A Traveler and a Tourist Walked into a Bar

Remember how annoyingly secretive I was being about something in the previous posts about my goals, as if anybody is really following my process? Even though I basically did include it in the list of my goals right at the beginning, and there was little reason therefore to be superstitious about it!?

The goal for May I meant was “Buy air tickets to Europe” and the corresponding goal for June was “Apply for a Schengen visa”. Needless to say, strike through, done ’em.

So, here I am traveling to Europe again, and that too solo, again. So I am currently engaged in crazily planning my trip and looking up information, because I want to waste no time, cover as much as possible, as efficiently and cheaply as possible. I am not super rich, nor do I have no ties at home to keep me traveling forever. I don’t know how I and my cat will deal with being separated for a month; 6 days that I was away in Uzbekistan were very rough on Simba. The only up-side this time is that since I am the only one going away, so he will still remain home. I think he felt like I dumped him away by taking him to my aunt’s place! He is a more content cat to stay at home even if I am not there. And more importantly, I also share the responsibility of taking care of my old granny – Barima. I know that my mom will have way too much work on her hands after I leave, because taking care of an invalid old person is more than a full-time job. It becomes everything. You can’t eat your breakfast in peace, or even take your time in the toilet, because the person in your care may need your assistance immediately and if you are occupied, that person is in discomfort because of you. It’s a lot of pressure as well, and with two people taking care, at least one person can be ‘off-duty’ for a while.

Therefore, there is some level of stress on me to cover as much as possible because I don’t know when this opportunity to travel would arise again. Going to Europe from India is not easy, and for that matter, going anywhere alone is not easy. Planning is key to being secure as a solo female traveler and it is also half the fun of travel. One gets to know so much about the ‘other’ world just by research. It makes me happy and excited about places I will see and things I will do. But, I know I also have to learn  how not become a crazy person if I don’t see everything.

I know I can be obsessive and compulsive, and it’s something I’ve tried to deal with my entire life. So when I found this reddit and this comment in particular I kinda couldn’t sleep the entire night

[–]inkstom 2 points 5 years ago

1 Yes you should travel alone.

2 Have an open mind and an open agenda, if you smile, opportunities tend to fall into your lap.

3 Traveling with other people always made things more difficult when johnny wants to see the Prado, but suzy wants to go see Plaza Mayor….

4 Have fun, have sex with some strangers for free, drink and have a good time. If you’re thinking you should see every piece of art, or famous building in a city/country, you’re a tourist, not a traveler.

Now, all the first 3  points are very valid – what bugged me a lot was the last line.  I consider myself both a tourist and a traveler. I know for hardcore travelers being called a tourist is derogatory and an insult of the highest order. Because by definition, being a tourist implies traveling for pleasure, seeing only the recommended sites in the guidebooks for the sake of seeing them and saying ‘done that’, even if you have no interest in them. (Like the millions who go to Louvre just to click a picture of the Monalisa without even understanding its value or meaning – forget about even knowing what the Renaissance was – and then they go back home to say Europe is so overrated! ) Yes, tourists can be annoying, and I wish some of the mindless people were not given entry to museums, that only those with intellect and interest were allowed inside, rather than be a free for all entry for people who know nothing but might maybe learn something new on the off-chance by being there, and who are more interested in taking pictures of artwork with flashes on on their cameras, or worse, go to museums and whip out their selfie sticks! (Go on, call me elitist.)

On the other hand, being referred to as a traveller implies that your journey is not for mere pleasure, but an expansion of the mind and soul and you somehow shouldn’t worry about the great sites (‘so overrated and crowded’), but head to local spots and mingle with the people. What I don’t get is why can’t someone be both a tourist and a traveler? I love to do both – in the sense that I want to cover the major sites in the guidebooks etc and also see the lesser known sites AND see the local haunts. Therefore I tend to stay in one place longer than most tourists feel necessary.

If I don’t cover all the great art or all the great buildings, I do feel regretful. I feel I’ve left something out and I have missed the opportunity. To this day I regret not having stood in line in the heat to enter la Sagrada Familia and see it from the inside. I went to it twice and was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people. Being somewhat agoraphobic and anti-social, it scared me terribly to just be there, so I ran. But it rankles, and has been for 3 years. I am even contemplating stopping over in Barcelona in this trip just to go there and ‘cover it’! I fought this flighty feeling in Istanbul, and finally joined the throngs at the Blue Mosque the second time I went there with my heart pounding in my chest.

I guess it is ultimately a matter of interest. Traveling itself is not a priority for some people. For others it’s a way of life. Some people travel only for certain reasons. For me art and architecture are two of the most prominent reasons to travel.

-> I’m not a foodie. I am not big into experimentation with food, even at home. I never ate some basic Indian dishes like saag and baigan ka bharta because I didn’t want anything to do with them even though now they are some of my favourite foods. I refused to even try to taste them for the longest time. I am also a vegetarian, so my options for food get very limited.
-> I am not a people-person (obviously), so I don’t feel the terrible need to travel to meet new people, although I am not opposed to the thought completely – I have met some awesome people during my travels, and some of them have become good friends!
-> I’m not crazy about shopping. In fact I hate it! I know Indians who go to places like Dubai, Singapore, and Bangkok just to shop. I’ve even met people who refused to go to Japan because they heard that shopping was so expensive there. The group we went with to Uzbekistan cared only for shopping, and went crazy doing so at the three really dull shopping malls in Tashkent that we were taken to. My family took this time to visit the Museum of Fine Arts instead of shopping. And it was the highlight of our trip.
-> I have a friend who travels for metal concerts and festivals, and I am not opposed to doing that if I am going for an artist I really do care very much for, like Dream Theater, or System of a Down, or *sigh* Pearl Jam (bucket list!). I’ve been to concerts alone, and it’s much more lonely than being at a museum alone. If I had company, I’d travel for concerts and festivals where I did not even care for the artists.
-> Some people travel for nature and wildlife. I like that too, but I am not a super fit person who can trek for hours or camp alone in the wilderness. When I have company, or when I have ‘retired’ from the moh-maya of the world, I won’t say no to it. As a young-ish solo traveler of the female sex with ties still pulling her back home, I feel the need to stay in the safer comfort of civilization.

But what my heart really yearns for is story, history, herstory. This is embedded in art, architecture, museums, sites, ruins. These are the reasons that make me travel. Add my OCD to the mix, and you get someone who gets bothered by not seeing “every piece of art, or famous building in a city/country.” Plus, I am a collector by nature.

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