Guilty Tourist

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December 20th 2012
Published: December 29th 2012
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I love everything about traveling – even the inevitable aches that arise from long, uncomfortable bus trips and missing home. I’ll travel until I’m old and gray, but I make a horrible tourist. I don’t use a travel guide, I don’t snap pictures of myself in front of iconic landmarks, and I never buy souvenirs. To put it bluntly, I don’t need neat tick marks on a “Must-Do” list, digitalized memories, or a bag stuffed with knickknacks to prove that I went somewhere, that I did something.

In all honesty, I don’t much like to do anything. I’m perfectly happy to just be – to walk down random streets and talk to strangers, to eat street food against the advice of others (and better judgment), to never know what or where the next day will bring me. But, every once and a while, I get overwhelmed by what I call my guilty tourist complex. It’s a feeling that I have to do Must-Do things when, really, just thinking about them makes me tired.

I must be the only person who’s ever been to Rome without visiting the Pantheon. Granted, my time there was short, but come on, it’s the

At the Elephanta dock.
Pantheon. Recently, I’ve had nothing but time, but what have I done? In over two months in Bombay, I’ve only quickly passed through the Gateway of India and taken a fast, determined stroll along Colaba Causeway – just to say I did it. I’ve driven down Marine Drive several times, but I’ve never stopped to visit Haji Ali, or dip my toes in the water at Chowpatty Beach. And I’ve never been to Elephanta Island. Does this mean that I’ve never been to Bombay?

It’s a revitalizing breath of fresh air to meet people who understand this conundrum, this guilty tourist complex. Enter Magda into my life. We were born two years (two months, two days) and 4,490 miles apart, but I have a sneaking suspicion we were separated at birth. It’s uncanny, the amount of similarities between us. Needless to say, we share the same passion for traveling and have the same reservations about being mistaken for tourists. It seemed only right that, together, we become tourists for a day.

Armed with charged camera batteries, full water bottles, and over-priced tourist tickets, we hopped aboard a ferry to Elephanta Island. No sooner had we sat down than
Beware of Monkey'sBeware of Monkey'sBeware of Monkey's

and bad grammar!
the rest of the passengers lined up to snap their photo with the white aliens. And we happily obliged. We reveled in our stereotype as tourists, fashioning turbans out of our shawls to protect our heads from the sun. We clicked, clicked, clicked photos of ancient rock carvings and errant monkeys. I even bought a postcard. We came, we saw, we conquered. Then, we left.

Walking back towards the ferry, my day as a tourist almost at an end, I again felt guilty. I had no desire to share my experience. With a melancholic tone, I told Magda, “I won’t write about this.” “Why would you?” she replied understandingly, “This has nothing to do with traveling.”

So what is traveling? And why do we do it?

As far as I see it, traveling entails an intensified search for something we don’t encounter in our everyday lives. It allows us to take a break from the selves defined by our surroundings (our families, our jobs, our houses, our trinkets) and gives us the freedom to be who we really are. For people condescendingly coined tourists, a brief detachment is enough. It’s enough to go on vacation to see
Happy TouristHappy TouristHappy Tourist

Posing with the Trimurti.
the Eiffel Tower, the Sphinx, the Taj Mahal, and then go home. It doesn’t require a person to change. For other people, donning a backpack and shedding all other definitions, creates a whole new definition – that of a traveler. For travelers, change is inevitable. We travel to find inspiration, to find ourselves.

Tourists and travelers are alike in that we all set out seeking the new and extraordinary. The only difference (besides a fridge full of kitschy magnets) is that after traveling long enough, one eventually discovers that we’re all old and ordinary – and that is a very beautiful thing.

Additional photos below
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29th December 2012

Travellers travel to "find themselves"
I haven't heard that one in years!
29th December 2012

You didn't see the Pantheon?
I found this part particularly interesting. Stepping inside the Pantheon was the biggest "wow" moment I had in Rome (more than the Sistine Chapel). I'll never forget it. Check it out next time! Anyway, I agree with much you say in your blog. Traveling and vacationing are two very different things to me. I prefer the exhaustion of traveling....but I have to admit, I have a fridge covered in kitschy magnets....
29th December 2012

I didn't mean to...
... miss the Pantheon, it just sort of happened. All I mean to say is that hopefully my experiences as a traveler aren't measured by the sites I've seen. And, don't worry, as far as I'm concerned, traveling and kitschy fridge magnets aren't mutually exclusive... just in my case. :D I'll pass along your compliment to Magda, and assure you that all of her is adorable!
29th December 2012

Another thing!
Your friend's purple dress is adorable!!
30th December 2012

The question is, why did you write about this?
And I am asking it because of what you tell Magda: With a melancholic tone, I told Magda, “I won’t write about this.” “Why would you?” she replied understandingly, “This has nothing to do with traveling.” So what made you change your mind?
30th December 2012

What I Mean...
is that I wasn't going to write about Elephanta like some big, Must-Do adventure, filled with history and funny anecdotes. I've been trying to write about my guilty tourist complex for some time now, and this seemed like the appropriate moment.
30th December 2012

Aha, I understand :)
If it helps at all, don't feel guilty about what you have or have not seen, and don't place too much importance on the opinions of fellow travellers/tourists. I am pretty sure the guilt flows both ways anyway, there are plenty of 'tourists' who are told by 'travellers' that what they are doing is somehow unworthy of travelling. People have the tendency to judge each other on what they do or don't do, and upon that judgement we are then placed in whatever category fits the description best. I personally consider myself both a tourist and a traveller and don't see any discrepancy between the two, one flows from the other and vice-versa, at least for me. For me the guilt used to work the other way around. I used to feel super guilty about going to a tourist attraction, because in the eyes of my fellow travellers this was seen as a faux-pas. Doing so was crossing some invisible line and a betrayal to the community and inevitably I would get disapproving glances. Sights are for tourists, the real traveller has passed far beyond that point and discovered some invisible truth. Luckily I grew out of that guilty phase and I really couldn't give a hoot now about how others view me. I will happily go to the Taj Mahals or Ankor Wats of this planet, because for me they are not only extremely beautiful places, but they are interesting from a historical, cultural and religious perspective. And just because millions of other people think so as well, doesn't make them less significant. In short I do it for myself, and how I measure up to other because of that doesn't enter the equation. Your guilty tourist complex will most likely leave you at some point as well, and you won't care whether or not you have been to the Great Wall of China after spending two months in Beijing or so, and you won't feel guilty when somebody tells you, you should have. Only you know what you should have done, and mostly likely you will have done that which you wanted to do.
1st January 2013

Beautiful Words
Thanks for this response, Ralf. My guilty tourist complex is something of the past. Like I said, I've been wanting to write about it for some time, but I think I needed for it to pass before I was able to. Otherwise, I would have worried what other people think about my worthiness as a tourist/traveler. Now, I don't care. I'm happy just doing what I do (or don't do)! :D
30th December 2012

lost in books ,
I don \'t know , y , i never meet u , but u seem to think same like me , but the difference that lies between us , u believe in action\'s and you have done thing\'s , while , i just keep on thinking .. but hopefully when i grow more older , i would do something that u enjoy doing.
30th December 2012

You describe it perfectly. I agree with you. I am a traveller because I have been a tourist. Hugs from Argentina. Graciela
31st December 2012

we spent quite a bit of time passing through Bangkok and never made it to see the Grand Palace. But I don't think our time in Bangkok was any less memorable because of that. Enjoy the rest of your travels. Kathie
31st December 2012

Why do we travel?
'Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest'. Georgia O'Keeffe A true traveller's motto. I'll drink to that, Chantel.
1st January 2013

I'll Drink to That Too!
I don't know how I never heard that one before. Thanks for the share!
8th April 2013

Tourist vs Traveller
I fully agree with Ralf's response to you earlier - namely that the distinction between the two is blurred. However, if pushed to define a difference, I would say that the more one person immerses themselves in an place in order to experience and understand it more, then the more likely they are to be a traveller. Having said that, I've proudly done both - most times I am the traveller, but I'm also happy being the tourist, seeing some famous site or relaxing somewhere just to escape the world rather than following my usual traveller's approach of seeking to understand this glorious planet more.

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