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The Traveler Versus A Tourist

Posted in Travel

Why do people travel? To escape, to explore other cultures and cuisines, to tick the countries visited off the list, or to see what the world has to offer elsewhere. It can be a combination of things, but to be a traveler it comes from the attitude and frame of mind. You can start off as a tourist and learn to be a traveler, as it’s not about money, where you stay, or how you travel, but how you interact when you do travel, and what you learn and take away from that experience, and by that I don’t mean taking multiple selfies of tourist landmarks.

A true traveler blends into a host culture by observing it and adapting. They respect the natives and learn about their culture and way of life, never judging but seeing that people have different lifestyles and priorities. A tourist on the other hand wants to live as they do wherever they are in the world. Hotels and tourist resorts cater for them by serving their local cuisine. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing a Greek resort serve English fry ups and fish and chips to cater for tourists, but they need to make a living and must give the tourists what they want.


Another type of traveler is the young (millennial) backpacker that thinks they are a traveler and not a tourist, and many like to brag about how many countries they have packed into their journey. If only they could realize it’s the quality of time spent somewhere, and not the quantity of places you can say you have set foot in. I use the term ‘millennial’ with a smirk, because later they will realize like the baby boomers, it’s a mere media generational categorization and doesn’t confer any special status at all. Sadly, many believe the media hype and portals such as Thought Catalog and Distractify are flooded with them proffering their green advice and experience. Many journal their travels and offer advice (nothing new, just something we call common sense), that has been recycled with selfies, and how they don’t want the responsibility of a normal life. Unless you are incredibly wealthy or want to live hand to mouth, then traveling long term isn’t practical, as much as it is fun and liberating. You may have a credit card, but where is it registered? A permanent address for your passport and visa applications, and bank accounts is necessary, so you can pretend it doesn’t matter, but it does. Using a parental address is what most people do, but how independent is that? Most claim they are not escaping anything, but most people are and can’t admit it. I do recommend young people to travel as much as they can before they settle into a career, so they can truly decide where their passions lie, but be honest about why you are traveling. There is no crime to say you want to travel to get away from the rat race, or you need time and space to think about what you want to do and where you want to be. It maybe a lifestyle for some, but even those people get a little homesick, and tired of living out of a suitcase from time to time.

People decide to travel because they need a break in life, to take a sabbatical, or they get made redundant and they need time to rethink what direction they wish to pursue. Everyone is free to travel, and those that envy those on a journey do so because they prefer security. Traveling, even with unlimited funds requires thought, planning and common sense. Naturally, one must enjoy where they go, but living independently out of a suitcase does require one to always be aware of where they are (know the local laws and customs), ensure wherever they stay is safe, and also to be friendly and respectful to the locals. The most common travelers are the gap year traveler (either before University or after), the early retirees, burnt out stockbrokers and lawyers who want to find themselves, people who have a major relationship separation, those who are made redundant or when a company goes bankrupt, and people who have a terminal illness and want to see the world with what time they have left.

These days traveling is so much cheaper and easier with budget airlines such as EasyJet, and JetBlue, and bus and coaches companies such as MegaBus that offer fares for as low as £1.50. Before you cry out these fares don’t exist, they do—I’ve traveled from Boston to New York for $1 and this was a couple of years ago. In addition the internet has made it easier to compare fares, find accommodation, and also look up local area information. However, some get complacent with the internet and rely on it without doing their proper research. Naturally there will be scammers, and a good traveler will know what to look out for, or how to find out what is a good deal.

Those of us who traveled in the days where Lonely Planet, and Rough Guides books were the tools of the independent traveler, have acquired skills that many new travelers don’t think about, and thus they end up in a bit of a mess to put it frankly. Habits such as reconfirming flights were necessary because if you didn’t then you would be bumped off the plane (I’ve seen people miss flights because they never checked or reconfirmed their tickets). Photocopying documents was essential, as many places in rural areas didn’t have any photocopying facilities. Writing things down, such as bus times, hotel phone numbers, and emergency contacts is important as, most people don’t even carry pen and paper. When you find your cellphone has no battery (or gets water damage), and there are no main sockets to charge it with how will you find those numbers? What if there is no cellphone service or your phone gets stolen with all the information on it? It is common sense really, but while one may say I am being over cautious, I have been in areas where there is no cellphone reception, or it’s so remote power gets cut off so there is no wi-fi or internet, or any cellphone coverage. You have to learn to use a landline, and that’s where a phonecard can be handy and cheaper.

Being a true traveler isn’t about taking selfies, but to visit and absorb the culture of another part of the world we live in. To see how others live, and appreciate their customs. I still have more traveling to do, and while some people may have covered more ground, my experiences have been richer by spending time to explore more than the tourist hotspots, but to see how the locals live and to live amongst them. That to me is a real traveler, not someone who ticks countries off their list and posts selfies on social media. They maybe traveling, but as a tourist and not as a traveler. You may wonder which category of traveler I fall into? I began my thirst for traveling after University, but when a friend reneged on our plans, I kept looking for someone else to go with. Then I had a cancer scare at the age of 26, and made a bucket list. I promised myself if I was okay I would find the funds to go and visit these places. My first stop was Florence in Italy; what I learned is that you don’t need to travel with someone if that’s your excuse for not going, and as I walked home across the Ponte Vecchio, I wondered why I had waited so long to travel and explore the places I had wanted to see. Start off as a tourist, but through the eyes of a traveler, you can see so much more, enrich your cultural awareness, and begin to understand what humanity really means and what it’s about. What do I mean by that? You’ll know when you experience it…

©2016. The Nomadic Philosopher.

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