My daughter , who is something of a globe-trotter, once told me the difference between tourists and travelers . “ A tourist , ” she said ” is a person who goes to different places or countries merely in order to say that he has been there. When he is traveling , his main purpose is to take photographs of himself at famous sites to prove that he has been there. A traveler is one who is keenly interested in the places he visits, the people, their culture and their history. He goes to places because he is interested in them and not merely to keep score “. She herself is a traveler who goes to places with a definite purpose in mind and is well read about a country before she ever sets foot in it . Thus she has traveled to Sweden to work on a potato farm , and to Belgium as a volunteer building a school for immigrant children. Most recently she was in Turkey where she found time for pottery classes even as she took in all the tourist sights.
I was thinking of my daughter’s words when I read a newspaper article about a man who has traveled to every country in the world. He’s definitely not a traveler. In my book he is even less than a tourist . What possible reason could he have for his peregrinations except to boast about them ? Why would anyone want to visit such places as Somalia or Yemen or Kosovo or Tajikistan except to say that he’s been there ? Considering that there are almost 200 countries in the world , he can’t have spent very much time in many of them and I doubt that he has any lasting impressions of each country . A tourist at least stays long enough to gather some impressions of the places he goes to .
At the opposite end of the scale is the armchair traveler who does all his travelling in his imagination and never strays far from his house. Unable because of time , money or health constraints to visit all the places he would like to , he travels vicariously reading about places that interest him . Luckily , with all the resources of the Internet and libraries, with the picture books and travel videos that he has at his disposal , he can almost replicate the experience of traveling there in person. He can actually get a more extensive knowledge of the country than a tourist because he can spend months reading about it ; a tourist or traveler can spend only days , at best a couple of weeks, there. If he and /or his wife are adventurous cooks , they can cook the typical dishes of the country and heighten the experience of ” travelling ” .
I recently read of two young men who used to go on a five-mile run each morning. One day , it occurred to them that they were running 25-30 miles a week without going anywhere. After brooding for a while , they decided to do something about it . They got a large-scale map of Europe and set out to “travel” from Warsaw to Paris. Each Sunday they marked off a 25 mile distance from their previous starting point . Wherever they ‘landed’ ,whether a town or city or other landmark, they read up on it( history , culture , geography , everything ) in the course of the following week . By the time they reach their destination they will have a better idea of Western Europe than most of ever will and perhaps be ready for another ‘journey ‘.
I myself have been lucky in being able to travel to a few places . I’ve traveled enough to know that a) I’ll never be able to visit all the places that I want to and b) I’ll only know a little bit of even the places I’ve been to . For instance when in Italy , we visited Rome , Florence and Venice on one trip and Siena on another. We did not visit Naples , Milan , Amalfi , the Lake District or a score of other places that I’d be interested in . Similarly, in Japan we only sampled Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. So what I’ve done is to supplement my knowledge by reading up on the countries we’ve been to after we’ve got back.
This time I’m going to try something different. We may be going to Australia and New Zealand next spring and I’ve begun to read up on their history and geography even before our travel plans have firmed up. This way , I should have a deeper appreciation of the countries we are visiting by the time we get there . It may even help in making better choices in our itenary.