Travel has always captured our imagination. Even during our childhood, many of us dream of exotic places and promise ourselves that we will one day go there. Unfortunately, as we grow up we learn that it costs a lot of money to go to those places. Some of them are not even safe enough to visit; others are in third-world countries that don’t have much of a tourist infrastructure, making it hard to travel in the conventional style. We dismiss our dreams as impractical fantasies because the world has taught us that travel is difficult – at least without spending a lot of money. Travel agencies want to charge us enormous amounts of money for upper class hotels, private transportation, tour guides and expensive food. The question is, do we really need any of that? After all, the tour guides themselves travel around without anyone to look after them, so it must be possible to do it independently. Maybe we just need to learn some of what they know.Many of us have come to believe that traveling independently in foreign (especially third-world) countries is scary. We hear the news stories of how travelers died overseas; were put in jail; were kidnapped, etc. Granted, there are some countries in the world to steer clear of, and any kind of travel needs to be taken seriously and with caution. But what we fail to realize about those horror stories is that they happened to a couple of tourists out of the millions who travel overseas every year. The news media doesn’t tell us about the other 99.9% of tourists who had a wonderful trip.I’m here to tell you that can travel independently. You can do it for a fraction of the cost that a travel agency or tour operator would charge you, and I guarantee that your trip will be much more fulfilling knowing that you did it on your own. All you need is an adventurous spirit and little education about the country you will be visiting. You need to find out if it’s safe for American tourists, what documentation you need to get enter the country; what the food, water and accommodations are like; how the public transportation works; and some basic phrases in the local language. Much of this information you can find in a guidebook, some of it will come from government websites on travel warnings and disease control. But you can learn it, and what you learn will make you into something more than a tourist; because unlike a tourist, you are willing to put forth the effort to really get to know the country you visit.Instead of passing through a village with a tour guide pointing things out to you and explaining them in your own language, you can talk to the villagers yourself and learn it from them. Instead of asking your tour guide what kind of food the people eat, you can go to a restaurant and order something from the menu or browse the local market to see what the vendors are selling. You are not confined to the isolated sphere that forms a tour group. You don’t observe your host country from a distance and connect with it only through the medium of your tour guide. You are part of it and you can interact with it directly.If you speak the language of the country you are visiting, you do your part in preserving the culture of it. When tourists cannot speak the local language, some of the locals eventually learn the language of the tourists in order to better understand their needs, and then make money by meeting them. But they shouldn’t have to learn another language in order to make money in their own country. You don’t need to be fluent in the language before you travel, but at least try to learn the basic phrases that you will need to get around the country. One of the main reasons for traveling to foreign countries is to experience a different culture; being a knowledgeable independent traveler minimizes your impact on it so that it doesn’t become “touristy” or “Americanized”.The more educated you are about your host country, the more authentic your experience of it will be. It will be easier to travel as you learn to ask locals for directions and advice and understand what they say. It will become cheaper as you learn about the food that is easiest to come by, the accommodations that are the most economical. It will become more fun as you make friends and memories, and you will be more fulfilled as you realize that travel is about stepping outside of your comfort zone to experience a different way of life instead of staying in your comfort zone and bringing your way of life with you.