Who you are is how you travel, so just be YOU…
Blame it more on the selective pages I’ve ‘liked’ on my Facebook and Instagram news feed, but everyone seems to be travelling these days. Athirapally Falls to Alaska, Gangotri to Galapagos and Thar to Tashkent, people are either going, have just been or are in the mood to go. Some more often, some longer, some farther, some to popular destinations, others where no man has gone before, some for passion, others for fun. And some for FOMO.
Apparently, each of us fit into one of two species out there, the ’tourist’ or the ‘traveller’. On one end of the continuum is the archetypal play-it-safe group tourist, who’s happy to be trailing along 8 countries in 10 days, while being fed on staples of standard menus, fixed itineraries and ‘just-tick-don’t-think’ schedules. I believe this type travels less frequently and wants optimum bang-for-the-buck in each trip. On the other extreme is the maverick new-age experiential single traveller, who revels in crazy adventure, challenges himself/herself by getting off the beaten track, mingles with the locals and seeks out distinct, unique, exciting, authentic, interactive and educational experiences, often at the cost of comfort. They say the mantra here is low-costs, frequent miles, deals, budgets and adhoc spontaneity.
As if this stereotyping wasn’t bad enough, the ‘traveller’ seems to have transcended to a superior level, while ‘tourist’ is now seen as a lesser mortal. I wonder if there should be a third category…the travel snob, recognisable by statements like, “Rome is too touristy for me. I wouldn’t be caught dead taking pictures near the Colosseum!” Or “Tours are for dummies.” If that’s what your calling is, by all means, do it. But does that need to apply to us all?
My take: the ‘tourist-traveller’ distinction is not a ‘black-or-white’ kind of situation…there’s a little bit of a tourist and a traveller in all of us. If I think of the different people we know, and the different people who know these different people that we know….there are so many other sub-species. There’s the 20-30’s crowd, whose primary agenda on holiday is casual clubbing with friends (incidentally, the locations happen to be someplace high-end and hip, far from home country). Nightlife, beach parties, pubs, bars…they’re on! There are others who have to tick off 100 destinations before they hit 30…multiple trips every year, and quick ones! These ones want to ‘do’ any and every worthwhile city there is on the planet. There’s the drifting road tripper, the whacky backpacker, the villa-and-cruise-jet setter, and the quit-my-job-to-see-the-world idealist. But even these other broad stereotypes don’t define everyone completely.
By the way…if you crave for a buffet spread or a feathery-soft pillow, does it make you less of a traveller? If you plan your days better to accommodate more, does it make you less of a traveller? If you take selfies with the most-seen spots and museums, does it make you less of a traveller?
If you free-float in a foreign land without a specific agenda, does it make you less of a tourist? If you stay in dormitories and cook your own meals, does it make you less of a tourist? If you hike to unseen, unvisited places, does it make you less of a tourist?
I think it’s not about what you do while on holiday…its about how you are affected by what you do while on holiday. You can get goosebumps on your arms even if you’re with a group tour…are you a tourist or a traveller? You can be unmoved by the shattered glass of an abandoned church in a far alley…are you a tourist or a traveller?
Undeniably, the unseen, hidden and forgotten have a unique power to enthral. But aren’t the most-seen sights, extraordinary, and don’t they have a history to prove it? And as long as I haven’t seen them, they’re new for me. Why should I bother about the ‘touristy’ label…if it appeals to my senses, if it fascinates my intellect, if it soothes my soul, I want to go there. I’m not skipping a sight just because everyone goes there, I’m not ignoring a destination just because its thronging with crowds. On the contrary…I want to discover for myself what the fuss is all about. I am equally happy being a tourist and a traveller, (if they really are two different beings).
I’m embarrassed to admit that I did fall into the travel type-casters trap and even tried out a few silly travel personality quizzes to slot myself. My only takeaway was something I’ve believed for long: One’s travel personality is a reflection of one’s personality. Period. How we live our life is how we travel…organised or spontaneous, casual or formal, superficial or deep, frivolous or serious. A creative person fills his day with art, an intellectual one explores museums and a social one interacts with the locals. Some thrive in groups, others enjoy being alone.
Just like living, there is no single way to travel or fit into any slot. What’s important is whether your travel style is true to who you are inside. It will be…if you allow it to slowly unfold and evolve, with each trip, like yourself. You don’t have to win the ‘traveller of the century’ award, you don’t have to be ‘cool’, you just have to be who you are, go where you want, how you want, as often as you want. No questions asked, no justifications required. No judgements, no applause.