T is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

T is for tourist vs traveller

As this post is published if all has gone to schedule hubby and I will be starting Stage 2 of our road trip through France.

We first came through here in 1994 on a Trafalgar bus tour. It was three weeks on one of those “it’s day 3, we must be in Lyon” type things.

Mr T was over 30, so we were too old for the backpacker bus and found ourselves with an older crowd.

I got severely claustrophobic. By day 2 I was sick of having times and running sheets barked at me. So Mr T and I made a pact – the only excursions we’d do with the group would be the included ones.  The only meals we would have with the group would be the included ones. This meant we did everything else under our own steam.

They’d come back complaining about the prices of sandwiches and soft drinks from the sellers in Pisa, we’d waltz back on the bus having found a cute spot that sold pizza and wine for less than $10. They spent ten minutes queuing to hand lira (yes, it was that long ago) to a grumpy old woman in a public toilet whereas I’d talked myself into something much more comfortable.

It worked. We had the best of both worlds – time on our own to explore and the ease of having everything in between figured out. The only problem is, once people cottoned on to what we were doing and how we’d found great places they didn’t, we began to get a queue behind us as others on the tour followed us.

The good thing about tour buses is that it allows you to tick off major locations without stressing about the travel involved between. It doesn’t, however, allow time for exploration and immersion – but that’s not the point.

I don’t think I could do an organised bus tour now – mainly because I’m way too independent, like my own space, and want to change my plans if I feel like it. Back then though? We had limited time and it suited. Plus it was enough of a taster for us to know where we wanted to one day come back and explore properly.

I had someone ask me the other week whether I considered myself a tourist or a traveller – the implication being that one was somehow less than the other.

According to this “expert”, it seems that tourists stay in hotels, resorts and cruise ships and travel in an organised or group fashion.

In contrast, she said, travellers explore. Rather than five countries in six days, they might base themselves in one place over a longer period and “live like the locals.”

Tourists tick boxes and travellers don’t. Apparently. It’s all a lot of whatever as far as I’m concerned.

To be honest I’m a little of both – tourist and traveller. I don’t see the difference and don’t believe there should be one. I travel to a new place and I’m a tourist when I’m there. So there. And yes, I photograph everything before I eat it too. I’ve also been known to do the occasional selfie and will post it all on Instagram.

I chose to do both The Routeburn Track and The Milford Track walks with an organised group rather than as an independent or “freedom” walker – and am glad I did. It took absolutely nothing away from the experience – and made it all a lot more comfortable and achievable than it would have been if I was walking independently.

My travelling bucket list has places on it that I want to visit just to tick them off, and places I want to visit for immersion purposes. I’ll do the former by way of cruises or drive-throughs, I’ll do the latter for longer stays.

I have no issues being both a tourist and a traveller – nor do I think it matters. As long as travel is taking you away from your normal boundaries who cares how you choose to do it?

I love the fact that the world is accessible. I love the fact that we have the choice to immerse ourselves or to take a few photos, tick a few boxes and leave. I love the fact that we get to experience other places and broaden our physical horizons and our minds. I love the fact that I can choose to be a traveller or a tourist, and I love the fact that it doesn’t worry me much which one I am as long as I have a boarding pass in my hand and a stamp in my passport.

I never ever want to be jaded by the process, or fail to be excited about hopping onto a plane to somewhere. I’m the person who grabs the airline menu and wonders without complaint what’s on offer. Apparently, that’s something a tourist does; whereas a traveller leans back and sleeps – something I’ve never been able to do…I could miss something.

What about you? Are you a tourist, a traveller or, like me, a little of both?