“Oh I’m a traveller, not a tourist.”
Chances are if you’ve knocked around the globe a bit, you’ve heard this phrase. Chances are you were in a hostel, or a pub, or a club, with a bunch of internationals at the time. Chances are there wasn’t a local in sight.
But before I mount my high horse and gallop into why I despise the above statement so, let me assure you, I have uttered those dreaded words far more than I’d usually care to admit. I first really started to understand the perceived difference between the travellers and the tourists when I read The Beach, by Alex Garland.
“Tourists went on holidays while travellers did something else. They travelled.”
I was in Vietnam at the time, having gone on my first solo holiday six months prior (a 3-month Eurotrip, merde, que c’est original), and I lived and died by this statement for the next year and a half. From that point on, anyone staying in a hotel was just another tourist (unless you had a girlfriend, in which case yeah cool), and us hostellers were the real ‘travellers’, really getting to know the country. Unless you were on a Contiki tour, in which case you weren’t really seeing anything.
I never came to any realisation that travellers weren’t travellers, that tourists were actually holidayers, that you weren’t ‘on vacation’, you were ‘travelling’, or any of the other nonsense that you hear along the way. I realised that it doesn’t matter.
I was sitting in a hostel in Budapest at the time when this oh-so-enlightening ‘epiphany’ hit me. It was a party hostel, and a great one at that. If you’re ever in the mood to meet a bunch of cool people from every country in the world (with the exception of Hungary), and have a great time at night, I can think of no better place. But I was feeling a bit out of place there. A conversation was going around the place about where people were headed to next. I mentioned that I was off to Ireland in four days, and everyone promised me that it just wouldn’t happen, that I’d stay, as everyone always did. There were people who’d been there for weeks, even months, and just couldn’t leave. I assured them I was meeting friends in Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day, had my flights booked, and that there was no way I was going to be there more than four days.
This really irked me. I didn’t care to be told by someone who’d been in the same city for two weeks that I was just another tourist. And not just in the same city. Doing the same stuff. Meeting the same people. I was heading to Dublin to stay in with Irish people, hanging out with and Irish friend and her family (and international ones, let’s not get too uppity here) in the countryside. I was really looking forward to it. He was going to go out and get trashed with a bunch of ‘travellers’, at the same places, every single night.
Without thinking too hard, I can give you ten instances of me doing really cool, out-there, local stuff whilst staying in hotels with family, with a girlfriend, or even on a two-week lads’ joint through South-East Asia. I can also give you twenty instances of me doing things that I could have just as easily done at Puggs’ on a Friday when I was staying in backpacker places, being a real ‘traveller’.
So do what you want when you travel, and don’t let other people dictate what’s tourism, what’s a holiday, what’s travelling and what’s not. When is the next time you’re going to be in Morocco, Monaco, Myanmar? If you want a bit of privacy, by all means, stay in a hotel, it doesn’t mean you can’t get to know the country. If you want a night out with some foreigners, stay in a hostel!
Enjoy your holiday, the way you want to, and don’t let some hungover Aussie who’s been in Prague for three months “getting a feel of the place” (or anyone else for that matter) tell you how to be an ‘authentic’ traveller.