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Published: December 29th 2012
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
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
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.
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