I have been having some amazing discussion with some other travelers recently and this is a subject that seems to coming up over and over: the difference between a tourist and a traveler. While many confuse them, I think understanding this will liberate some people.
In my mind, the tourist is the guy that goes to Hawaii to a resort for the weekend and lives like he is a king for a few days. After that, he goes back to reality and to work. He is the guy that spend a lot of money in a short time for a very nice experience in a different location.
On the other hand, a traveler is the guy that is willing to go the hard way and on the roads less traveled to see more and do it longer. Travelers are what they call hobos in historical American culture. They work to travel. They are always thinking of the next experience and they do as cheap as possible to see the next adventure.
I do understand how these terms that get mixed up. I have seen it happen. I am a traveler but I have people think I am a tourist. It is also possible that a traveler can behave as a tourist and a tourist can be do the traveler thing from time to time.
Why I am a traveler
I am sure it does not matter to many people but I think it is important to understand that travelers have a different mindset than Larry Page visiting the Yasawa Islands. We look to be on the road as long as possible, travel as far as possible and do as much as possible for as little as possible.
Here is three things that I think many travelers (not tourists) have in common. While they might be a little different depending where in the world you are, I find them be basically true anywhere.
1.) They do not spend unneeded money. I have slept in the ferry terminal of Dapa, Siargao and spend many nights in airports around the world instead of spending $50 on a hotel close by. It is not about if I have the money. It is that that money could get me a flight to a new place that I haven’t seen before.
2) They value experience, not materials. People who are travelers look for experiences and they have came at a high price. Many of us have walked away from job offers and education to have encounters with other people, cultures and lands. We are more worried about that next waterfall to see than the next raise.
3) They avoid tourist traps. While I have been to Yasawas in Fiji and Bora Bora in French Polynesia, I normally avoid those types of spots as a general. Boracay is a major tourist’s spot in the Philippines but right behind it is a traveler’s paradise without no tourist. It is called Carabao Island. It gets a few dozens visitors a month at best.
Are we anti-social?
A common thing I hear from people is that we have checked out of society and that have some social disorder that we can not exist in society. This is laughable. I mean, who really get to say that the white picket fence and 2.3 kids is the ideal? I am not saying that I am against people who want that but it is not me. I had a good relationship and walked away from it for travel. (long story)
Speaking of relationships, it is not that I am against them but it is hard to be serious with someone when you have no idea where you will be next week or next year. Let’s get real, how many women do not want security and stability? I do not have an issue with their goals in life. I just do not want to be part of it. I want to be on some path in the middle of an island in the Pacific!
I will be the first to admit that a traveler is distant to family and friends. I love many of my friends that I grew up with playing football and wresting with. However, it is hard for me to relate to them. It has been so long as I had to rush to a job by eight and I never had to coach a baseball team that my child was on. Equally, my friends struggle to understand me. I am not even sure if they knew where Kiribati even is.
Is it possible to go back to “normal living?”
Most travelers do it for a season. They call this “gap year.” Others try and make it a gap couple of years. People like me try and make it a gap decade or more. I have been traveling most of my adult life to some pretty remote places.
I have been back to Kansas City a few times over the last so many years and it is just not the same. In fact, when I was in my hometown the last time, I was thinking with the mentality of a traveler (while staying at home). My concerns was not visiting this family member or that friend. It was going to the state park just outside of town and to check out the Pony Express stuff.
It is true that some day that I might have to settle down and do the “relationship” thing and buy into the American dream. I realize that it is very hard to not believe in that being a good ole Missouri boy. However, I am going to put it off as long as I can. It is not something that I really desire or choose. It would be more because I can not physically travel anymore than a driving passion for a family life.
I would be amissed if I did not say that I will make every effort possible to make sure I can travel more and prolong chasing the American dream as long as I can. A life well traveled is a life well lived.