While in Laos, I discussed the topics ‘What is the difference between a tourist and a traveler’ and ‘what is an open-minded traveler’ with my friend. Somehow, we agreed that a ‘tourist’ is someone who either books a packaged holiday and remains mostly in one place – with the intent to relax or do some sightseeing (of the most popular sights recommended by a guidebook) and then leaves to go back home again. A tourist does holidays. A traveler, on the other hand, is someone who wanders. S/he is on a journey, rather than on vacation.
I’m not sure if this is an accurate description of the differences. It’s a fleeting concept. One that cannot be pinned down exactly.
However, for me personally, the main difference is that a traveler immerses him – or herself. It is someone who mingles with the locals, who goes on adventures – and someone who wants to learn about the country they are visiting. Spurred by their curiosity, they put themselves into unfamiliar ‘out-of-comfort-zone’ situations. In other words, their journey becomes their path to growth.
A tourist, on the other hand, is someone who wants a break from their everyday life and then goes back to the same life. With that in mind, I guess, the focus lies on relaxation and an escape of reality rather than a willingness to expand their horizon.
Whilst we were discussing this point, the subject of ‘having an open mind’ popped up repeatedly, in conjunction with what it means to be a tourist or a traveler. Now, what is an open mind? And what does it mean to have an open mind while traveling?
An ‘open mind’ by definition is ‘the readiness to consider something without prejudice’. That means, if you are a tourist, you don’t really need to have an open mind. You can just remain within the confines of your hotel complex, eat the foods you are familiar with, mingle only with those you know and finally, not even necessarily bother about what goes on outside of your sheltered holiday experience…
Whereas, the traveler will talk to locals, eat street food, strike up a conversation to the stranger next to him, buy a one-way ticket to some obscure destination, attempt to speak the language of the country she is visiting, travel on public transport even if he fears for his life and ultimately put herself in situations which will have an impact on her. They even travel alone in countries that are pre-conceived to be dangerous.
In essence, you are up for anything and ultimately, you do not judge what you do not know.
If these are the criteria to have an open mind, then I must admit, I’ve failed more than once to be a good traveler. Does this mean I am closed-minded? I’m not sure. What I know is, that when I went on holidays in the past, I crossed the line and found myself to be more like a traveler than a tourist so many times. And vice versa, while travelling the world, I sometimes had the attitude of a tourist.
This relates particularly to one specific aspect:
Only recently, during my travels in Vietnam, I have been a complete arse to a stranger. Just having started my solo travels, after travelling as a couple for a long time, I craved some intense me time. I wanted to exist in my own little creative bubble for a while. So, when this lady sat right in front of me while I was eating some streetfood, in the hope to strike up a conversation, I tried to ignore her. She was annoyed. I realised, at that point, that sometimes I am quite happy to put a sign up in front of my ‘traveler appearance’ (you know the whole hippie traveler outfit that you kind of fall into wearing rather sooner than later) that reads ‘Sorry, I am closed (-minded) today!’
As an introvert, talking to people can be a challenge. And whilst I love meeting new people (my favourite thing is to couchsurf), I also need those intervals throughout the day where I am unsociable. And there is nothing wrong with that. For a lot of people, if you don’t talk and socialise all the time, something must be wrong with you. Whereas, it is actually quite the opposite. In those moments, I’m blissfully happy and just recharging my batteries…and it doesn’t make me any less open-minded.
In fact, my introversion has many benefits. One of my most favourite things to do on my travels, is to wander around with my camera and just get lost. I love to stop and actually take in the beauty of my surroundings and mindfully explore the unknown. Would I have an incessant need to constantly be around other people, I may well miss those serendipitous moments that you are most aware of when you’re not distracted.
Being alone doesn’t mean that you are lonely. It actually gives you the opportunity to understand yourself better, resulting in you experiencing the beauty of solo (in the literal sense) travel.
Whilst travelling in Laos, where I met up with my friend (an extrovert), she asked our local tour guide questions after questions non-stop. At some point, he could not hide his annoyance and he replied eventually “I will reply after my lunch, but right now, I’d like some peace & quiet”.
Taken aback by his response, she respected his wish and later enquired in a joking manner whether Laotians would not be used to all the talking from silly tourists. He explained that in Laos they don’t like to talk much. Sometimes, they just like to be quiet and enjoy the nature and the present moment. I then explained that where we come from, in our culture, it is exactly the opposite. People talk too much sometimes. He laughed and nodded.
It made me realise that a good traveler, develops this emotional intelligence, eventually, to be in tune with how locals interact and adjusts to the best of his ability. A traveler blends in as opposed to standing out and she respects that every country comes with its own new unwritten rules for social interactions that need to be sussed out and understood first.
So, I realised that only because I’m the introverted traveler in the Western sense, i may just be the norm in other parts. It’s all about perspective, in the end.
I fully acknowledge that I have been much more chatty since I started travelling, but I realised that sometimes I do this, because I feel that that is what I need to do, as opposed to wanting to do it. So the question then is: Is it ever O.K. for a good traveler to not want to socialize?
Apart from my occasional need for quiet time, I’ve been totally rocking the ‘traveler’ domain: I eat street food almost daily and always love to try new things (Octopus on a stick and drinking coffee form a bamboo tube included), I travel on local transport like a Pro (30 hours by bus anyone?), I write a lot about my travel encounters as this is what I enjoy most about traveling: learning from locals and be inspired by their tales about life, love, womanhood or their spiritual beliefs.
This one time, I had no choice but to use leaves as opposed to toilet paper. I ate with my hands (not immediately after the leaf incident though). I have slept in the forest in the wild together with locals in a bamboo tent that we had built together.
I’m a pretty adventurous soul. I’m a traveler….Just an introverted traveler.
I once read a very interesting book by Christine Caine, called “Quiet”. I realised the tremendous value of introverts in this world and why it is ok to be the way I am. If you are an introvert yourself, or you have someone in your family or in your friendship group who is, I really highly recommend you reading this book. In fact, it will also prepare you for your travels, as you’ll have a better understanding about why certain cultures are less talkative.
It may also explain, why some travelers you meet, don’t always seem to be ‘so open-minded’ and why you need to keep an ‘open mind’ when it comes to what an ‘open-minded traveler’ should be.
Remember, we are all on a journey.
What is the difference between a ‘tourist’ and ‘traveler’ for YOU? Are you an introverted traveler and how do you deal with ‘closed-minded’ moments? I would love to hear your comments in the section below.