I often struggled with the idea of what a travel expert is and if there even is such a thing. It’s not like it’s something you can major in or take classes for (history did a shoddy job, who even knows where Mesopotamia is now?). Coming from a generation of millennials where people are more worldly than ever and happy to jump on a plane at a moment’s notice, what gives one traveler any more credibility than the next? Similarly, what makes someone an influencer? In the age of the Internet, anyone can set up a blog, start writing and get a decent-sized social following.

Seeing as my undergraduate thesis was on website credibility, I tend to question everything I read online. How much of what’s out there is actually produced by people knowledgeable enough to be writing about the subject vs. a personal account of a great trip? Are you actually providing a service by publishing it or simply appeasing family and friends curious about your whereabouts? What I’m trying to answer with every single one of my posts is “who cares” and I urge you to think about blogging the same way – so you’re always providing value to your readers.

How I Define Travel Experts

I group travel experts into two buckets, topical experts, and local experts (how I know the food scene in Denver really, really well because I write about it on a regular basis). To be a local expert, you have to be “tuned in,” a connector, the go-to person in your social circle that people call to find out what’s going on. It’s more of a personality trait than anything, but it does take some effort to stay current and in the know. Some people are also inherently good at travel hacking, which is another skill — being able to travel for longer, cheaper.

Three Tiers of Travel Experts

As for the other kind of travel expertise, my niche would be explorer. Some people love lying on a beach for a week or being pampered at an all-inclusive resort without a care in the world. The thought of sitting still that long gives me hives. You’ll always find me in search of the next adventure.

But to reach a level where people can trust your expertise, it takes more than a few trips across the pond. There’s no set number of countries that moves you from one tier to another, but a mindset when you’re mentally ready to handle the more intense travel experiences. They’re not for everyone and they’re not meant to be relaxing (a lot of people wouldn’t even classify them as a vacation!) – but seeing extreme poverty, different religions, contrasting beliefs, and situations that take you completely out of your comfort zone are a critical part of understanding the world and culture.

There’s also a certain degree of how you deal with uncertainty and stress. You know that saying, “if everything’s going right, you’ve obviously overlooked something?” In travel, almost nothing goes 100% according to plan — ever. Flights are delayed, trains are cancelled, rooms are not what they were advertised as. You can either get all worked up over each incident and let the little mishaps ruin your trip or you can tap into your problem solving skills and come up with an alternative solution. Travel experts have a knack for thinking on the fly and the flexibility to adapt, knowing what to research and how.

Here are my Designations:

Beginner’s Travel – You view travel as a vacation, an escape from the daily grind. You’re just starting to catch the bug and beginning to check those “must-do” places off the bucket list – London, Paris, Rome, and major US cities like NYC and San Francisco. You’re just getting used the idea of 6+ hour flights, going abroad to places like Europe and the Caribbean. It’s safe; they mostly speak English, and there’s no real culture shock. Nothing too crazy, nothing out of your comfort zone.

A Little More Adventurous – When you go from casual vacationer to traveler, you start to get curious about Asia, some of the more remote South American countries, or maybe want to get one on one with nature – climb a mountain (Machu Picchu), or find a waterfall (Igazu), perhaps. The idea of trying local cuisine excites you, even if it’s an animal part or creature you’d never consider eating back home. You view travel as educational, and try to immerse yourself in as much of the country’s culture as possible, maybe doing a homestay, volunteering or just your first solo trip overseas.

Extreme Explorer – While others may scoff, the idea of getting really off the beaten path excites you because it’s an opportunity to go somewhere few have been before and even less consider doing. The idea of the Middle East is more intriguing than terrifying, and you want to experience a “war zone” with your own eyes. Remote Africa sounds like a challenge and much more interesting than a packaged safari. You like going places others would say you’re crazy to visit and getting to do things most wouldn’t even dream is possible either for fear or means (Antarctica, Greenland). You’re keen on documenting the experience for others and love sharing local traditions and cultural intricacies through words and photos and understand the value in being a storyteller.

Where do I Fall? Somewhere in between adventurous and extreme. The idea of exploring countries few go to gets me really, really jazzed, but I haven’t had the opportunity to do much of it yet. Stay tuned, though, it’s coming soon.

Want to Make Yourself More of an Expert Traveler? Do your homework! Here are a few recommended apps to get you started. You can also step up your photo game with a travel photography class.

What would you say you are? Would you classify travelers the same way I did?

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