The Intrepid Traveler

May 6, 2011

‘The worst thing about being a tourist is having other tourists recognize you as a tourist’
– Russell Baker’s quote on tourists might apply to current times, but in the era before budget air travel, people fancied being recognized as tourists. It meant they visited places—either domestic or international—to see the attractions and wonders of the world through their own eyes, They also wanted to bring back reels of film as a testimony to the trip.  Tourism remained the turf of the wealthy, mainly due to the astronomical price of foreign travel,  the need to have local contacts at tourist destinations for tips on weather, clothing, local habits, currency exchanges and often, even accommodations. The paucity of up to date information on how to get to a tourist attraction, and the difficulty in accessing that information, made travelling cumbersome, luxurious and adventurous. It took courage to leave one’s home to see a new land or region that fellow countrymen only enjoyed vicariously through books and magazines.
In the digital era, where up-to-date information is abundant and free, and a customized itinerary is the USP of every travel related website or agency; the reluctance to travel has diminished. And that, combined with no frills air travel, makes long and short distance (on short notice) travelling affordable. The flip side of this situation is that the tourist is now omnipresent.  They seem to promote and sustain an industry of cheap souvenirs, over priced cafes, fake handbags and strangely dressed men and women offering to pose for pictures as mementos (for a price). Besides, it is impossible to stand idle in any tourist spot. You would either be jostled or asked to take a picture of someone smiling from ear to ear.
These new trends have changed the shape of tourists. They are now evolved travelers. The traveler is not happy anymore to see the world through routes and “must see” items charted by another human being; instead he/she wants to be the planner, navigator and explorer—all in one and all at once. In fact, the evolved tourist (=traveler) does not care about popular tourist attractions anymore, mainly because there are so many people who have “been there, seen it and done that” They’ve already posted pictures online. The traveler strives to be iconoclastic. So they distance themselves from clichéd places and situations. They claim it’s the journey they care about and not the destination. The traveler is now on the hunt for a new and unique experience.
And to quench that thirst we have a spate of self proclaimed travelers and travel channels and magazines showcasing “1000 places to experience before you die” itineraries. The noun traveler has now become commonplace – a bromide. So the traveler needs to find a new dimension that will thrust him above the crowd again. So, what next? He evolves further to a Vagabond!
The evolved amongst the travelers of the world have now found another way to see the planet. It’s about taking time off from work and family to discover and experience life in different countries, with different people – to wander, embrace the unknown and adapt. Vagabonding is meant to be life altering in ways that you can’t imagine before you set off. Apparently one of the key differences between a traveler and vagabond is that vagabonds find ways to finance the travel during the travel itself, through work and volunteering. Phew, at least there won’t be a sudden surge of travel induced bankruptcy!
While there have always been advocates of vagabonding , travel writers like Paul Thoreaux, Rolf Potts and books/movies like Eat, Pray, Love are credited for bringing this concept mainstream.  It seems  the once seasoned traveler is now vagabonding as a way of seeking spiritual growth and finding new reference points in life—one that the average tourist is still struggling to find or doesn’t know exists. Maybe someday there will be specialists, too: Culinary vagabonds, spiritual vagabonds, adventure vagabonds!

The long hiatus in my blog is due to, well, traveling. But I had the benefit of traveling in my own country with all the accoutrement of luxury. I don’t mean liveried butlers and chauffeured cars but the luxury of knowing that I was in the backyard of my hometown, so it was far from vagabonding, far from being life altering. I spent well earned money to see and experience sights and people in my own country as an evolved person. I visited a place that will always be home, no matter where I live.
 And hey, it is not just travelers who evolve but places, too (and the people who live there).
Whichever way you pitch yourself in the travel continuum, it is always inspiring to leave the comforts of one’s home (adopted or permanent). It’s a digital detox for those who wake up to their laptops (and mobile phones) and go to bed looking at a plasma screen. Traveling teaches you some valuable lessons, including
–         Eat sensibly
–         Drink plenty of fluids
–         Expect problems and make mental contingency plans
–         Carry several copies of passport size pictures and photocopies of IDs and travel docs
–         Value that cup of tea or coffee I wake up to every morning at home.
But I knew this all along, right? Did you?
Much Love,

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