Being a traveler, not a tourist

Maui
A view of Maui’s rugged beauty. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

ATLANTA (defeo.biz) — Nobody wants to stay chained to a desk all day long, filing reports and crafting emails. It’s boring, there’s paperwork and a day in the office makes for a rather uninspiring experience.

The world is a library of experiences and places to see. It’s important to take the time to check out — proverbially and literally — some new destination that a new experience or a new perspective that will help us better understand the world outside our comfort zone.

Throughout history, we’ve been on the lookout for something else. Look at the famed explorers in history: Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Hernando do Soto. Say what you will about their approach, they were looking for a better way to approach the world.

That’s what makes travel shows so popular. But, these shows are so often unrealistic. I can see some exotic city and buy meals at the most expensive restaurants for a mere $40. So often, these shows feel like the cubicle approach to sight-seeing.

While I would love to be canoeing down some river through the rainforest with an indigenous tribe, it’s not always possible. Too, it often falls outside of most people’s comfort zones. Regardless, I am a firm believer that travel should be an experience. It should be an opportunity to learn.

The late Paul Fussell, a professor and author, offers a great perspective in his essay titled “Travel, Tourism, and International Understanding.” In it, he discussed the difference between travel and tourism. While I won’t do a recap justice here, in short, he notes tourism is about standing on the outside of a culture looking in while travel is an experience.

“Tourists delight in mastering exchange rates and learning where to go in Paris for a really good burger with fries — or in Hong Kong for good old American cooking,” he wrote. “Travelers find equal happiness in mastering foreign customs and manners and encountering curious cuisines and experiencing ‘odd’ beliefs and unfamiliar forms of government.”

This may not be the greatest example, but I think back to one time when I was sitting at a small restaurant on the Caribbean island of Curacao. The waiter approached, and since there was no menu, he started reciting the day’s dishes.

As soon as he said iguana, I stopped listening. Having researched Curacao’s cuisines ahead of time, I knew iguana was a popular dish among the island’s residents. To me, the decision to try iguana was an easy one. The local burger joint this wasn’t.

What I found is that I love iguana, and I would have never known had I dined at the nearby Denny’s. And, that’s the point of travel. Seize opportunities when they present themselves. Besides, the iguana is sure better than the overcooked burger at the hotel bar.

Now, I know this isn’t the most exotic of examples. But, I suppose what it confirms is that routines are boring. So often, we navigate to what is safe. We know what our comfort levels are and we go to within one step of the edge, but never more. Travel gives us the opportunity to take a step off the deep end.

“To travel is to sharpen remarkably the experience of the senses: you see, feel, and hear things with abnormal clarity and force,” Fussell wrote. Stepping into a new culture not only improves your outlook on life, it provides you an opportunity to not only challenge your own assumptions and approach to process. It gives you a chance break the monotony. Monotony will always exist as long as we have cubicles. But, for so many people, outside-the-box experiences are fleeting. It’s best to grab hold when we have the chance.

When you take that first step, it will be like what Obi-wan Kenobi told Luke Skywalker: “You’ve taken your first step…” Lightsabers, however, are not required for travel. Besides, I believe the TSA has banned them.

Per Fussell: “Because authenticity is measured by a thing’s being identified as a pure example of the known, or even the cliché, the traveler is not so easily distinguished from the tourist as most who conceive themselves travelers like to think. Both journey in search of something considered more authentic than what the home scene can offer. A ‘pure’ or ‘real’ traveler would probably go in search of nothing nameable: he would simply wander, approximating an absolute flaneur.”

Simply put, staying put is not an option.

Todd DeFeo
About Todd DeFeo 59 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is the owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and Railfanning.org.

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