encourage them to overcome it.
Once the sitter does get out into the real world, he or she is often a follower. Be prepared for this and deal with them just like you would any other follower.
So which one are you?
And which one should you be?
Truth is, the best way to travel is to master a combination of all four. I really can’t categorize myself as any one of these.
When someone needs to plan, I am happy to do the planning. I always like it when a trip goes my way, anyway.
When there is no specific goal in mind for the day, one of my favorite ways to travel is simply wander around on foot and see what I can find.
When someone else is fired up about planning, I am perfectly content to sit back and enjoy the ride.
When I need a good long stretch of nothing, I can sit and do nothing, but get back on my feet as soon as I’m able.
So, I lied to you at the beginning of this article. I don’t think that every person always fits into one of these categories. I know that people who travel a lot usually know how to operate in any of these, depending on circumstances.
My list is mostly just for fun, but maybe it will help you pick out traits in people you travel with, or simply work with in a group, and give advice on how to interact with them.