I’m a Traveler. AND a Tourist.
“A person who travels.” Can you guess whether that is the definition of a tourist or a traveler? The answer: both. Due to the nature of my travel and work (as well as the places I’ve lived), I hear this tourist versus traveler debate frequently. I’ve heard many travelers quote G.K. Chesterton as saying, “The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” However, I find a fundamental problem in arguing about two things that essentially mean the same thing. It’s almost like saying you love cats, but you’re not particularly a fan of felines. Or more relevantly, if I asked you if you considered yourself a foodie, and you responded with, “Oh no, I can’t be grouped with foodies. I’m a gastronomist.” Go around telling people you’re a gastronomist for a week and tell me if your Facebook friends’ list doesn’t dwindle.
A year and a half ago I took my first cruise, an Alaskan cruise on Norwegian, from Seattle to Alaska. It was a departure from my typical travel style. But one of my first nights on the cruise, I met a family of four that was on their first Alaskan cruise. The husband and wife worked a combined 100+ hours per week and this was the one vacation they took ever year, a one-week cruise annually to a different destination. “Daddy, daddy, ” one of their girls exclaimed running up as I was walking with them around the cruise ship. “You just missed us passing by icebergs.” I had never seen someone so excited about a piece of ice. The entire family all week showed that kind of elation. Being from the suburbs of the south, this was their escape. No work. No emails. No phone. I started to realize then that it wasn’t about how many miles you go, but how much you put into those miles you go. What’s important is not where you go, how many places you go, or how you experience it. What’s important is that you go.
In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.-Abraham Lincoln
I feel like at times, there’s this superiority complex among travelers. We compete in our work, sports, hobbies, and relationships so often that it must be natural that there’s some inherent draw to competing in travel as well. People often ask me how many countries I’ve visited. And I have no idea. You’ve probably been to many more countries than I have. Last month was my first visit to Asia (to Okinawa, Japan), I’ve never visited South America or the South Pacific and I haven’t been east of Austria in Europe. Does that make me any less traveled than someone that has visited every country in the world?
Time Out put out an article of 20 great things in Los Angeles for tourists to do. I’ve done half of them, the most recent, being a trip to Disneyland, which I’m visiting today. I’ve also gone to the Hollywood Sign, attempted to pump some iron at Muscle Beach in Venice, perused the Original Farmers Market and The Grove, strolled the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and watched a movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. These are “touristy” things to do in L.A. I’ve also walked the Golden Gate Bridge, toured Alcatraz, visited the Statue of Liberty, gone to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and toured the World of Coca-Cola. Does this then make me a tourist, but not a traveler?
I don’t like olives. I don’t have anything against them. I just don’t prefer them. Friends have tried to introduce me to the “best olives they’ve ever had” on multiple occasions, and I still can’t come to enjoy them. I also don’t like sweet potatoes. But I love sweet potato fries. I hate grilled fish tacos, but one of my top three favorite foods is beer-battered fish tacos. I hate vodka, but a Greyhound cocktail is my favorite drink on a weekend morning. Do any of these dislikes make me any less of a foodie? Of course not. In the same way, one person’s travel interests and styles aren’t superior to any other person’s travel interests and styles. Can you imagine if we all traveled, ate, and drink the same way. How boring would that be?
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. -Robert Louis Stevenson
If the first place you want to go upon getting your passport is Cancun, then great. I’ll give you some recommendations based on your interests. If you want to go to Antarctica, then great. I don’t know anything about it, but I can tell you that you need to buy one of each of everything from The North Face’s winter stock and layer up. If you want to see all 50 U.S. states before even getting your passport, then great. I’ll give you some route recommendations and if you stop in L.A., I’ll buy you a beer. I will always eagerly seek out the off-the-beaten-path (literally) and go to that dive where I’m the only caucasian American, but I’d be lying if I’d said I’m above doing something “touristy.” I don’t care where you’re from, where you go, how you get there, or how many places you’ve gone and are going to. I just care that you go. It was the Roman Stoic philosopher, Seneca, who said, “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” It’s for this reason that I’ve traveled and moved around like I have. I travel for change. Because if it really is about the journey, and not the destination, then who cares how many destinations you’ve gone to and how you choose to get there.