Ah, the endless traveler vs. tourist debate. It still goes on and on and on.
Since I delved into the world of travel blogging, I have come across countless articles on the differences between what makes a traveler and a tourist. A traveler being someone who wears a backpack and spends months at a time "immersing" themselves in new cultures and mixing with the locals. Whereas a tourist is described as someone who sticks out like a sore thumb with their fanny packs and bags of souvenirs while on a guided tour of the main attractions.
Quite frankly (in my opinion) it's a load of condescending crap that's full of stupid clichés and implies one way of traveling is better (or inferior) to the other.
Let me give you an example:
I'm seated in a bar in Ho Chi Minh City, drinking a beer while casually reading my Kindle. A young guy pulls up a chair and asks, "What are you reading?" To which I reply, "I'm just flicking through a guidebook trying to find something fun to do. I'm only here for a few days before my visa runs out, so I want to make sure I make the most of the time I have left in Vietnam."
He rolled his eyes and threw me that kind of smirk. It was the kind you just want wipe right off their smug little face. Confused by his reaction, I gave him a questioning look, and without a second thought, he spouts out, "Sorry, but I just don't understand your kind of traveling."
My kind? I'm thinking to myself, "Oh, here we go." I knew it was only a matter of time until I would cross paths with an elitist "traveler" who has been there, done that and probably way better than me.
Not in the mood for his false sense of superiority, I spat, "and what kind of traveler do you see me as?" I was interested to hear his answer, seeing as this guy had known me for literally two seconds.
Boldly, he replies, "You know, the kind who lives by their guidebooks, don't go off the beaten track and try to really 'immerse' themselves in a place. They just want to tick off all the main sights and move on to the next place. I don't see how you can truly get a feel for a place that way."
Wow. I stared at him in complete disbelief. I don't know if I was more shocked by his sheer arrogance, or by how quick he was to judge me. There I was just minding my own business, and within a matter of minutes, I'd had my "way of traveling" completely shot down. Me merely referring to a guidebook for some inspiration on where to go as a solo traveler with limited time, suddenly meant I must be that "kind of traveler." You know, one of those terrible "tourist" types.
I continued to give him a glare (the kind that was basically telling him to piss the hell off), but completely oblivious, he whittled on. "Seriously, ditch the book. Don't be a tourist. You should go check out blah, blah, blah, and try this blah, blah, blah ... that's so much more authentic and blah, blah, blah." Well, at least those are what the words out of his mouth sounded like to me. I lost interest fast.
I may have been more open to his advice had he not started off the conversation by trying to belittle me. Instead, I grabbed my Kindle, made my excuses and left. In hindsight, maybe I should have challenged him further (instead of ranting about it here), but it's the kind of travel snobbery I just can't entertain.
If he had actually taken the time to get to know me, he may have been surprised to learn that yes, I like to research the places I am visiting. And yes, I like to see some of the tourist spots (they're popular for a reason). But I am also a firm believer that people should travel out of their comfort zones to uncover "off-the-beaten-track" places, or experience somewhere on a deeper level.
But the point is, why should we be told to travel one way or the other?
I've backpacked on a budget and I've gone on five all-inclusive holidays. I've lived in a developing country for five months, and I've ventured to Europe for a luxury weekend city break. I've spent hours getting lost discovering secluded pockets of paradise, and I've gone on guided tours around the main attractions. I've joined the hoards of tourists using selfie sticks in front of famous landmarks, and I've sat peacefully in remote locations enjoying the beautiful views. I've eaten in a Michelin star restaurant, and I've sat down and had a home-cooked meal with a Vietnamese family in their home.
So, what type of traveler does that make me? The way I see it, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to travel. Everyone's journey is their own, and however they choose to travel is up to them. Surely, he fact that we all share a desire to go out there and see this world is all that truly matters? Why does it need to be a competition?
There are so many different ways of travel available to us now that, in my eyes, it's about seizing the opportunities available to us. And more importantly, it's about how we choose to utilize those experiences and learn from them.
And in truth ... aren't we all tourists? As soon as we set foot in a country that is not our own, we are, essentially, a tourist. If we are going to define one another here, let's refer to the good old English dictionary:
Tourist: A person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure.
So, I hate to break it to you, Mr. Know It All, but you are, by "definition," a tourist. And if you truly believe the local guy you had dinner with at the top of a mountain in some off-the-grid location thinks you're not one, think again.
Perhaps next time I come across one of those pretentious backpackers, I'll simply walk away heckling behind me, "Hey, when you have something more interesting to say, you'll find me over there with my guidebook and selfie stick doing silly poses in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, just like all the other tourists. And after that, you might find me in a hidden, hole-in-the-wall café somewhere enjoying some top secret local delicacies. But good look finding me!"
I really couldn't care for this stupid debate. I really couldn't care if you're a so-called "traveler" or "tourist." I am going to carry on traveling my way, and I hope you will, too.
This article was originally posted on the author's personal blog. You can also follow Nikki's adventures on Twitter @_whereisnoodles.