Whether your getaways consist of a week jaunt to the “Island du Jour”, a “no hold barred” -“All Access” trip to Europe, or vagabonding through SE Asia, there’s no avoiding the fact that you’ll spend at least some of your time in Touristy areas; airports, hotels, buses, train stations, historical sites, nature preserves, parks, monuments, major city centers, beaches or any place travelers congregate en mass.
How you interact with the locals will determine whether you are just a Tourist or truly a Traveler. Often you can’t help but interact with those who are trying just to make a buck. Be they taxi drivers, shopkeepers, wait persons, hotel clerks, or local vendors hawking their wares, sometimes everyone wants a little piece of you. Tourists will do one of two things, generally; get angry and rude or buy something out of pity. Travelers know the importance of goodwill and recognize that in third world countries, most people exist on very little. When these folks look at us, they literally see dollar signs over our heads. We, who can afford to travel so far from home and just for fun!
The major difference between Tourists and Travelers can be found in how we interact with people outside of the hustle and bustle of the regular Tourists spots. Locals are usually more than happy to help new arrivals discover their homeland. Most take a genuine interest in you, if not your money, and will often offer up their own beds as their only way to show you their hospitality.
In our travels throughout Central America and Mexico, we found locals everywhere who were more than willing to help us explore their country, city or area. While anchored in what the locals refer to as the “Costa del Sol” of El Salvador, we befriended a taxi driver. Jose, an unemployed accountant, was one of the only cabbies who would make the long drive out to the Bahia from San Salvador to pick up cruisers and take them into the city to shop. Since we based out of Bahia del Sol for many months, we often called upon Jose to take us into town to find engine parts and provisions. Jose was good at recognizing a need and filling it. He found the best places in town for everything a cruiser needed and if he didn’t know where to find something, he asked around until he located it. He introduced us to folks who we might have never met, but whom we enjoyed enormously.
We rewarded Jose each and every trip, sometimes buying him lunch, other times practicing his English (and our Spanish!) and even singing along on the ride home to his favorite Beatles songs! You can contact Jose Antonio Osorio Canales via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell him “SAGA” referred you! View Google Map
Often, as travelers, we find ourselves in a completely new and different culture and have to observe, in order to see for ourselves, how to either conform or more importantly, how not to offend. If 0ne does not take the time to understand cultural distinctions or mores, one can easily be offensive without being aware of the offense. Traveler on the other hand want to learn.
On a recent FAM trip through the Adriatic, our ship docked at Kotor, Montenegro. We had never been to Montenegro before and had only been in the Baltic for a few days. We passed on the guided tour offered by the Star Clippers and instead opted to go ashore and discover what we could in the time allotted – one day! Once we had stepped off the tender and past the port gates we were hounded by a throng of taxi drivers and tour vans, each vying for our attention and dollars. We shook our heads “no” and politely refused, walking past all of them. When they had all descended on the next group of likely tourists, we paused and discussed the possibility of hiring someone for a short tour. We both noticed one driver, who unlike the others, had kept to himself and didn’t accost us. We walked right up to him and asked him how much he would charge us for driving around for a few hours. He knew right away, why we had picked him. “You noticed that I did not harass you, yes?” he asked in excellent English. “I never do that,” he continued, “I think it’s rude.” We agreed and shook hands, agreeing also on his price.
Marco, it turned out, was a well-educated business man who was raised in Kotor. Besides driving a taxi and being an independent tour guide, he also works in a travel agency. At just 35, he owns his house plus two apartments, thereby supporting his wife, two kids (and one on the way), his mother and a few cousins. Like so many around the globe, he told us that almost everyone he knows has a family member working in the U.S. who are sending money back home. He was a wealth of information about the politico/socio-economic situation facing Montenegro today. On our drive from Kotor to Boduva and back, Marco shared his views on the region.
“Most of the current leaders in Bosnia (their poorer neighbor to the south) are from Montenegro. Both their past Presidents were Montenegrin and Generals in the Army.” We asked him about the very tough times during the Serbo-Croatian wars and all the upheavals in the region.
“We were all friends for about 20 years and then suddenly we are enemies. I fought on opposite sides from my best friend and neighbor. But we had an understanding and never had to resort to violence.” Of course, now we must abide by the laws of the E.U. and hope for the possibility that there will be no more wars. But just in case, I still keep a Kalashnikov rifle hidden in my house in the village to protect my family.”
He told us about how the Russians (mostly Mafia money) is changing Kotor and the rest of the region. “They come with huge amounts of cash and buy up who blocks to build new hotels and big business developments. Russians don’t even need a visa to enter Montenegro,” said Marco as he was pointing out projects in various states of construction.
As travelers we enjoy this type of interaction. We love learning about an area while we tour its ruins or landmarks. “Vagabonder,” cultural guest or just traveler, we all have to learn how to pay back what you’ve received or pay it forward, by helping out the next traveler.
And that’s the true distinction between a Tourist and a Traveler.