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You’ve probably seen all those photos with the tagline “Don’t be a tourist, be a traveler” or the endless variations of the formula:”A traveler [insert inspiring action] and a tourist [insert lame comparison]“…
Initially, my adventurous side which enjoys bungee jumping, riding at the back of a motorbike and spending summer holidays in a tent on the beach was all in favor of the almost mythical concept of The Traveler. It just seemed so blatantly easy to put a hard line between travelers and tourists and take a side in the debate.
Upon second thoughts…I am not so sure.
Labels and categories are an inevitable part of human experience: we need our mental maps to navigate through people’s characters, the way real maps help us find our way through a strange city. However, there is always one big BUT lurking around the corner.
Moritz the Cat: “Do I define myself as a cat traveler or a traveling cat”?
Although it is tempting to put people into easily accessible mental boxes like Tourist and Traveler: how do we know that the boxes are just two and how do we agree on the contents? There are as many different kinds of tourists, as there are of “travelers”. Consider a person who is extremely interested in learning new things about the local culture but is constrained by the business purpose of his trip and the tight schedule of his visit. If such factors allow only for brief pre-planned “touristy” activities: is he a tourist or a traveler? What about an eager adventurer who spends months in the company of other expats and experiences a lot of exciting new things within this circle, yet fails to truly get to know the culture outside functional everyday interactions with locals? Is this a tourist or a traveler?
What is more, there are some travelers who can switch back to “tourist” mode when they do not have the mental energy to truly immerse themselves into travel and there are tourists who can become “travelers” if they discover a sudden passion to explore in depth the place which they have visited.
It’s (not) all about the money…but sometimes it is
EU’s borderless affordability is taken for granted today. But in the former Eastern block many of our grandparents could not even dream of seeing the world and roaming freely across borders: even if they had the money to do so.
I know senior and middle aged people who are extremely bright and who have read about the world all their lives: studying atlases and globes with passion, imagining where they would go “One day”.
Many of them can only afford a package tour today: not because they are plain, adventureless consumers, but because that’s as far as their wallets can match their dreams. And the amount of background knowledge, curiosity and passion they would put in this organized trip would surely surpass that of many experienced travelers.
Learn the rules like a pro…
Unless you are lucky enough to grow up in a family of globetrotters, your life as a traveler always starts as a tourist. Your first trips always involve the standard pre-established patterns which everyone follows.
Remember the famous Picasso line “Learn the rules like a Pro so you can break them as an artist”? Well, the same goes for traveling: go on several really standard touristy trips, see what your soul is missing and then go on building your traveling routines from there.
One of my first major trips when I was a teenager was a package tour and I am extremely thankful to my parents for it. The spark it ignited is still burning and even then I somehow sensed that constraints can actually make you more creative about how you spend your time.
Ultimately: you always have a choice how to internalize your experiences and how to spend your “pre-planned time” wisely. While people from the bus stormed fashion boutiques in Rome, I went to visit locations from some of my favourite vintage Italian movies. Instead of eating pizza at a restaurant, I grabbed a slice on the go and spend the “lunch break” doing what I felt like doing: taking photos of everyday life on the streets…
In the end the joy of travelling comes down to a few major things:
- seeing more of the world
- experiencing things you enjoy
- learning something about other people
- learning something about yourself
- changing and expanding your worldview
As long you can check off several things from this list: your journey is worthwhile, no matter how you define your approach to travelling.
The key thing is to truly enjoy what you are doing and not just go through the motions.
Have fun & See more of the world!