Tourist or Traveler?

Our guide for a float trip in Jamaica poses for a picture with the kids.

Are you a tourist or a traveler?  First, do you understand the difference between the two?  I define a tourist as someone who is on vacation and generally chooses to stay in the tourist-dedicated areas and do the popular, tourist-like activities associated with the destination they are in, i.e. shopping, bus tours, resort activities.  A traveler, in my opinion, is similar, but instead of sticking to cookie-cutter tourist areas, they like to venture a bit further into the surrounding area to get a real feel for it and the people that live there.  While I have times when being a tourist is all I want, I think most of the time I rather choose to be a traveler.

While in Grand Cayman, we visited the stingrays. This was our host for the day.

No matter what, I think most locals will always view you as a tourist.  However, I believe it is your attitude and your genuine interest in the land, the people and the culture that sets you apart in their eyes.  I love to learn about different cultures and why they do the things they do.  When Steve and I were on our honeymoon in Jamaica, we took a mountain horseback riding tour that took us high up in the Blue Mountains.  Our drive to the ranch where we were to begin our tour was an adventure in itself, and we learned that Jamaicans don’t use the horn on their cars to tell people to get out of their way, but rather to let them know they are coming around the corner and you might want to watch out.  We also learned that road laws are more like guidelines rather than laws.  But we did reach the ranch safely and once there met some great people.  Our guide was wonderful, sharing tips about the plants and trees we passed, how they used them for cooking, as well as medicinal purposes.  He also shared stories of houses and people we passsed. 

Another time, when we and a group of friends were on a cruise and stopped in Cozumel for the day, we didn’t have any plans.  All of the touristy beaches on the west side of the island were closed that day due to high winds and waves, so we hired a driver for the day to take us to a beach on the east side.  He told us that most tourists don’t come to the east side because it is less developed and usually only the locals come to the beach he was taking us to.  We were amazed at the beauty of the place.  It was a small beach club with, by our standards, a primitive kitchen where we were served cervezas and chips and salsa all day.  We spoke with the owner who told us he was very glad for our business as he had not had much since he reopened from hurricane damage a few months previously.  They were wonderful people who I enjoyed talking with.  I also had the freshest lobster, shrimp, snapper, and conch I have ever had there, caught that morning just a bit off  the beach were swimming on.

Captain Alan took us on an exciting snorkle trip in St. Maarten.

On our latest trip to Belize, we took a trip to do cave tubing on a river that runs through a cave system that the Mayans believed were sacred.  The guy I had booked the trip through was called Major Tom, who met us at the pier as soon as we got off the cruise ship.  His son, Minor Tom was to be our guide for the day.  We had an hour drive to the river and Tom, along with his friend, Mogly were great company along the way.  Even though Tom was only 21 years old, he was very knowlegeable about his native country.  He loved when we asked him questions, and he always had an answer for us.  As we slowly meandered through the cave on our tubes, he would shine his light up and tell us what the Mayans believed about this and that formation.  As our trip was coming to a close, I overheard Tom talking to a friend, who seemed to be everyone we passed, about what their plans were for that night and where they were going.  I knew it was none of my business so I refrained from asking him about it, but I was so curious to know what it was they planned and where they hang out.  Was it different from the things and the places me and my friends do and hang out?

I have always said that I don’t want to just be a tourist, I want to be a traveler.  What I mean by that is I want to go where the locals go.  I want to see what they like to see when they are sightseeing.  I want to go to the restaurants they eat at and eat the food that they eat.  I want to talk to the local people and learn their culture first hand, not from a text book or the TV.  Most of the time, they are very receptive and enjoy talking to me as much as I do them.  Of course, you should always use your better judgment when going to other coutries.  Make sure you are aware and stay up to date on any alerts and stay in groups.  If you do that and have a willingness to learn diversity of people, land and cultures, your days of being a traveler will be filled with great adventures.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 00:27:33

    This is great. We of course are tourist. I’m too scared to seek out adventures of my own. Please share how you found your most enjoyable traveler experiences and some lessons learned too.


  2. Jen
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 21:56:34

    I think in Cozumel, the “catch” wasn’t from that morning…..I thought he went out and and caught it for us. At least that is my recollection (maybe I made that up but I am sticking to it). Don’t forget about the “local” experience of the sea snakes (did you see those there or was that when Braden was experiencing the local tradition of hiding in the sand dunes?)
    This is funny that you thought to post this right now. We just went and listened to Rick Steves (a travel expert for Europe) talk about this very thing…..Of course, yours was much better…..
    Any time you want to “travel”, you know my number.


  3. Trisha
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 17:05:28

    Thanks, Lisa. I’ll do that in the next post.
    Jen, that could be about the “catch.” I just know it was fresh. I don’t remember seeing the snake. I was probably enjoying the wave too much.


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