Is Tourist Becoming a Dirty Word in the Travel Industry?


I took the quiz on Huffington Post “Are you a traveler or a tourist?”  I discovered a few things.  I am very much into the journey and not the destination.  I just rode with my 15 year old son, yes he drove and I rode, on a journey of 2500 miles across Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and back through Montana, Idaho and Utah.  Why?  Because I wanted to spend time with my son, before he gets too old to want to hang out with his old man…  But why drive across the Dakotas?  I wanted to visit North Dakota.  I wanted to check it off of my list of states I’ve visited to complete my continental US map.  Every place deserves at least one visit.  I hope I’m not all about lists, but those of you who have been following my travel blog will have noticed I have been blogging about the 7 Wonders of the World, and will follow that list by the top Falls in the world, and then Natural Wonders and so on.  I LOVE Traveling, and while I want to see every country in this world, I also make a point of capturing the amazing places with plans to go back.  In fact I do.  After my first visit to Egypt, one of my favorite destinations, I returned with my family an epic experience that I wanted them to have.  Same with Morocco, except I went first with my family to Marrakech and returned with a friend who hadn’t been there to, but tried to visit new areas… Rabat and Meknes.  When I’ve decided to go somewhere I want to immerse myself in the culture even if in the beginning it means doing a few “touristy” things to first see what their is and then dig deeper and see it through the eyes of those who live there.

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So am I a tourist or a traveler?  I do think the word tourist is being seen more and more as a negative thing.  They sound loud, impatient and uninterested in the culture and more about seeing the attraction.  They also may be staying in resorts, and all-inclusives.  They are the cruisers that take the boat options and don’t take time to get to know the locals.  Tourists are focused on the organized tours.  They spend their money with where they know it’s “safe” and less risky.

American Tourist has a lot of baggage… literally.  There are other tourists like the German Tourist, the Russian Tourist, the Japanese Tourist and Korean Tourist.  You get the idea.  I don’t need to go into the stereo types, but there’s some sad but true experiences I’ve had with tourists that make me not want to be seen as one.

I’d much rather be known as the Traveler.  This is the term to celebrate.  If you’re a traveler you’re smart about what you carry because of experience.  The experienced traveler knows what lines to get in at the airport.  They don’t have to plan big tours or spend a lot of time on research because they are more willing to go with the flow, and connect with locals.  They have only the carry on and don’t get hassled at the airport, because ultimately they are likely frequent fliers.  The traveler when he arrives in Cambodia is going to find out how to get local food, and try the grilled snake near the lake.  They will make friends with their tuk tuk driver and see how they live and understand life through their eyes and maybe hop a bus with this new friend to explore the killing fields and hear the stories from the eyes of a local rather than a guide.  Visit the land mine museum, and discover a band each missing limbs and find a way to contribute.  Be thinking about the young girl selling T-shirts and wonder why she isn’t in school and connect at another level that helps you appreciate those that are providing for their families and find a way to connect.  Keep in touch on facebook with the kids in Ethiopia and check up on their school work and needs.  You’re not worried it takes 4+ hours to get through a tough disputed border crossing, and lack of concrete plans on the other side other than to make friends and connect with locals to find a ride to the next adventure…

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

When I was planning out this trip to North Dakota. I knew it was less about the destination, and more about the journey.  We’d want to stop at amazing places along the way, even if it was impromptu, like stopping at the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails near Fort Bridger and walking along the trail looking for grooves, or checking Yelp for authentic food to get the full experience in South Dakota and eating at a chuck wagon buffet in Wall Drug.  Stopping at the Minute Man Missile silos and imagining how crazy the cold war was, and how crazy the world is we live in.  I remember visiting a bunker in St. Petersburg Russia in the basement of a software company with big orange doors, and thinking… Wow this is for the US.  Then as I sat there, hearing the stories about the guys who put in the double keys to press buttons that takes two people to press, and that 2 of those nuclear missiles carry enough power that it totals more than everything that was used in World War 2 including the nukes.  You wouldn’t even know those silos are out there.  150 were shut down in 1995-2005, leaving only the 2 for the tourists Delta 01 and Delta 09 as a reminder or something.  While those are the last in South Dakota, we won’t talk about the ones in Texas with the newer Minute Man Missile 3.

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I have been thinking about the Devils Tower in Wyoming ever since I saw that movie, and living in Salt Lake City, I have been scoping out day trips.  It’s not a day trip.  It’s a good 8-10 hour drive from SLC in Eastern Wyoming, but wow.  Loved every minute of that.  Amazing Natural Wonder.

Devils Tower Wyoming

Another drive I did that I need to write about is my drive from Tallinn, Estonia to Vilnius, Lithuania.  Beautiful drive, amazing architectures in each of the capitals, and interesting cultures and history.  Funny, it was a hitch hiker that made that trip for me.  We picked up a young 20s something hippie chick.  She was awesome.  When we did an impromptu bathroom break in between cities that meant trying to find tall enough grass, she took advantage of the stop as well.  Hillarious.  Once we arrived in her town, rather than just part ways, she gave us a tour of Vilnius.  Had to be one of the best city tours I’ve ever been on seeing the city through the eyes of a local that saw the unique charm and sparks of life.  I want to tell these stories because while I won’t encourage you to pick up hitch hikers, I want you to know that life is an adventure and there is a way to live life to the fullest as a traveler 24×7.

One question in the quiz was on travel planning.  I do always need a trip to look forward to.  It’s not about the destination as much as it is a new outlook on life, new perspective, new friends to connect with, and each and every one of these makes the world smaller.  I recently added the Dalai Lama quote because I have found it inspiring to always be looking forward to the next adventure, but also treasuring all of the memories.

3 thoughts on “Is Tourist Becoming a Dirty Word in the Travel Industry?

  1. Joel I love it when our families travel together because I feel that we get both the “tourist” and the “traveler” experience all in one. Ha ha. You have pushed us outside of our comfortable “tourist” box but still let us have somewhat of a plan as well. We don’t get to travel as much as you for sure but we enjoy it when we do! Some of my best memories are our trips!

    Since traveling isn’t as much of an option for me as it is for you I am learning to enjoy the unexpected in the everyday. I am becoming a traveler in my world around me. I’ve learned I can learn something new from pretty much everyone I encounter, even if they are in my neighborhood and even the mundane can provide an adventure and enjoyment when you least expect it.

    I think the key to a full life either at home or far from home is that quality to enjoy the journey wherever it takes you and cherish it along the way. I think that’s a talent you have and are good to share with those around you.

    • Totally agree. Those that feel trapped simply need to explore the world around them.

      I feel very lucky and blessed to be able to see so much, but I as well have great memories of our trips. I know the kids look forward to it every year and talk about it for months afterward.

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