“I’m a traveler, not a tourist.” This is one of those annoyingly pretentious phrases that I hear now and again from fellow passport-owning, suitcase-lugging people. That distinction might make some of us feel relevant and hip, but it’s nonsense. We’re all tourists.
If you travel far enough, you inevitably find yourself in a place where you look and act differently, where your clothes are not like the clothes of the locals, where you can’t pronounce certain words properly. And that’s OK. It’s OK to look at a map in public. It’s OK to visit an overseas Chipotle if you are desperate for a burrito in a sea of pickled herring. So-called immersive travel, while an admirable endeavor in theory, is somewhat of a delusion because as much as you try to blend with a local culture, you’ll nonetheless retain the easily-identifiable characteristics of a person who’s not from here. You’ll never fully experience a destination from the perspective of a local, and you’ll never truly fit in—not even with the help of a slyly obscured Rick Steeve’s phrasebook and some European-looking shoes.
There’s this idea that the tour-group people exploring the city on Segways are the most embarrassing form of human existence. Yes, it is kind of sad that they’re wearing helmets while traveling at a speed of 5 miles per hour. But their hearts are in the right place, even if they are unintentionally clogging the bike lane. They want to have fun, see a new place, and do something a little different. That makes them kind of cool.
The Segway tourist is way more exciting and adventurous (and, dare I say, sexier?) than the person who lives in a close-minded world and never leaves his home town. There’s that statistic about how few Americans have passports: CNN says it’s 30 percent. Bearing in mind that there are clear and complex economic reasons why more U.S. citizens don’t have passports, some experts argue that many Americans just don’t want to leave the comforts of home. Bruce Bommarito, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the U.S. Travel Association, told CNN, “Americans are comfortable in their own environment.” We hold fewer passports than citizens of other Western nations like Canada (60 percent of our northern neighbors have passports) and the U.K. (75 percent). Yes, the U.S. is a gigantic country, and one could spend a lifetime traveling to new destinations within its borders. But that doesn’t negate the value of international experiences.
International travel can be dangerous. It makes us vulnerable. It requires a lot of courage. A tourist, then, is a pretty gutsy person, even when wearing a fanny pack. Or perhaps even more so when wearing a fanny pack.
So when you find yourself you’re using the XShot to take a selfie that doesn’t look like a selfie on your trip, and you start to feel kind of lame, just remember: You have more swagger than all of the people who have the means and opportunity to travel but choose, instead, to always stay home.
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