One of the best lessons I have learned as an adult is the difference between tourism and travel. My childhood trips were mired in tourism.
We generally visited a place and its popular attractions, planned our days to the tee around tours and restaurants, and stayed within safe sterilised environments, like a hotel, the airport, a museum or if we were feeling reckless, a monument.
However, in the last two years as I backpacked through different places, with a variety of people via a plethora of paradigms, I slowly transformed into a traveller.
It has been better for my baggage (physical and mental), my wallet and most importantly, my memory lane.
Growing up, optimising the weight of our luggage so we could stay just under the weight restrictions to avoid excess fees was an annual exercise in futility.
Eight-year-old me sat on top of a suitcase lying on its side, full to the seams, as my mother struggled to close and lock the suitcase.
Then it was weighed, usually found in excess of the limit, unpacked and the process repeated.
When I grew up and started travelling on my own, I discovered www.onebag.com which is a wonderful blog that helps you live your best travel life with, you guessed it, one bag.
Now, I pack a single carry-on bag, and save myself the anxiety of tracking baggage, the time-drain of checking in and claiming baggage, and the hassle of transportation and storage.
And I am left with ample physical, mental and temporal capacity to immerse myself in my travel.
A traveller’s life is more minimal and less sterilised, trading opulence for adventure.
While touring luxuriously seems exquisite from a distance, it quickly becomes repetitive and insulated from the reality of the place you are visiting.
One of my most memorable trips was to Cape Town; we stayed at a budget Airbnb, shelling out less than $20 a night per person to stay in a fantastic downtown apartment. We were not in the hotel enclave so we escaped the usual tourist traps, we experienced the local cuisine without breaking the bank and best of all we integrated into the city’s hustle and bustle.
We walked or took cheap cabs everywhere, enjoyed the nightlife without having to worry about long cab rides back, got familiar with the local grocer and best of all, our place felt more like home than a hotel.
Conversely, when I visited Thailand and Indonesia as a tourist, I experienced them from within a fishbowl, looking at a distorted version of local reality.
I ended up checking things off a list, looking back to realise my experience could easily be transplanted between locations.
Getting charged tourist prices for everything is just as annoying in Bangkok as it is in Bali. Ever since, I started living in hostels instead of hotels, which in addition to being unique to whatever city I was in, also saved me a chunk of change.
Instead of the usual sightseeing in Calgary, I volunteered for the day with a local music festival and spent an unforgettable evening having samosas with a jazz metal band who day-lighted as engineers and coders.
I doubt I would have had these adventures if I has chosen to tourist my way through all these cities. That’s not to say that being a tourist is not interesting.
But to me, being a tourist is about taking a trip away from home.
Being a traveller is about finding a home wherever your trip takes you.
So, as summer dawns and you plan your adventures, will you be a tourist or a traveller?
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