Let’s Face It: You are Either a ‘Tourist’ or a ‘Traveler’. Which one is it?

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Greg Markley

By Greg Markley

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse wrote “The Vanishing American Adult” in 2017 as a warning to Millennials and the generations to come. A fifth generation Nebraskan, he grew up on a farm and earned a Ph.D in History from Yale. He abhors the lack of discipline and the low regard for hard work of many students he met as a young college president. Below, I use his insights on “tourism” vs. “travel.”

He describes “travel” as experiencing events and new people not on some time clock, but as the peculiar situations demand. By contrast, Sasse describes “tourism” (which most Americans practice) as an attraction-focused way of seeing the world. “We have another sight to see, another box to check,” he writes. “If we hurry, there’s time before sundown to use one more timeless monument as the backstop for one more selfie.”

As a writer with much curiosity and an independent streak, I agree with Sasse that solo travel can be amazing. At the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta, I met a German writer at the stadium and I drove him across town to a restaurant where the German team was partying. If I was traveling with three or more people, as a “tourist,” do you think a group like that would suddenly be let into a private party? The likely answer is: No.

In Alaska in 2018, I was visiting friends in Fairbanks. Tourist trains were not yet operating. But I had no trouble getting a bus seat to Anchorage. Except for the driver and another passenger, the only riders were seven to 10 geologists. I learned about their wide travels, their tough assignments and that most were tired of traveling. Would the geologists speak freely if I was with a bunch of tourists? I doubt it. People get wary with too many strangers around.

Historian Daniel Boorstin lamented “the lost art of travel” which he said lacks the adventure, diverse experiences and genuine involvement with people required to get an enduring memory and self-improvement. “The tourist sees less of the country than its tourist attractions,” Boorstin said. “Today what he sees is seldom the living culture but usually specimens collected and embalmed for him, or attractions specially staged for him: proved specimens of the artificial.”

Mark Wolters is a leading travel blogger, taking his family on trips on weekends and when the university is between semesters. He has a small budget and cuts corners when he can, on trips. He has a video that sets out five  things to love and hate about solo traveling.

Wolters’ hates are: “You are on your own,” “Solo travel can be more expensive,” “It’s easy to get off track,” “Not always the safest way to travel,” and “Selfie photos.”  I don’t call these hates, really, because they can be handled with good planning and good luck.

Expenses are trimmed for me as I often stay on  military bases, where lodging is cheaper than most places outside the gates.

Wolters’ loves are: “The independence,” “Meeting new people,” “You time,” “Flexible schedule,” and “Sharing stories back home.”

What if a relative or friend is a night owl and you rise early? The owl will stumble into the room halfway thru the riser’s sleep hours, and vice versa. If someone watches TV all  day, even when on vacation, that’s a problem. I agree that independence is the great reward of “travel” but not “tourism”.

In 2015 John Haltiwanger wrote in Elite Daily: “The heightened awareness that accompanies traveling alone, combined with the excitement of new experiences, unconsciously focuses your mind on the present. You make friends with strangers, eat cuisine you’ve never heard of, listen to music played with instruments you can’t name and begin to see the world in an entirely new light.”

The article is “People who travel alone all have one thing in common: they’re wise,” for the Elite Daily, July 27, 2015. Elite Daily is an American online news platform catering to Millennials. The tag line is “To travel alone is to get lost on purpose, in order to be found.”

What about Senator Sasse? He and his wife Melissa live in Nebraska but homeschool their three children as they commute weekly to Washington, DC. He is on four Senate committees and is ranking member of a subcommittee. In the book, the senator has advice to parents on several behavioral subjects.

Here’s one: “If you really want your kids to become explorers, to experience the growth that traveling can bring, you have to (1) encourage them to travel alone, even if it means having to overcome your own fears of what might happen; and (2) offer them a philosophy of travel that goes against the consumerist grain.” Enough said.

Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has Masters’ in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer for 10 years. gm.markley@charter.net

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