Tourism or traveling the world?

tourist-or-travelerTraveling for a year, or tourism for a year? What is the difference between traveling and tourism?

Well travelers and tourists cross paths quite often and I guess we are a little bit of both.

Tourists have little time so they want to get straight to the point. A guide book in one hand, they look at what they are told to look at. If it is not in the guide it is probably of no interst, but if it made it into the guide then it must be seen, done, tasted or experienced in some way. The tourist will go to great lengths to follow the guide. He will sleep little, travel long and hard. He will be slave to the guide, which will soon be The Guide with capital letters. He will be able to go home proudly and tell his friends that he has seen everything and been everywhere. His photos will be his trophy. Some unfortunate friends or family will have to bear The Guide retold by the has-been tourist. His friends will be the judges of his faithfulness to The Guide.
A tourist dresses in bright colors. His camera is his main weapon. He comes, takes a picture and goes. Tourists are welcome in most countries. They are a source of income. Most places are geared to these modern warriors. Yangshuo, in China for example has three main attractions. Tourists come for 24 hours. They will do a bike ride, visit the mud cave and see the moon hill. In the evening they must walk down the main street and buy some local art work.

The town offers short term accommodation and tourists arrive in bus loads. And they spend. That is why they are the friends of the local authorities and local businesses. They are tolerated by those who do not benefit directly, for the tourist stays where he is told to stay.

The traveler on the other hand frowns on tourists he considers as superficial. He, travels as if he had time. His home is where he is. His aim is not to go home and get on with his life, but to discover the life of those he meets. He wants to feel the country from the inside, live with the locals, eat with them and know the country. He will try to speak the language. He is proud of all the tourist places he has been able to avoid. He considers that if a place is for tourists, it is by definition artificial. A traveler must suffer to see something. His quest is authenticity. He is liked by the locals he meets, he may even befriend some. But he is frowned upon by local businesses for he can be anywhere and spends little. He is sometimes admired and often thought of as a fool. Unlike the tourist he stays longer. He is waiting for that special moment, that special meeting where he will be able to say: “Ah that is real”.

So what am I? What are we?

Well it is not that clear cut. There is definitely the greatest part of us who long to be travelers. But we know that it is somewhat futile to aim to know a country from the inside, especially in just a few weeks. Even our own countries are full of disparities, experiences and life styles that we don’t even suspect. If some foreigner came to us and said “I know your country” we would smile kindly but not believe a word. If we had to spend sometime in a rural family in the middle of nowhere in our own countries we would discover a world we did not begin to imagine. That’s why by being a traveler we run the risk of fooling ourselves. Of believing we know something which is not ours to suspect.

Of course sometimes we are tourists, we take out our almighty guide and do what we are told. The great advantage is that we get to see some amazing places and in very little time. Maybe one thing I have my doubts on is that our guide in Chili told us that there was a great desert 2000 kilometers away… and we have been on the road ever since…


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