The Traveler, The Tourist and Finding Purpose
I believe that there is a fine line between the “tourist” and the “traveler”, but despite their differences, all travelers must start out as tourists.
The tourist has a plan, they wish to see attractions, go to the beach, stay in hotels, take photos for social media, and are perfectly content with returning home after a week or two. While traveling, the tourist still seeks the comforts they are used to. Mind you, this lifestyle isn’t better or worse than nomadic travel or working a 9-5. It’s just different. I seek solely to compare, not criticize.
For a while, the traveler is still a tourist. We are afraid to give up our old life. Everything is new and strange. But then there is this one moment when the tourist becomes the traveler. It’s a magical eureka moment when you realize that this is your life and you are not going home. I’m not sure how else to describe it… You just feel welcome anywhere, and traveling doesn’t seem foreign anymore. Artifacts become less meaningful but people and experiences become 100 times more so. You go with the flow, living for spontaneous adventures even if they aren’t “Instagram worthy”. Sometimes a great adventure is turning a corner and finding a new food stall not seen before. You can’t stay in one place for too long, and your comfort zone is non-existent. You talk to locals, stray from the path, and learn. The life of a traveler is simple but massively rewarding.
Don’t get me wrong, this lifestyle isn’t perfect. Travelers yearn to travel for something, which the tourists already have. A reason to go. Finding yourself? Inspiring others? You are endlessly searching for a reason that what you are doing has a purpose. You long to be apart of something bigger than ourselves. Finding what this is is that eureka moment.
When it comes to the birth lottery I do think I lucked out on being a native English speaker. In our increasingly global world it gives me endless opportunities, for which I am thankful. It also gives me the opportunity to teach others what I know, which is a way of giving back to say thank you. For many kids, knowing English is the difference between living below the poverty line and far above it. And that is what I have been doing for the past few weeks. It feels empowering to be able to share knowledge, or at least inspire kids to want to learn. Teaching is that thing that gives purpose to my travels. It is what I feel has switched my mindset from tourist to traveler after being on the road for six months now.
I have been living in a small province in northern Thailand called Uttaradit. Many if not most of the kids here have never even seen foreigners before. My experience in this small but warm community was amazing. Being a teacher gave me a place in the community which made my experience so much more memorable.
Everyone was beyond welcoming. People who knew only a few words of English stopped what they were doing to talk to me or say hello. Happy kids leaned outside the windows of their school buses to wave hello. Countless locals stopped on the side of the road to ask if I was lost or offered a ride. The cheerful ladies at the 7-11 smiled in genuine thanks when I learned to say ‘how are you’ in Thai. Even the security guard at the supermarket became my friend. The kindness of complete strangers was unbelievable, and after a little while they no longer seemed like strangers, but like friends.
I discovered places far off the tourist track. The taste of fresh mango sticky rice, dumplings from 7-11, the spiciest noodles a restaurant overlooking the river, even the simple joy of getting lost in miles of rice paddies as the sun began to set.
I may have only taught the kids a little English, but in return, they taught me kindness, confidence, determination, and respect for everyone. In the future, I do hope to make teaching English a part of my life. We leave in a few days for some new adventures but our experiences in Uttaradit will not be forgotten.
Get out there, find your eureka moment, and as always happy travels. 🙂 xx -Iz