¨Life is a tour; we are all tourists.”
Dr. P.S. Jagadeesh Kumar
Over the past twenty years, I have viewed hundreds of books, blogs, websites, and other resources. One of the most common themes in these materials is an insistence that one should always try to be a traveler rather than a tourist. Yet, these definitions don’t matter much. What truly makes someone a real Fifty Plus Nomad is a determination to know a place well regardless of whether you are a tourist or a traveler.
What is the Difference Between a Traveler Versus a Tourist?
While both travelers and tourists travel somewhere for pleasure, many travel resources divide the two groups as follows (from differencebetween.net):
¨tourists are shallow people who care more about boasting that they were in a place than actually experiencing it. At the same time, travelers blaze new trails and experience a much deeper connection with a site by going to the same attractions that the tourists go to, but more deeply.¨
The City Sidewalks blogs provide excellent examples of the type of materials that argue against being a tourist. Here is their definition of the difference between a tourist and a traveler.
From City Sidewalks
- A tourist sticks out; a traveler blends in.
- A tourist eats comfort food; a traveler tries out the local cuisines.
- A tourist only sightsees; a traveler converses with locals.
- Tourists dress for comfort; travelers dress for style and comfort.
- Tourists stick to their native tongue; travelers make an attempt to learn the local language.
- Tourists buy the first (overpriced) souvenirs they find; travelers stick it out for the deals.
- Tourists rely on maps; travelers trust their instincts.
Is it Really Better to Be a Tourist Versus a Traveler?
I think the argument that travelers are wonderful and tourists are bad is arrogant and wrong-headed. I agree with the words of differencebetween.net:
¨Tourism has gained a bit of a bad reputation. Some tourists will go to places and become a nuisance. Other people will act like the stereotype of tourists. However, most tourists do not – it is just far more ordinary to hear about the horror stories than about the people who don’t do anything worth complaining about. Still, because of those people, some don’t want to be associated with the word ‘tourist’ even if they are doing the same things a tourist does. This is because the people who created this definition are all self-described travelers.¨
I also think there is a built-in, unfair assumption that somehow traveling independently is superior to going as a group. This is not my experience. Besides, most people I’ve met with this view usually have many misconceptions about group travel.
The Secret to Getting the Most Out of Your Fifty-Plus Nomad Experiences
All these discussions miss the two most crucial factors necessary to learn about a given place or the world: time and perspective. Thankfully, Fifty-Plus Nomads have the time to get the most out of the travel.
Fortunately, it is also not hard for Fifty-Plus Nomads to get the right perspective. All one needs to do is view your experience as a long-term quest to unveil the layers of understanding about the politics, economics, history, values, religion, customs, and food of the places you visit.
How to Reveal these Layers of Understanding
Fifty-Plus Nomads can uncover these layers by frequently moving from place to place and comparing and contrasting life in different parts of the world. (Semester at Sea provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do this). You can also unravel these layers by staying in one place and getting to know it in depth or spending extended periods living in several different countries.
Any way you do it, take time to get the most out of the Fifty Plus Nomads lifestyle. If you are going to be in a place for enough time, learn the language. If it is too difficult to learn the language, talk to locals, and find out about their lives as much as possible.
I have discovered that there is no one right way to get to know a place. Instead, consider partaking in a combination of experiences to get your arms around a place. (Generally, I need to spend two to three months in the area to do all these activities). Group Tours provide a basic knowledge of a place’s history, culture, politics, and economics. Traveling independently gives you the time to explore your interests and discover daily life in a new place without pressure to accommodate other people’s interests. Volunteer and learning vacations allow you to get to know and befriend locals and really understand what their lives feel like.
Each type of experience helps peel different layers necessary to understand and appreciate life in other parts of the world. If you visit a place for two weeks, you won’t really get to know a place regardless of how you travel there. The way you travel will teach you different things, most of which will result in a somewhat superficial view of the place.
A Personal Note
I have discovered that the more I know, the less I know about a place. When I get to know a place, I inevitably find out other things I would like to know. I don’t think I will ever completely know everything about any place. That is the fun part of being a Fifty Plus Nomad.
Whenever someone asks me something like ¨Do you have anything left to see?¨, I always respond that I could continue to travel happily for the rest of my life. There is still a lot left to discover.
¨Doing¨ a Country
That’s why I always cringe (interiorly) when someone says they have ¨done¨ a country. I don’t think anyone can ¨do¨ a country (including locals). I don’t believe I’ve ¨done¨ Mexico or Italy even though I have:
- Spent a long time in both Italy (six months) and Mexico (four and a half years).
- Become conversational in Italian and Spanish.
- Visited most of the Italian and Mexican provinces.
- Lived with fifteen Italian and Mexican families.
- Read close to two hundred books about Italy and Mexico.
You Never Really Get Enough Knowledge to Know a Place Well
I feel like through these experiences, I have amassed enough knowledge to write a book or teach a class about visiting and traveling and living in Italy and Mexico. But I know that even after I have finished these books and courses, I will never stop learning about a place because:
- Some students and readers will have suggestions and ideas to teach me about Italy and Mexico.
- There is so much left to learn, see, and experience.
- I will change some of my impression of both countries over time.
- Italy and Mexico themselves are constantly changing.
Some Additional Posts Related to Fifty-Plus Nomad Related Terms and Definitions
- Definitions: Nomadic, Expat, and Fifty-Plus Nomad Communities, Immigrants, Refugees, and MigrantsA Fifty-Plus Nomad is anyone who dreams or has become a long-term traveler or an expat. We explore the world and live abroad for personal growth, intellectual curiosity or other intangible reasons. This post explores how Fifty-Plus Nomads are different and similar to expats, refugees, immigrants, and migrants. It also talks about different communities that are similar to Fifty-Plus Nomads like snowbirds and vanlifers.
- Why Discussions About the Differences between a Traveler and a Tourist are a Waste of TimeMany people take pride in being a traveler rather than a tourist. They think that because they travel independently they are superior to people on tours. Yet, to really get to know place requires time and an effort to get to know locals.
- Long-Term Travel and Living Abroad: 8 Reasons Why We are the First Generation to Enjoy the Awesome OpportunitiesUntil World War II only the wealthy had the ability to travel for extended periods or become expats. Today these nomadic dreams are available to many people.
- Definitions Used Throughout The Fifty-Plus Nomad WebsiteFind out definitions for the following words used frequently in the Fifty-Plus Nomad website: fifty-plus nomad, developed countries, third world (emerging) countries, expats (expatriates), long term (extended) travel, learning travel, and volunteer travel.
- Quiz #1: Do You Have What It Takes to be a Successful Fifty-Plus Nomad?Take Quiz #1: Find out if you have what It takes to be a successful Fifty-Plus Nomad? (Hint: Chances are, you do).
- What is a Fifty-Plus Nomad?When people ask me: ¨What is a Fifty-Plus Nomad¨? My reply is anyone over the age of 50 willing to invest time, money, and energy to make travel and/or living abroad an integral part of their lives.