Having spent most of my life in areas where people travel to and fro on a regular basis, I’ve been able to make some distinctions between those who would qualify as tourists, and those who would be travelers. Care to come and examine the differences? Well, grab your adventure bag and let’s go.
While there are way more distinctions between people on the go, I’m going to narrow things down to two groups which I have seen a lot of, namely, as the post suggests, tourists, and travelers. Living here in Hawaii, and having spent many a decade in Florida, I’ve had more than my share of encounters with both, encounters good and bad, and I’ve been able to make a few observations so you can spot either one in the wild, or identify yourself as being one or the other.
Leave us start with the tourist.
Tourists as whole, travel, but do not seem to enjoy said travel. You can spot a tourist very easily as they seldom seem to fit in with their surroundings. Their clothes are for the wrong climate, or look uncomfortable. They have a scared or even terrified look on their faces once they are out of their comfort zones.
One way you can spot a tourist is they always bring way too much stuff for the trip they are on. They tote around big heavy suitcases, usually the hard side types with the wheels which clatter along the surface. The suitcases are large, over weight, and numerous. In addition they carry additional smaller bags, small backpacks, or laptop bags. The more inconsiderate tourists like to drag along their little brats who are way too young to be traveling yet, and require additional pieces of equipment like strollers, diaper bags, and Darwin knows what else they need to keep the little poop machines happy. Watching them all try to maneuver through an airport, board or deboard a plane, delaying everyone else, whilst trying to keep track of all their worldly goods, half of which will never even be used on said trip, is comical at times.
Tourists never seem to be able to relax when traveling. Airports are big, scary, and confusing. Finding one’s way around when arriving someplace causes great anxiety because unlike back home, they are in unfamiliar territory where thieves, murderers, and criminals await behind every corner, ready to pounce. The entire process of planning a trip, actually going, and returning safely causes premature aging and stress related illnesses. The idea of going on a vacation sounds sort of good until one starts to actually take the steps to go. Then the tourist gets cold feet, or is so uncomfortable and agitated by the time they return, they need another vacation at home to rest.
Once the tourist does arrive at their destination they are quick to check in to their accommodations. Tourists tend to favor more conventional and expensive places to stay like name brand motels or resorts. Once they are in the safety of their rooms they seal off the outside, and this is especially true in the tropics, crank up the air conditioning to arctic weather. No matter how nice said accommodations are, there is always something they don’t like. The view is wrong, the room has a smell, or there are not enough towels. It’s ok but not like back home, which is where they wish they were instead of far away in a strange place. (Once, while working at the dive shop in Daytona, many years ago, a couple of tourists barged in demanding I call the police. Why?, I asked, thinking some great crime had occurred. Turns out the woman saw a cockroach in her hotel room and said hotel would do nothing about it. I laughed. The cop laughed. The tourist, not so much, but still. And why the hell would one go to a scuba diving shop to call the police?)
Tourists tend to follow the touristy type of entertainment whilst on holiday. The guided tours, the resort offerings, the theme parks, anything which is rigidly controlled so they don’t have to make decisions lest they make a mistake and wind up lost or murdered by the locals who all look suspicious and probably are on dope or something.
Rarely does the tourist dare to try the local cuisine, preferring instead to eat at mainstream chain eateries which have familiar foods, not the weird shit they eat out here on the islands like poke’ or laulau. And besides, it’s too expensive, sort of a legit claim sometimes, but why risk food poisoning when there is a fast food joint within sight of the hotel.
While I may be stereotyping just a tad and exaggerating somewhat, from what I have seen over the years, tourists hate to travel. Going on a trip, be it vacation, business, or whatever, is an ordeal for these people. They seem to enjoy very little of the whole travel process, constantly complaining, stressing out over any little delay or bump in the road. Things are always more better back home. It’s a shame because they are missing out on one of life’s greater adventures.
Unlike the tourist, the traveler lives to travel.
Travelers are pretty easy to spot in the wild. Mainly, you can spot said traveler because they are either happy, or just taking things in stride. Every trip is an adventure. Every destination a new place full of wondrous things to discover. Delays are just excuses to explore some more where ever said delay occurred. A missed flight, some bad weather, or having to take a different route is more adventure, not a setback. A traveler can handle it because they are in their comfort zone no matter where they are.
Travelers don’t necessarily travel light, the more experienced ones do, but they almost are guaranteed to be carrying their possibles in some sort of soft baggage. Usually a backpack covered with all sorts of pockets and compartments. The smart ones realize things like cosmetics, tooth brushes, soaps, and assorted crap can be bought at said destination as opposed to stuffing a bag full of those things, saving room for the essentials. Clothing is geared to the climate they are heading too. A smartphone is at the ready at all times, checking schedules, weather, and finding accommodations.
While tourists tend to favor things like motels and resorts, traveler’s keep their options more open. Hostels, Couchsurfing, Air BNB, and campgrounds are favored. Sometimes, the traveler won’t even make reservations in advance of arriving someplace, leaving to chance where they may stay.
Traveling to someplace new means trying different foods. A true traveler loves to sample the local cuisine. Street vendors, farmers markets, and invites from strangers open one’s eyes, and stomach to new flavors and tastes. Restaurants, at least the fancy ones are way too expensive and pretentious. A dilapidated old fish market on a wharf usually has the best seafood or a little cook shack in a campground can provide some pretty tasty vittles, trust me on this, I know from experience.
Travelers rarely seek out guided or conventional tourist attractions. Instead, they prefer to follow their own instincts and find the fun stuff on their own. Theme parks are for the tourists. Why go see a fake aquarium when one can don some snorkel gear and go see the real thing?
But most of all, travelers like to travel. The idea of going on some journey someplace is the allure. Which is why you can count me amongst those who love to travel.
Growing up I always had the travel bug. Even a short trip to town or to visit a relative was exciting to me. I loved going places all the time. In contrast, my family, particularly my old man hated to travel. When vacation time came up he was a grouchy pain in the ass, even threatening to cancel said vacation so he could sit in the safety of his home. When we did go, he was a constant source of complaining and griping until we returned home, when he would tell everyone what a good time we had.
But, despite the family, I always had the itch to travel and still do. I have traveled all around the country, with occasional trips to the Bahamas and Canada, but never really made any overseas trips. Perhaps it will change, perhaps I will travel more across the country, who knows. I do know I still enjoy traveling. Even the last trip, a 14 hour, 3 flight, putting up with some screaming brats in the plane, was not bad. I enjoy the shit out of sitting at the airport watching humanity go by. Seeing people from all over the world going to and fro. I like reading all the departure signs to places exotic and mundane. Even today, just taking the bus into town is fun. I just enjoy traveling. There is something about getting ready to go to someplace else, not home. To see new things, different people, experience different cultures and food, and more better weather.
In the last few years I got to experience traveling by train and bus. While not quite as fancy as flying, it was rather interesting and offered a different take on seeing the country. I’ve driven many a mile across the nation including a 3 week, 22 state, 8000 mile solo motorcycle trip. It was easily one of the best trips I ever made. You get a real appreciation for the size of the country when you cross it by land rather than air.
Making the trip out here to Hawaii opens up tons of possible trips for the future. Maui alone has lots of places to explore and with 8 other islands, who knows what will happen?
So which are you? Tourist or Traveler? Does the thought of a taking a trip somewhere fill you with dread or excitement? Traveling can be an ordeal or an adventure, depending on your attitude. If you go expecting to be miserable, you probably won’t be disappointed. If you go with an open mind, ready to take on any obstacle along the way, and go with the flow, you won’t be disappointed either. It’s all in how you approach it.
There are tons of ways to make traveling a whole lot more better nowadays. I talked about them recently in another post. A little bit of research before hand can make a trip a whole lot more enjoyable. Being able to live outside your comfort zone makes a big difference. Different cultures, different climates, different cuisines are opportunities to expand your horizons and knowledge of the big, scary world outside your neighborhood.
Why not grab a bag and hit the road? Go see what is out there. It’s pretty neat, and well worth the experience.
I love to travel but hate to arrive. A. Einstein
A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. Lao Tzu
The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. Gilbert K. Chesterton