Tourist vs. Traveller: When It’s Okay to Enjoy the Ride

Tourist vs. Traveller: When It's Okay to Enjoy the Ride

For us far-flung folk who consider ourselves to be seasoned travelers, there is a single word that classifies a given experience as utterly beneath consideration. We say the word to one another in disdain, separating ourselves from our fellow countrymen who we pass during the day on our way to somewhere, with accents that send shivers down our spines, causing us to lower our heads, walk faster, and seek refuge.

It invokes restaurants on the beach with men standing beside pictures of paella or pasta or whatever the local specialty, luring in passersby with promises of authenticity in accented English. It implies long lines, expense, disappointment. Trinkets sold far from their maker, pottery with city names signed across the bottom. The word signifies the tastelessness of those who are easily had for a buck.

The word is tourist, or its adjective touristy, and it is a fate that most of us, using research and street smarts, do our best to avoid. Tourists are rubes, willing to pay extra for convenience, to travel in packs from one monument to another, following a guide who will give them everything they need to know except for what they cannot learn from a guide, which is the ability to open their eyes, to walk, to seek adventure. The traveller, as opposed to the tourist, will seek the real people of the place, to attempt to understand a city or a country by emulating its citizens. Whereas the tourist wants to see, to have seen, the traveller is guided by a deeper curiosity.

The traveller, as opposed to the tourist, will seek the real people of the place, to attempt to understand a city or a country by emulating its citizens.

Of course, this is a false dichotomy, the narcissism of small differences. We are all of us seekers of experiences far from home. We have come at great personal expense to have what we all hope will be a memorable time. And there are moments when those of us who scoff at all things touristy might gain from lowering our defenses some and embracing the tourist inside of us.

I had that experience recently, when travelling in Seville. My husband and I brought our toddler to see the city and spend time with our friends, a couple with two children, one four and one seven. We stayed in Triana, a charming old fishing village across the river from the old city. We found the apartment on Airbnb, a website we use with full knowledge of the damage it is causing to neighborhoods exactly like Triana, famous for housing fishermen and Flamenco performers who, with the increase demand for tourist apartments like the one we rented, are leaving in droves. This is one irony of authenticity-seeking. By forsaking more traditional housing, like a hotel, we may feel more like one of the locals, while actively driving those locals away. But, when it comes to travelling with kids there is nothing as convenient as an apartment. And so it goes.

Where Triana locals get tapas
In Sevilla, we became tourist and traveler.

Tourist vs. Traveller: When It’s Okay to Enjoy the Ride

During the day, we did our best to see the sights of Seville on foot. But with such a large percentage of our party under the age of eight, getting moving in the morning was a challenge, and there was a limit on how much time during the day could be spent walking. At one point my friend had a child on each shoulder, and I realized that we would have to focus our explorations on parts easily accessed, or give them up. I was considering how best to proceed while standing outside the main cathedral, where horse-drawn carriages were lined up one after another. A man approached me with a price, but I immediately shooed him away. Riding around in a carriage? Now that was some serious tourist nonsense.

Whereas the tourist wants to see, to have seen, the traveller is guided by a deeper curiosity.

But then I reconsidered. What better way to keep the children entertained while getting an overview of the city? And what a memory we would be giving them! My kid won’t remember any of it of course, but the four- and seven-year-olds would always think of our trip to Spain where we saw the elegant moorish architecture, ornate tiled buildings, delightful rows of orange trees, all from the comfort of a carriage. And the ride did not disappoint—not the comfortable leather seat, nor the beautiful city itself. Even my awareness of our position in a caravan of other carriages with other tourists did not take away from the winking blue sky or the sound of my son making horsey noises all the way through town.

Tourist vs. Traveller: When It’s Okay to Enjoy the Ride

Tourist vs. Traveller: When It's Okay to Enjoy the Ride
Carriage in Plaza España, Seville

Later, the four-year-old dislocated her shoulder and we had to take her in a cab to the hospital, where we sat in the waiting room with Sevillanos from every walk of life, not a tourist among them.

 

Tourist vs. Traveller: When It’s Okay to Enjoy the Ride top photo by Patrick Baum on Unsplash

About Ilana Manaster

Ilana ManasterIlana Manaster left the United States for the first time as a junior in college, when she took a semester off and travelled around Europe. A writer whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan Magazine, Reading Out Loud podcast and elsewhere, she moved to Barcelona in 2014 to raise her kid and finish her novel.

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