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Tourist or Traveller : it’s one of those weird distinctions that means the world to one side of the coin, while the other side doesn’t give a toss or even realise there was a distinction in the first place.  Does it really mean so much, or is the key thing that we’re out and about experiencing the world?

I’ve spent my fair share of time abroad lumping around a backpack, wearing undies for the 2nd day in a row inside out, learning some local lingo from a crone on a bus with a goat, and dodging bed bugs in a two bit fleapit in the armpit of Central America.  I’ve also hired a chateau, a chef and a car and spent way too much on champagne (is that even possible??).

Do we have to leave??

Do we have to leave??

So what does that make me? Am I the intrepid traveller who rolls my sleeves up and grabs the world by the cojones, or am I the tourist that just timidly asks it for directions…in English?

It was sitting in a hostel in South America in the middle of nowhere after 4 months on the road that two 18 year old American girls in the Peace Corps posed this very serious and apparently profound question to me.

At first I was unsure how to respond.  “I really don’t care” would have been too dismissive for these solemn youngsters but to buy into their “tourists are so pathetic and experience nothing” attitude also struck me as doing a great disservice to the many people who do actually make an effort to go out to see the world, learning a little something on the way. Even if it is on a tour bus.
Does it really matter how we expand our horizons? Is it more important that you know the best apotheke in Munich for fungal cream, or is telling a compelling story of steins and pork knuckle enough?

Isn’t what really matters the fact that we’re actually there : seeing, doing, interacting, contributing to local economies?  Even the most sheltered of tours will teach you something of where you are.

standover tactics at City Hall!

So what do you think?  Are you a Tourist or are you a Traveller?  Or like me, do you just want time to speed up until your next trip 🙂

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