This I Believe
I believe in the fundamental practice of traveling. It doesn’t really matter where, as long as it’s different. For me the most informative trips have been those overseas. Being a traveler can be exhausting, you open yourself up not only to the attractions and beaches of your destination, but the people and their spirit, whether relaxing or challenging. Being a traveler is not being a tourist.
A tourist comes equipped with their Mandals and itineraries. Ready to sip their pina coladas on the beach in the Caribbean, to jet from tour bus to air conditioning, to stay in their five star resorts.
I’m am not yet a traveler, but it is one of my goals, and I feel I am on my way, for I am neither a tourist. I am an explorer, a questioner, an adventurer, a teacher, an analyzer, a learner–all because I’ve traveled. The subtle things I’ve become aware of trump any amount of souvenirs or photos.
To begin with, no matter what country you’re in, what language you speak, what religion you practice, someone will always attempt to cut you in line. They will smile at you or ignore you or scare you or laugh at you, and then take your spot.
Debating is enlightening with people who have never set foot in the United States. No matter where you land someone will ask you about Bush (at least until 2008). 99% are simply curious.
Ugly Americans travel just as much as the rest of us-unfortunately. They characteristically yell and curse and act entitled enough to create a stigma of the foreigner (the Thais call it the farang). Yet all it takes is acknowledgement to impress your hosts, a hello in the native tongue, holding the door open for the people behind you, or the occasional thank you (or swatdee kaa).
But most of all to seeing the poverty, and understanding the anger.
The things you learn from leaving all expectations and comforts of home to roam around in parts of the world, are unparalleled in any book or course ever offered. Exposure to non-Western ideas, politics, religions and media has opened the world up to me. I want to travel everywhere. I want to volunteer internationally. I want to adopt internationally. I want to be conscientious. I want to vote. I want to learn- constantly. To truly become a traveler it is not to just leave and experience your journey while on the road, but change under the circumstances. To bring back the things you know and do something. A tourist preserves their vacations in photo albums as trophies. A traveler takes away something from each new place and embodies it.
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