Traveller vs. Tourist – AKA “Your Selfie Stick Makes Me Sick”

After now having backpacked and travelled around for a few months I’ve started to notice a trend with some of the people I have been meeting in the hostels I have stayed at. There seems to be a lot of self-styled pseudo-intellectuals who fashion themselves as the modern Hemmingway and gods gift to world travel.

I first encountered this type when in my first few days I decided to buy one of the selfie sticks that a lot of street sellers were peddling all over Rome. I had met up with an old roommate from Madrid who had purchased one and encouraged me to do the same. It just made sense. I was travelling alone and wasn’t fond of asking people to take photos of me. This way I could take my own photos without bothering other people.

When I placed it on the table to show it, I was already apologetic because I had the inclining that these travellers were instantly going to think worse of me because just a few minutes before they had been touting how they were artists (with rather shitty sketches that they over explained their genius with) and had been to “gems” like Laos years before people knew what it was.

Boy, was I right. Instantly they were on me as if I was an antelope carcass and they were a pack of very hungry hyenas. They literally began to boo and whine pleas to make me put it away. They told me how disappointed they were in me, how shameful it was that I’d ever even considering buying one. I had had potential to be one of them until that moment.

photo 1

Here I am with the offending clicker.

I had just been demoted in the eyes of the other backpackers from “traveller” to “tourist”. Even though the words seem synonymous I quickly learned that to many people they aren’t. A tourist is someone who travels to different places to say they had been there (which made “country counting” pretty taboo amongst backpackers too), take cheesy photos, eat at tourist places, and then leave without having really discovered the culture of where they stay.

A traveller on the other hand is someone who takes time to immerse themselves into the cultures they are staying in, eat with the locals, and most importantly goes off the beaten pack in search of authenticity.

Although of course you will get a better understanding of the countries/cultures doing the aforementioned travelling there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing the first. How we decide to experience the world is completely up to the individual, and our comfort level with new situations/experiences varies between people.

The horrified look on the french backpacker, Louis, I hung out with in Bologna was similar when I stated that after expensive pasta was driving me insane I just wanted a cheap salad from McDonalds. There are all these faux pas that you must not break in order to retain your veneer of authenticity.

That’s what it all comes down to. It is the same thing that drives people to embrace counter culture, buy vintage, and listen to obscure music. Some people are obsessed with the notion of being authentic in a world that is largely commercial and “inauthentic”. They want to be able to say that they lived in a realm deeper than the average person, that they are somehow more in touch with the “real world” because they sketched David instead of taking a picture, ate Pho made by an Vietnamese grandmother instead of at a restaurant, and took their selfies without a stick.

Here’s the authentic stamp of approval in your passport from the authentic police.

I was legitimately told by one of the travellers in Rome that he honestly believed himself better as a human being than “tourists” because he was a traveller. He flat out told me he was superior.

And this is just my opinion, but I believe travelling like that, constantly in search of the “real” and “authentic” to be able to give yourself a sense of superiority and pseudo-intellectualism is no better than being “tourist”.

If you travel the world to better understand the people in it and still cannot learn to appreciate the diversity and to embrace the differences in people… then why bother travelling at all?

If you want to take photos with a stick or take artsy black and white photos of church steeples, that’s fine. All that matters is you are curious about the world outside your hometown and respect the people outside and inside of it.

As for me, I’ll keep my selfie stick thank you very much.


Update: I’m a useless little shit.

Get ready, it’s the dreaded “update” post.

Rip the bandaid off. Here we go.

As the old saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

Now change hell to “running a blog” and you have my current situation. So let me get my excuses out of the way right off the bat:

  1. I was drinking far too much sangria to write coherently
  2. I was travelling every other weekend
  3. My iPad with all my half written blog posts malfunctioned, I lost them all, and I was too pissy to re-write them
  4. I had exams, tests, and gasp… actual school work (much to my surprise)

Wow, a stock photo that accurately represents my feelings regarding my iPad.

The last bullet is the most important because though the malfunction with my iPad frustrated me to no end, I’ve honestly been having so much fun in Madrid that I haven’t really had much time to even think about posting. Hell, I’m leaving to Dublin in a few hours with a trip to Amsterdam/Brussels nipping at the heels of it. It has been a storm of travelling and hanging out with new, pretty rad friends. It is kind of hard to fill myself with copious amounts of self-loathing and suffocating guilt when I’ve been having some of the best months of my life.

Tie me to WordPress you kinky bastard and don’t let my eyes stray, even for a cold, dewy glass of tinto.

Jesus christ shutterstock I was being metaphorical.


Madrid exchange is a go — AKA breaking down to Shakira at work

Countdown to lift-off: 73 days

Seriously, it looks the exact same.

Look, it’s Daenerys in the red waste with her khalasar!

I will admit something I never thought I’d utter. Today I starting crying at my desk to Shakira. Thank god my supervisor was off this week so I could mop up my pathetic, latin music induced tears on my “dress-down-Friday” sweater. With a crappy tea in one hand and my dignity quickly slipping through the other, I sat there crying to “Te Dejo Madrid” by Shakira in what was supposed to be my own little happy celebration regarding the email I received this morning.

“Dear Student, 

Congratulations for your admission at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid as an international student!”

I was too cozy in the cocoon of warm blankets and too cranky at 7am to really process what the hell I’d just read. So it wasn’t until I played upbeat Shakira at my desk in an attempt to really bring it home that the full weight of what had happened dropped on me. I was looking at the collage of my family, friends, and my dogs when I realized… holy shit, this is really happening. I’m actually going to be living away from everything I know, alone, in a country I don’t speak the language and then will be travelling by myself for an extra two or three months.

Feel free to laugh. I mean the Shakira alone was ridiculous, but the concept of someone who loves travelling getting upset over doing just that would seem ludicrous to a more seasoned traveller. I invite you though to think of your own youth, or for those who are still young to imagine the future.

There is a time, I believe, in every life where some sort of monumental change is about to occur. You can sense it as if the feeling of foreboding could be physical and crawl under your skin. It’s a little like when you are outside and see large, dark rain clouds rolling in. Even if you love the rain there is a feeling that there is something larger than you, something big and potentially scary that looms over you, charging the very atmosphere. The choice you are left with is whether to take cover or to dance in the rain.

That’s how I feel right now as I enter the stage of starting to prep student visas and look into flights. Those clouds are rolling in and I can feel it and even though I love the rain the temptation to run for cover is there.

What if I can’t pick up the language and I’m lost in some back alley in Gran Vía, with an abuela screaming at me in Spanish? Or what happens if I’m so homesick I end up having a mental break down in the middle of a supermarket the moment I see maple syrup? Worst of all… what if my mother’s prophecies are true and I’m to end up as a skin suit for the real Buffalo Bill?

The face of my future imminent breakdown.

The face of my future imminent breakdown.

And yet… at the same time another part of me is screaming that this is my chance to experience the world. PUT ON YOUR BIG GIRL BOOTS AND LEARN THAT YOU CAN HANDLE ANYTHING! Stolen passport? Psh, you got it. Lost? So last year. Making new friends despite your crippling shyness when first meeting people? Eh, okay, maybe not anything.

Despite all my fears and apprehension about moving to Madrid, I want to dance in the rain (to extend an overextended metaphor). I want to take this experience for what it will be and milk it for all it’s worth. If I’m going to be stuck in Reykjavik for a twenty hour layover on my way home you better damn well believe I’ll be going to the Blue Lagoon. Life is too damn short to spend it worrying about the “what if”s, no matter how cliched it may sound. So screw it! I’m officially going to Madrid in 73 days and I’m going to enjoy it! ¿Entender?

And in the end if everything goes wrong, I will at least have the chance to become an alcoholic off of red sangrias.

Hello darkness my old friend.