“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.” I love this quote by Paul Theroux. Sometimes the simplest quotes can make the most sense, and inspire thought or conversation.
I have travelled a fair amount. When you get bitten by the travel bug, it is like being infected by Malaria – it is in you forever, resurfacing every so often, when you least expect it, never leaving your system. Like some childhood illnesses, some people think that they can ‘out grow’ the travel bug, but this is seldom the case. You reach a stage in your life, where you settle down, do the responsible thing and suppress all thoughts of adventure to the back of your mind. You begin working a regular 9-5 job, start paying off a mortgage, and regulate the travelling to the annual two weeks away, hopefully abroad if the finances allow. But, somewhere, later in life, that itching feeling will again make its way to the surface, and you will find a way to see another small corner of the world.
I think that the travel bug is genetic too – passed down to the next generation. Some people find that they have to curb their wanderlust when children arrive on the scene. I don’t feel this is the case at all. Children make great travellers if they are given the chance, as they don’t have preconceived ideas or expectations, and with no inhibitions, they see life as one big adventure. A child is going to learn as much on a trip abroad as they will in the classroom, so with a little planning, there is no reason why a child can’t miss a bit of school to explore a new place.
It is this sense of adventure and itch to travel that brought us to Thailand, first on holiday, and later as residents. Once you have children, the way in which you travel changes. We cannot just travel on a whim, as children do need a sense of ‘base camp’. Living in South Africa allowed us to explore a bit or Southern African and the Indian Ocean Islands. Hopefully from Samui, we will be able to explore South East Asia, and experience cultures that are diverse and very different from the African way.
Deciding to become a traveller, rather than a tourist means changing your mindset. When arriving at a new destination, you need to look deeper. Tourists only experience the surface of a place. They only see what the tourism board wants them to see, in a surreal kind of way, never experiencing the soul of a place. Travellers make the effort to meet the locals, and for the duration of their stay, live like a local. A tourist would never stop off at a roadside diner, frequented by locals, or buy a meal from a street vendor, preferring to go to a swanky hotel restaurant, recommended by their tour operator. In doing so, they probably miss out on the best meals that they could have on their trip.
Tourists will drive the Ring Road, and perhaps venture onto the 4170 to Bang Rak and Choeng Mon. A traveller will turn down every dirt road, in the hope of finding something or someone, to make their trip memorable. Some of Samui’s best beaches are completely off the beaten track, and perhaps it’s best that most tourists don’t discover them. However, I do get frustrated when I ask a holiday maker how they have enjoyed their trip, only to hear the same old tales of where they have been and what they have done. I want to shake them, and challenge their sense of adventure! The thought that someone’s only picture of Samui is what they would find on a brochure is frustrating, and gives me the inspiration to write a book – Samui - off the beaten track. In saying that, a tourist wouldn’t buy it – only a traveller would.
Some of the expats that I have met, truly fit the profile of traveller – completely immersing themselves into their new society, learning the lingo, eating the food and socialising with Thai people. Some on the other hand, although living here, almost live a parallel life to the locals. They may live here, but they don’t do anything a local would, so to them expat living is in fact just an extended holiday as a tourist.
I challenge holiday makers and expats alike: become a traveller, not a tourist. As said by American author, James Michener, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”
© Rosanne Turner