Travelers vs Tourists

Posted on February 3, 2012


It seems like whenever I talk to someone about my plans to backpack around the world their immediate response is to tell me how lucky I am. I suppose I am lucky to not be tied down with any commitments, no relationship with a girl or a job with a high salary that I can’t afford to leave. I spent a year at Michigan State University but couldn’t find a major that suited my interests of travel and nothing could really hold my attention. The only major I had interest in was History but as one of my teachers put it “A degree in History and two dollars will get you a cup of coffee”. I have never been interested in teaching so apparently history wasn’t the route to go.

But looking back that just means I’m a single unemployed guy in his early 20’s who isn’t going to school. How many of those are there? Seems like maybe I’m not as lucky as every makes me out to be.

From what I’ve seen modern media has mixed up travelers and tourists and lumped them together. In my humble opinion, staying at a five star resort in a foreign country eating overpriced food that you could get in the US while you sip on your drink of choice doesn’t count as travel. Sure you may technically be in another country, but it’s a pre-packaged vacation that you could take part in anywhere around the world including your home country. Travel is about pushing your limits and comfort zone as you propel yourself into another culture, mingling with its people and partaking in its unique delicacies, and coming out the other side a different person. Enlightenment and epiphanies aren’t a requirement but you can’t help but grow as a person when you travel another country.

You’ll meet people with a different set of ideals and who were raised on the other side of the world. Eating at Olive Garden is great and all but being able to partake in home-made Italian dishes on the gorgeous countryside in Southern Italy is a completely different ballgame. Every place has their specialties and who knows, you might find an amazing new food you weren’t even aware existed.

I’m not advocating that if you don’t have a tight budget and stay at sketchy hostels as you backpack around the world you aren’t traveling, but there is a balance between that and the ads for four night stays in Cancun “for the low, low price of”. Traveling doesn’t even have to be long term, you only have to go as long as you wish. My point is merely if you stray from the path, even a little, and you will be rewarded.

Maybe travel isn’t for everyone, but how do you know if it’s not for you if you don’t at least give it a shot? I knew I wanted to travel when I un-enrolled at college. I knew I wanted to see spectacular sites, meet foreigners in their country, and travel the world. It was the first time in my life I’ve felt like I’ve had direction, that I had a purpose. As the date for Italy grew closer I became slightly worried, what if I made the wrong choice? What if this isn’t the life for me? Well after a month in Italy all I can say is, I’m hooked. The views, the people, the food, and the atmosphere of travel is something I couldn’t even begin to imagine in my wildest dreams. The thrill of new experiences and being completely out of a place is a rush I’ve found in no other activity. I left the country with a tentative schedule of traveling for a few months and returning home, maybe to set back out if I enjoyed. I now plan on making travel my life, whatever way possible. I once read that travel has momentum and once you start it’s hard to stop. That is the truest statement I’ve ever read about traveling, once in motion it wants to stay in motion. I plan on letting it stay in motion for a very long time.

One of my favorite authors, Paul Theroux, put it best. “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”


Posted in: Reflection