Are you a traveller, or a tourist

👤Joanne Campbell 🕔Aug 01, 2012

What’s the difference, you say? The tourist has an itinerary, a destination, a goal. The traveller plays it by ear. For the tourist, travelling is a means to an end while for the traveller, the journey is what it’s all about.

A tourist likes to feel at home wherever they go. That usually means a motel or well-appointed RV, with breakfast at Denny’s, lunch at McDonald’s and dinner cooked from Safeway groceries or a sit-down at Boston Pizza. It’s a cultural continuation, discovery by comparison.

The traveller is more adventurous—they’ll bunk at a hostel or camp in the wild; they’ll try the local restaurants and sample the local music. It’s cultural discovery by immersion.

Whether you’re a traveller or a tourist doesn’t really matter. You’ve heard the saying: make like a tourist in your own home town (it was likely me that said it). If you haven’t visited the tourist attractions before because, well, they’re for tourists…. get over it! Learn what the tourists are learning about where you live. What’s your impression of the impression they’re getting? Or, go big—get out of town and go to Haida Gwaii—you know you want to! It’s on everyone’s to-go-to list, not just here but the world over. And it’s RIGHT THERE—just an inch or two to the left of us on the BC map!

But how about being a traveller in your own home town? Or anywhere in northern BC? Instead of blasting down the highway to points south, why not take an extra day (or week!) and turn off the highway to explore those backroads you always wondered about. Find out where they go. Turn left instead of right. Get lost, go find yourself. Be spontaneous!

Stop at that funky hotel in Endako or that cluster of old buildings in Vanderhoof. What’s the deal with the store in Decker Lake? Stop and inspect the shoe tree outside of Rupert or the gazillion little lakes along the way. You have a list, you know you do—places you always glance at through the window and puzzle at for a second every time you race by at 110 km/hr. Well, stop! Give yourself permission to be curious. Be a traveller in your own backyard.

For example, just for a lark, my friend Sylvia hopped on the train from Smithers to Jasper, where she spent the night at a hostel. It was her first time at a hostel, and from the enthusiastic review it certainly won’t be her last. Along the way, she chatted with all manner of travellers and tourists alike.

When you’re playing tourist, consider the geography, the culture, the smells, tastes, light… Pretend you’re in a different country—say, Peru, or Ireland—and you’re seeing it for the very first time. Take a picture. Take a few. Just this evening, as I was writing this, the sun was setting and the light was just so… I grabbed my camera, jumped in the car and zoomed out to farm land in Woodmere, just outside of Telkwa. I imagined it was New Zealand and marvelled at how bucolic it was. (If you see a person taking photos out the window as she’s driving, just stay out of her way. She has a deadline she’s happily avoiding.)

We’ve heard of arm-chair tourists, but is there such a thing as an arm-chair traveller?

I’m probably the biggest arm-chair tourist there is. If I can’t physically get away (thereby making the roads a safer place), my thoughts will certainly find a way. Just picking up this issue and reading about the beaches is enough to give me a virtual suntan, and seeing our wildlife through a new Canadian’s eyes is rather fun. Being an arm-chair traveller is a bit tougher though, since the whole point of travelling is to experience the new first-hand, but I hope some of the articles you’ll find in this issue will inspire the traveller within.

Just remember the words of travel writer Bill Bryson: the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.