As Danielle mentioned in her recent post, Giant’s Causeway and Northern Ireland Day Trip, we’re transitioning from tourists to travelers (TTT). I want to go into greater detail of what that transition means to me.
First of all, you should know my goal is to convince you to travel. Now, if all you’re interested in is tourism, then you should be confident that decision is wonderful and continue to do you, baby! Go someplace you think spectacular and breathe the air from a different district in the world–even if it is only a few hours away for a short few days.
However, if you’re reading this, then you’re at least considering travel. Or you’re bored. Or if you’re bored and like snapping photos.
When reflecting on going TTT, we need to ponder more than just the day to day differences. Sure, Danielle and I now utilize laundromats with everything in a different language, we cook with new kitchenware every week at every location, and we adapt to new train schedules and currencies along the way. Don’t know about you, but I don’t typically cook or do laundry when on vacation for only a long weekend. But now we’re living on the road. So we use google translate to find “spin cycle” on that washer and do this when we don’t have lids for our pans:
Inescapably, I seem to fall into the same rut when talking about traveling. I begin by confirming your beliefs travel isn’t a pipe dream (like the picture above), and then I follow that up with lyrical prose praising the wonders of travel (But you can see this gorgeous location and eat this delicious food [Insert pictures of gorgeousness and deliciousness]). And then I conclude with a convincing narrative on how much traveling is worth. In the end, I back myself into the role of a swindler. A seedy back alley salesman with slicked-back hair and a nasal voice selling you some lemon you didn’t even ask for.
A change of tactics is in order. So here goes:
When was the last time you wiggled your toes? When was the last time you whistled tunelessly? When was the last time you curled your tongue into a different shape just to see if you could?
Try it now.
What do you feel? Do you remember doing it before? How long has it been?
I don’t know about you, but it’s been a while for me. Possibly decades. Once, I practiced whistling. Once, I stuck my feet in the sand and wiggled just to see what it was like. As a kid, I saw the world and experienced things for the first time. We all did. We were feverish for answers to an endless array of questions. What’s that do? Does that hurt? How far can I throw this? Dare me to taste that?
But we get older. Wiggling our toes isn’t important or new or satisfying anymore, so we stop doing the things that were once upon a time amazing to us. And, on some levels, we have to grow up. We have to realize what it takes to bring home the bacon, to afford to watch Netflix & Chill, to live up to expectations, to be different without being unique and to be unique without being different.
And as we age, we become consumed with unanswerable questions. We no longer need to wiggle our toes or heft a rock or smell sap. We know what to expect. What we don’t know, is what we don’t know. Will she like me? What happens after we die? What’s that person thinking? Is that safe? Will this pain pass or is it worth an appointment? What’s in the dark? What’s over that hill?
Certainly, traveling and the unknown are intertwined. And it’s not a stretch fear follows that logic quickly. The fear of violence. The fear of being an American abroad. The fear of food poisoning and “don’t drink the water” and viruses. The fear of terrorism. The fear of what’s over that hill. What is through those trees in a graveyard?
I’m not immune. In fact, fear is constantly on my mind. We play smart, by not staying out too late in the evenings and try keeping to more populated areas. We split money up evenly between us in case something happens. We make sure at least one of us has their phone on them in case something happens.
I even find myself letting Danielle go into a grocery store or a restaurant first. I hold the door and gesture her through in a gentlemanly fashion. At the very least, I’m a clever coward. This doesn’t happen because of some weird sense of imminent violence, but because of insecurity. I want her to handle the first communication. I’m nervous about looking the fool with my horrible accent and lack of proper etiquette. She seems to handle this type of pressure with uncommon grace. And I strive to learn from her.
But in the meantime, I face this fear with a mask. I wear a relaxed, friendly expression on my face and speak softly when around others. I try to show the world a polite, kind, quiet, accepting, open, non-policing American.
Is that me? Or at the very least, is that ALL of me?
Back in the States (which is fun to say, btw), who was I trying to be then? When I was at work what kind of a mask did I wear? When visiting my family at Thanksgiving, most of whom I see only once a year, what kind of person did I want them to encounter?
You see, the conclusion, I’ve found, between a tourist and a traveler is I’m here long enough for them to see me and for me to see them. A tourist needs the courage to face the brief unknown. A traveler must do so continually.
We go to the grocery store and checkout with the same clerk. We walk daily in our neighborhood so it isn’t rare for us to bump repeatedly into the same locals. We nod to them. They nod to us. We recognize them. They recognize us. Being a traveler forces you to participate whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. It forces you to interact with a world you don’t quite understand whether you like it or not.
Just like when you were a kid.
Bottom line: transitioning TTT has made me wiggle my toes. Sure, it’s scary. I might be bitten by something I’ve never seen before and get sick from it. I might be in pain from something I couldn’t control. I might not understand what someone is saying to me and why.
[Swindler Alert] And yet, the other day I noted the call of a bird I’ve never heard before. Danielle and I keep passing the trees below in Europe that looked fake until we touched it. I’ve walked on roads that have existed for a thousand years. I’m about to go buy a fruit I don’t know the name of from a vendor who doesn’t speak English. But he smiles at me and so I smile back.
I honestly don’t know where to go from here. Ten more months of newness, I suppose. At least. There’s more to see and touch and an endless amount of questions to answer.
We’ll see what the adult in me can handle and the kid in me can learn.
Who’s up for going TTT?
It’s so much fun to be a traveler. I love that you are experiencing this, Jake. And maybe you’ll be the first one to speak in the near future…I have faith in you!