Traveler or Tourist? Which one are you?


This post won’t have any pictures.  Text only.

Be forewarned that this isn’t a post about a particular destination.  Strictly a post about a topic that I’ve been wanting to write about for some time.

And let me stress that there’s nothing wrong with digital photography, social media or being a Tourist.  If that’s you, that’s OK.  However, I find something terribly wrong with how Tourists travel. It’s the style I have an issue with.  And that is what this post is about.

Here we go.

In my opinion, the one down side of digital photography is the fact that people have a chance to see the pictures they just took. Over and over again.

You know the ones I’m talking about.  They pose, often a few times with a few people (and sometimes alone), run to the camera and analyze whether their good side was taken, whether they bent their knee the right way, whether they should take another one with the other leg crossed a certain way, blah, blah, blah. You know what I mean.  Then after going over all of their options, they walk away and look for the next ‘must-see’ attraction on their bucket list. But the problem is, they barely looked at the first one!

I see this quite a bit.  And every time I do, I want to approach these people and say:  ‘Hey, do you realize that you just spent thousands of dollars to travel across the World to look at your camera’s playback MORE than the actual monument that you wanted to see in the first place’?!

So let me understand.  You plan a trip to, let’s say to Rome.  You made your way to the Trevi.  You’re standing in front of the Fountain. What an amazing moment, right?  You pose in front of it.  Look at the pictures you just took. Walk away from the Trevi after a few minutes, get a bit to eat, with little to no interest to look back at it, absorb the moment, consider the history you’re standing in front of, the significance of its existence, etc.

There’s no emotion to the visit.  Only the feeling of getting the right pose with the right person. That’s a shame.

It’s one thing to have an attraction do nothing for you emotionally.  That’s cool, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Some find interest in something and others don’t care much for. No issue there.  But if that’s what you wanted to see, shouldn’t you spend time ‘seeing’ it?

Maybe it’s not only about the awesomeness (or downfall) of digital photography.  Maybe it’s social media.  Maybe many Tourists are so consumed with the thought of bragging to friends, that posing is given more priority than appreciating a beautiful sight such as the Trevi Fountain, for example.  Go to be seen vs. see for yourself.

If that’s the case, then it’s a sad display of travel.  The priority should not be on the camera’s playback.  The priority should not be about “checking in” and wondering how you’re going to look on camera and how you will be perceived by friends on Facebook or Twitter.

If that’s your biggest priority when abroad, then you’re a Tourist, not a Traveler.

Where the Tourist lands, obliviously checks off the sights on the list by taking some pictures and moving on, the Traveler hits the ground running, sometimes even map-less, takes several pictures of several monuments, sits and appreciates the genuine emotion that comes with being in a city like Rome or Paris or Tokyo.  To a Traveler, the destination matters, but the soul-finding experience matters as much, if not more.  To a Traveler, it’s about quality over quantity, not the other way around.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with being a Tourist.  Cruises, for example often go on 14 day runs where people are often given a certain amount of time to get off the boat, look around and come back in time to take off.  Group tours hit several spots in a few hours and sometimes you have only 24 hours to see a place because of a layover.

I’m talking about those people who’ve got time.  Who’ve taken a few weeks to travel, explore, feel.

To those people I ask:  What’s the point of spending all that money when you could have photo-shopped the Trevi in the background on your Mac, put yourself in the picture and shared it with friends and family?  What a waste of time and money.

A friend of mine recently made it a point to take with him only one camera on his latest trip. An 80’s style camera with 35mm film.  He was adamant about doing this because he felt that during his recent travels, he found himself looking more at the quality of the pictures than the quality of the experience.

Bringing only this camera would force him to appreciate the trip more.  He didn’t care about whether he got the right shot (although it’s an important aspect, don’t get me wrong).  But he cared more about getting the most value out of his trip.

And ideally, that’s how it should really be for everyone, at all times.

Tourist or Traveler? Combination of both?  Don’t be shy.  We’ve all been guilty of putting more priority on posing than appreciating where we actually are during a trip.

Share your thoughts, positive or negative.  Would love to hear them.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Gina says:

    This reminds me of a scene from Before Sunrise (one of my favourite movies), where Jesse and Celine realize they only have a few more hours together in Vienna. Jesse says to Celine, “I’m going to take your picture, so I never forget you or all this”, and then he just stares at her, taking in the moment. 🙂 Of course, this was before people travelled with digital cameras, and before the age of social media.

    I’m probably guilty of being both a tourist and traveller. You have to get your requisite shots of the Colosseum, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower… but the most memorable experiences come from the unexpected.. meeting new people, discovering new cafes, or stumbling upon a street festival you didn’t know about. Those are the things I remember.

  2. Gillie Davies says:

    Great article, I have been guilty of doing this too, however, saying that this should not happen means that you too are missing the point of travelling or tourism, Some people travel to escape their world, some of us do is as part of our world and whatever each of us does with it is actually ok, the beauty with it is that we have a choice.

    I am currently on a circumnavigation with my partner on my small sailing yacht. so far we have sailed around the Carribean and up the East Coast of the USA and across the Pacific visiting small and beautiful South Pacific Islands to New Zealand and then up to Fiji, New Caledonia and here to Australia.

    People often ask me, what is the best place you have been to and every time I respond that it is not so much the places I have been but the amazing people I have met and the wonderful times of aloneness I have had in a beautiful place, or at sea. Sure these places are beautiful and I know I am really really lucky, but I am more guilty than most people because so often I have said to my partner “Oh look, there is another Beautiful South Pacific Island”. Now that my friend is really sad, and I do try, but maybe we a humans just get balze when we are able to travel too often?

    Just a thought.

  3. Robert Rodriguez says:

    Jim,

    Excellent article, and very well written too. I must say, I’m sometimes guilty of paying too much attention to my shots. In the end, only a handful are well composed. I guess that means I’m either a lousy photographer, or couldn’t care less in the end. You’re right, it’s the experience that counts, the photos are secondary.

    Rob

  4. Thank you for featuring my post! Also regarding yours, I admit that sometimes when I’m so engrossed in taking pictures of something, I have to remind my self to really “see” it. Sometimes I have to make a conscious effort!

  5. travelmammal says:

    Thanks everyone for taking the time to comment! We’ve all been guilty of taking a picture and walking away. Just an interesting observation. 🙂

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