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TRAVELERS VS. TOURISTS


 There are two types of people in this world; travelers and tourists.  Tourists can’t wait to come back home.  Travelers never want to come back.

“But why do we travel, really?  If we are of a thoughtful nature, we may wish to improve our minds, to examine the manners and customs of others and compare them to our own.  For these reasons, we study guidebooks and make lists of the churches, palaces, galleries, and museums we’ll visit.  We take photographs and write our impressions in diaries.  We might even justify the expense of the trip by planning to share our knowledge with others upon our return.

But is it really an education that we yearn to acquire when we travel?  Or–be honest, now–do we more sincerely desire souvenirs?  What tourist returns with lighter bags than those he packed at home?  We want something to display, a memento, a “conversation piece” that will silently inform a guest that ‘I have traveled’.  We look for a painting, a sculpture, a vase that will whisper: I have shopped in foreign countries, and I have this to show for it.

Of course, one could buy such objects ay home.  After all, there are importers, antique shops and art galleries.  Why then do we undertake the expense and risk of travel?  Why leave the comforts of home for flies and disease, heat and dust, crowds and the risk of theft?  Because souvenirs remind the traveler of his journey.”

We do not take a trip.  Often a trip takes us.

John Steinbeck says there is a Spanish word for which there is no English counterpart; vacilando.  It means you are going somewhere but you don’t greatly care if you get there.  My aunt was very much like that.  She loved travel, and she was good at it.  I think she would have chosen to be perennially on the road.

There are map people who delight in being navigators, expecially on a road trip.  While the driver is enjoying the scenery, he/she is busy reading the maps.  There are also people who are terrified of being lost, whether on foot or in a car.  They never veer from the preordained plan, or take a sudden look at a point of interest off the beaten path.  Then there are people who set a daily goal for themselves and come hell or high water, they plunge on until they arrive at their goal, even if their passengers need food or bathroom facility.  The use of the GPS means less random–but not nearly as much fun travel, if you can stand the annoying female voice ordering you to “turn left in one mile”, or “you’ve gone too far”.

When you return, friends ask “Did you have a nice time on your trip?”  We want to answer in full.  We want to tell about all the interesting and educational things we have seen, but they need to hurry away.  We say we will invite them over to see our pictures, but somehow that never happens.  So we slip right back into our cosy and comfortable lives as if we had never left them, and file all those wonderful memories away in our mental banks to be drawn upon at random.  But travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry.  We shall get there some day.”  A.A. Milne

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