Being a tourist vs. being a traveler


June 10, 2012 by farbolino

I’ll try not to sound too preachy in this post, but it might be hard. It would help to note that I’m a massive hypocrite and that someday, maybe even tomorrow I will contradict the exact things I’m about to write.

As a traveler I come across many other people who are traveling. Some people are doing fascinating things with their lives, and I’ve had some good luck meeting some cool people, but I think that has a lot to do with the location your traveling in. Generally you’ll find the most interesting people in the least traveled places because they are interested in something more than just sightseeing.
I recently had the same question asked by a few different people in the past week: Why do you travel? For me it’s a relatively simple answer, and that is to have experiences. I generally don’t like to sightsee, or even be in the presence of other tourists. I enjoy traveling for the learning experiences it provides, to met people, and to remember the quirky or strange things I have done.
With that in mind, then we arrive at the tourist mentality. A tourist goes to a place and thinks: What is there to DO here? What is there to see?  I personally think that the latter way of thinking is a little twisted. If I want to see the Eiffel tower, I’m probably better off looking at a photo of it which was caught it in the perfect lighting with the perfect amount of clouds in the sky and with the hordes of other tourists photoshopped out of the frame.
Now you can argue that people can experience the wind in their faces at the top of the Eiffel tower, or some other example and you would be right. I simply don’t think that most people do this though. They clamber to the top, take their photos, and leave.
I think that in any majorly touristy city, (let’s use Paris again) you’ll notice they downright hate tourists. I even had a conversation with a Parisian recently when I was in Romania and she said that when a tourist asks for directions that the locals send them in the wrong direction on purpose! Now I think that’s pretty screwed up, but why do you think they would do such a thing? Because tourists are annoying! If you walked down the street every day and a different person asked the the SAME question everyday in a language that is not your own, don’t you think you’d be a little sick of it too?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t ask for directions.  What I am saying is try to be culturally sensitive, and maybe learn a few words in French.  One of the best parts about visiting a country is learning about the culture you’ve just been immersed in, and part of that experience is the language.  Sightseeing can be rewarding without a doubt, but I think that traveling is so much more than that.
I recently met another American who was gone from home for 8 days. She managed to fly into Vienna, make her way to Budapest Hungary, spend a few hours then hop on another train and make it to Timisoara Romania for the night. Wake up and sightsee the next day before hopping on another overnight train to Belgrade Serbia and “see” Belgrade. From there it was another overnight train to Zagreb Croatia. Spend a night there before heading through Slovenia back to Vienna. I KNOW I can’t be the only one who thinks its crazy to visit 5 different countries which speak 5 different languages (If you consider Serbian and Croatian different enough) and walk away with any sort of knowledge about any of those countries. Is that even enough time to learn how to say thank you in each language?

What are your thoughts on the subject?


One thought on “Being a tourist vs. being a traveler

  1. I agree wholeheartedly! That said, I recently moved to Jessore, Bangladesh, where there are virtually zero “travelers” and certainly no “tourists.” (Around here, there’s not much to do/see in the tourist realm.) If I saw a tourist tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I’d run up and hug him/her. ; )

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