Confessions of a Miserable ‘Traveler’

Someone forgot to hide the pictures from me in FaceBook, and I was told, at last, I wasn’t invited because the other fellas said I was too ‘delicate’ and ‘touristy’ for such a cowboy-themed overnight stay, in one of Cebu’s majestic South-bound beaches.

That was two years ago and being dismissed as a ‘tourist’ still inflicts its pain up to this day.

An infographic about travelers vs tourists had gone viral a few months ago. See here.

The immediate winner, the ‘travelers,’ were having a field, as those who submissively identify as ‘tourists,’ silently scrolled past the persecution, thinking of new ways on how to post less ‘touristy’ travel pics next time, because it’s not cool.

What most people didn’t realize the post was commissioned by a tours operator to make social media noise.

And it did, with the ‘travelers,’ ironically its least target demo, acting as the most vicious promoter.

I took it personally, but not in a negative way.

After all, it’s natural for people to flatter themselves with these ‘This is me, this is what you’re not’ posts.

What’s a ‘traveler’ anyway?

In a nutshell, this is someone who seeks to experience the road less traveled in the pursuit of self-discovery going through distant lands.

At least, that’s what I wanted to say.

I noticed most people who identify as a ‘traveler’ all share this I-was-there-before-it-got-popular claim.

What kind of delusion?
For me, traveler/tourist is simply a category of how people inwardly and outwardly identify themselves after visiting a place.

To my credit, I’ve been mountaineering since 2009, island camping, backpacking for a land trip, free-diving, eating animal entrails on sticks, sleeping with the locals, white-water rafting, spelunking, pretending to like people, etc.

In short, I have all the credibility to wear the ‘I’m a traveler, bitch’ badge.

Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t.

I was a miserable ‘traveler.’

Before visiting a destination, we Google it first to validate our I-finally-get-to-experience-this-place expectations; just seeing the images alone is a bliss.

And then the process of actually getting there breaks this expectation.

The stress, the sleeplessness, the nastiness of the entire process are enough to ruin the act of appreciating.
Mother Nature is stunning, and she puts seekers into a test before showing herself to them. You have to paddle through the mud to get to the prairie, right?

But ignoring there exist an option to bypass all these tests, in order to fully appreciate and be captivated by her, is plain ignorance.

For instance, why take a 12-hour bus trip when you can book a 2-hour plane ride, enjoy the destination well-rested, and not look like someone who traveled a 12-hour bus ride?

‘Travelers’ everywhere would claim it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.

This is a myth, traveler- vs tourist-wise.

The ‘traveler’ has mistaken the result of his journey's ‘boredom’ into something philosophical and universal.

Boredom has been clinically-proven to make us find ways to be creative and imaginative, anything to kill time, especially during long trips.

The upshot of it all was boredom giving us that rare opportunity for self-awareness, self-reflection and nuanced creativity.

Remember Life of Pi’s ending? Poor bloke was revealed to be just bored to death.

To those who’re already self-aware, this is unnecessary, for they know the most legendary self-discoveries happen under Mother Nature’s stunning presence, not in the bus with someone smelly.

I can preach about this going-to-the-destination-straight for all eternity, but reality’s you-have-to-go-through-stuff-before-getting-there is much superior.

But, what if there’s another way of living your travel fantasies?

And not just by liberating yourself of the unnecessary physical exhaustion, but also of the emotional and mental hurdles associated with hardcore travelling?

What if that other way is to become a tourist? Read on.

Tourists have less pressure
Remember this picture of an elderly woman and a group of smartphone-wielding folks at an event?

The former was enjoying the event as it unfolds, while the latter tried their hardest not to tremble, recording it on their gadgets.

How the elderly woman will share the experience with her family and friends is up to her. She could be a vivid story teller, who knows?

But at a glance, she looked so much involved.

Don’t let her poised and well-mannered grin fool you, though.

Silent water runs deep, remember?

The other group, while focused on how they’ll present the event in their social networks, couldn’t wait for it to end.

The thought of sharing brings them joy, now rendering the event as a by-product.

For them, it’s always, ‘Pictures, or it didn’t happen.’

Between the two, who do you think is the tourist?

Hint: It’s the person who had the best experience in that event.

But ‘having the best experience’ is as subjective as Justin Bieber’s music.

What’s universal, though, is that things are at their best when freed from constraints, like the river rushing towards the sea; the cicadas reaching the surface after 17 years; you after a war with diarrhea.

The elderly woman, unbothered by the need to take pictures to assuage her social reach, wins as the tourist.

But you don’t need to be old and un-moist to be a free-spirited tourist.

Want proof? Look at the bespectacled Asian kid at the left.

Tourists already ‘found themselves
Mother Nature can move anyone at her best, but it won’t prolong, as the captivated human spirit eventually succumbs back to the physical containment of its mortal host; her impact's impact diminished in the person's memory.

The takeaway? For the ‘travelers,’ it’s another vague win at getting ‘high.’

And their pursuit for the next destination commences almost instantly.

The exhilarating yet equally sad cycle of always-discovering-and-finding-nothing won’t halt until something from within gets at ‘peace.’

How would I know?

I once put my happiness in the pursuit of discovery, in traveling; in being a nomad, a maverick, a whitening soap reseller, a male Julia Roberts in Eat, Love and Pray, etc.

And every time, I was left emptier than before.

After all this time, the trick was to start ‘discovering’ from within.

On the other hand, the majority of tourists come to visit places for the experience, just like the ‘travelers,’ but without taking this ‘immersing with the local vibe’ thing too intensely.

Most ‘travelers’ would dismiss them to be easily satisfied, as a result of their being just there for the experience, not for the experience experience.

But being easily satisfied may not always be a bad thing.

For instance, it is one of the characteristics that makes a child a child.

Remember when the newness of things used to bring us life back then?

You’d hear a lot of adults wishing they could be kids again, lamenting happiness’ growing elusiveness as they age.

Tourists enjoy Mother Nature in her most realistic state, without life-changing expectations or pressure for climax-level happiness.

All of this, as a result of their already finding themselves in their own meek ways, back at whatever they call ‘home.’

And that's how ‘real’ happiness from travelling works.

Travel, so you can miss ‘home.’

Tourists started as ‘travelers’
When I was a kid, every 6pm, Dad would change the channel to watch the news.

After half an hour of screaming and throwing angel figurines, I sat, exhausted, thinking why he could never appreciate the majesty that is Dragon Ball Z.

I just turned 30, and every time kids at the house screamed in a unison of rage, because SpongeBob SquarePants suddenly turned into an unattractive middle-aged news anchor, I understood why Dad acted that way with me.

Also, I realized a sad hard truth:

Cartoons were made to distract kids from totally ruining their parents’ lives.

The point is, as you mature, you veer towards simplicity even if that meant not getting the old ‘joys’ you used to enjoy, like watching Dragon Ball Z, because your energy level drops with time.

Do you know how much energy is used trying to contain the palpitation, the fear and the horror, while watching Cell finally track and absorb Androids 17 and 18?

I still sometimes get nightmares about it.

The world you’re in now has changed. At this point, you only want to get to the bottom of things. And fast.

Notice you don't see a lot of middle-aged ‘travelers’ these days?

We’re talking about those who started traveling in their early 20s, and sustaining it in their late 40s.

Maybe they got killed rock-climbing alone. Maybe they realized doing indie porn was far fulfilling. Or maybe they realized they can still enjoy travelling, without carrying their entire house like The Junk Lady in Labyrinth.
Becoming a tourist is the next natural phase of realistic discovering.

So the next time you see cocky ‘travelers’ emphasizing how they’re different from the rest of us, send them lemons.

Maybe they’re just thirsty.

“You travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie