In a virtual reality where anyone can make their Disney Cruise to the Bahamas look like an adventure straight out of “Survivor”, it’s easy to confuse the #wanderlust with actual, soul-quenching, travel. It might all look the same on Instagram, but there is a world of difference between traveling and tourism.
Traveling is the act of stepping outside the comfort of familiarity and free-falling into the unknown. It’s the art of booking a flight, getting on a train, riding a bike, and not knowing what exactly you’ll do when you get there. It consists of talking to locals to get around, and packing whatever you can carry on your back. A traveler steps into the reality of the local people. They eat with them, meet their families, and get shown the coolest hidden spots. The traveler collects new friends and unbelievable stories to tell, not souvenirs.
Tourism is the death of travelling.
The 2016 tourist has already seen everywhere they are going through Google Maps, and planned their entire experience from start to finish on Pinterest. Tourists go to a place looking for the stereotypical aspects they expect to see, never speaking to a local unless they have to ask for extra towels in their room. Tourists make waterfalls into an attraction, paved and managed, with ticket sales and lines just to see it. Tourists exploit cultural traditions to the point where they lose their value to the local people. Dance and music that has been passed down for generations becomes commercialized into a cheesy dinner show with flower lays and hula dancing.
“I have never felt comfortable being a tourist.” says student adventure-traveler, Nate Theitbohl, “I want to experience the reality of where I am, not some marketed, commoditized experience…I want to know how other people in the world live and laugh and love, I want to share a moment together, however brief, and live in the communion of our Humanness.”
Nate is the low-key king of soul searching travel. He spent a month last year bussing through Central America. I’ve personally seen him open up a map, choose a random city, and head there on public transportation the next day.
Genuine exploration is not something you can buy as part of a vacation package.
Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
The person who travels sees the world in order to gain new perspectives, to find truth. Both about the planet we live on, and about themselves.
There is nothing like being dropped in a completely unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people, to make you realize what you truly carry inside. What stays constant in you no matter how different the setting.
When you find yourself in a hamster wheel of routine, it’s important to make the conscious decision to step out, and jump into an experience that is completely out of your comfort zone. I recommend that you don’t think about it too much, and leave room for spontaneous discovery. No experience can make you feel more awake.