I just finished Rolf Potts’ classic long-term travel book “Vagabonding”–I know, I know: as a longtime travel fiend, I am way behind the ball on reading this, but better late than never! In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, especially because it made me reminisce about some of my past travels. In particular, I thought about my time in Beijing when I was reading Rolf’s thoughts on the silly, long-running “traveler” vs. “tourist” debate (i.e., that tourists just check the box as they wander amongst the typical sights while travelers are more “authentic” and make an effort to get off the beaten track and meet people).
Suffice it to say that I believe that these two methods of experiencing life abroad are not mutually exclusive, and one is not necessarily better than the other. When I was in Beijing, I stayed in a lovely, small hostel in one of the city’s many winding hutongs (alleys), thus allowing me to be an off-the-beaten-path “traveler”; however, along with a friend I made at the hostel, I still made it out to see one of the most “touristy” sights on the planet: the Great Wall of China. I visited the Wall near Mutianyu, which is less crowded and farther from Beijing than the more popular Badaling (I guess I win “traveler” points?), but I could have chosen to go on a more involved hike farther afield to parts of the Wall that are even more isolated (oops, it looks like I get “tourist” demerits).
Looking back at this picture, though, makes it clear (to me, anyway) that the debate doesn’t matter. The Great Wall is spectacular, whether you see it in absolute solitude or shoulder-to-shoulder with a multitude of people. Don’t waste time trying to mold yourself to someone else’s travel philosophy; instead, figure out where you want to go, pack your bags, and take off.