I took a bus trip around Europe once; we started in Amsterdam and weaved our way by highway down through Germany and Austria and curved into Italy and back up through Switzerland and France.
It was, undoubtedly, gorgeous. I got to see so much in such a short space. I lounged with my friends in comfortable, patterned seats and was chauffeured hastily through mountainous, verdant countryside.
But it was all through a window.
That great, big, wide window stained with rain, dirt and all the good bits that make a place real.
It was a very literal barrier that had my nose pressed against a screen and it stopped me from experiencing the real beauty firsthand.
I felt like a tourist. Someone who passed, took the requisite photos and ghosted through a city, leaving no discernible presence of myself.
It wasn't enough.
I came back with two suitcases two months later and rented myself a tiny apartment in Paris. I didn't leave – I couldn't – for another four years.
I got many tiny apartments and sat on many tiny planes that brought me to big places and beautiful memories.
I wasn't satisfied with the life of a tourist, shuffling dutifully from monument to monument, tagging myself in locations on Facebook. I wanted to wander, stumble over a language I couldn't speak and engage with the people who breathe life into a city.
I wanted to get lost on purpose, idle at cafes and speak languid French. I wanted to lose the map, forget the sights and paint my own picture of a city.
I was tired of being a tourist; I wanted to be a traveler.
Tourists squander; travelers wander
There's no real wrong way to travel, but there are certainly better ways. Tourists don't go on trips to experience a new, scary place; they go just to say they went. Travelers dream about getting lost in foreign cities. They travel to search for things and find themselves. Tourists waste opportunities and travelers revel in them.
Tourists dream about home; travelers feel at home in foreign places.
Real travelers know that home isn't a static place. Tourists miss their beds, crave their foods and lose sight of the fantastic opportunity traveling is. They get homesick. Travelers feel at home wherever they rest their heads; they know there's nothing in the world better than waking up somewhere completely different. Travelers don't believe in the comfort zone and that's what makes them so special.
Tourists haul their baggage with them; travelers travel light.
Tourists live for comfort and move from hotel to hotel without ever really seeing a place; travelers are on the street, meeting people and discovering what a city looks like from a local's eyes.
Tourists need maps; travelers are off the grid.
Most tourists have already mapped out their whole trip before they even leave their homes. They know exactly where they want to go and what they need to do. Travelers would rather get lost and see the beauty of quiet streets than take a bright red tour bus just to impress their Instagram followers.
Tourists buy Rosetta Stone; travelers get drunk.
When interacting with a new place, tourists are more consumed with basic phrases and ways to maneuver a conversation into their native tongue. A traveler lives beyond the bland "please" and "thank you" in a restaurant with English-first menus. A traveler knows the only way to learn, live and breathe another language is through imbibing with the locals.
With fewer inhibitions and better excuses to slur, a bar is the perfect classroom for someone who's willing and brave enough to give it a try.
Tourists take pictures non-stop; travelers take it all in.
Traveling isn't about your Facebook feed or the Instagram photos you post. Of course, there's nothing wrong with sharing the natural beauty of a place you had the privilege to visit. It's when the entirety of your trip is spent behind a screen that things become problematic.
A real traveler knows when to snap a picture and when to just take it all in. A traveler doesn't travel just to say he or she traveled; a traveler travels for the experience.
Tourists live by the book; travelers write the book.
A real traveler will always stray from the beaten path. While tourists congregate in all the places from guide books, travelers are searching for the story. Tourists are satisfied with the blurb and the photo; travelers know the real beauty and mystery happens when they actually interact with a place.
A tourist treads from monument to monument on a two-dimensional checklist; a traveler will treat a city like the living, breathing thing it is and always come out the other side with an incredible tale to tell.