What makes you a traveler? Not always such an easy question to answer.
The longer I travel, the more confused I have become about what “travel” is, and what makes you a “traveler”. And depending on who you talk to, it can be quite a touchy subject, full of egotism and insecurity.
Here are a few profiles of people (or groups of people) who call themselves travelers. Do you agree with them?
This post was originally published in 2010. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
Travels for Her Job
Leanna works for the US Military. As such, she has traveled and lived all over the US, Europe, and Korea, and has been doing so for the last 16 years.
Lives Around the World Picking up Odd Jobs
Kyle left Canada 18 years ago, and has wandered the world ever since. He’s lived in some places for years, some for months, and some for just weeks. He works his way around the world (mostly doing bicycle courier work), and in response to my tag name of “The Professional Hobo”, he likes to call himself “The Reluctant Nomad”.
Lives in Monasteries
Samuel grew up in New Caledonia, and after studying in France for a few years, took up a meditation practice that has led him to a variety of countries over the last three years, including India, New Zealand, and Spain. He makes ends meet along the way by volunteering in trade for accommodation or finding work as he goes.
Lives in an RV, Relocates Every Year
Kim and her partner John are originally from New Zealand, but have spent the greater part of the last 10 years in Australia. They travel and live in a large bus, and when they tire of living and working in one place (usually after a year or so), they move on to a new town.
Then there’s the wider contingent of people who take vacations. Regardless of those hard-core “travelers” who suggest that tourists aren’t travelers, they are. A tourist is defined as “somebody who travels for pleasure”, so they’re in the club too.
Backpackers who take sabbaticals, gap years, or round-the-world trips. It’s often the people who travel in these circles who consider themselves the “elite” of the world of travelers, citing feats such as “getting off the beaten path” as being travel stripe-earning accomplishments.
Expats, who have uprooted their lives to live in an unfamiliar place, usually for a career opportunity. Inside this group is a further sub-culture of ex-pats who have embraced the concept to the extent that they like to move to a new place every few months or years.
Many of the people described above might fit the definition of migrants better than travelers. (A migrant is defined as somebody who moves from place to place wholeheartedly, living and working there).
But are migrants also travelers?
Travel is such a multi-dimensional term that the more you think about it, the broader its definition seems to become. In its most basic sense, simply the act of going anywhere is traveling. Heck – you even travel to the grocery store.
Instead of trying to define an act or methodology that typifies travel and quantifies travelers, I wonder if we’re slicing it the wrong way. What if instead, we make travel about the intangible results you get from performing the act of traveling?
I would suggest that all of the traveler profiles above could fit comfortably under the following definition of travel:
Travel is an experience that changes you and your perspective.
Without actually traveling (even in its most basic sense), you’re not likely to be exposed to the different influences of the world that would change you and your perspective. And I’d wager that everybody described above can attest to the growth and perspective gained by virtue of being on the road.
What do you think quantifies a traveler? Are any of the people described above NOT travelers?
15 thoughts on “What Makes You a Traveler?”
All of these people are travelers. In fact, I think anyone who makes the conscious effort to explore a place they are not familiar with – a place that is somewhere other than their own living rooms and backyards – is a traveler. Yes, this means staycations, cruises and all-inclusives count. I don’t know why people go to so much effort to define and pigeonhole travelers, putting those who visit by tour bus or cruise ship in some sort of “pseudo-traveler” category. I give kudos to anyone who makes an effort to get out their front door; traveling in any sort of fashion – out of a backpack, from the comfort of an air conditioned bus, whatever – is still traveling, and, in my mind, that’s better than not traveling at all.
I fall into category 7 – living in South Korea since March of 2008 while finding a new place / event / festival every single week. I teach English to pay the bills (a decent way to make a living) and travel to enjoy life.
The question of ‘where do you go from there?’ is a persistent one. The thought of ‘well, you’ve traveled – now it’s time to settle down’ never resonated with me or anyone else that actually traveled… What DO you do next? I can’t see myself ever going back to a 9-5 type job, never getting to travel again…
in response to Joanna’s comment…I don’t think I, personally, go to any great length or effort to define or pigeonhole travellers. In fact, I think it’s fairly easy.
And the reason some people take umbrage to the all inclusives and the bus tourists is because of a sense of pride. For many of these people, their only sense of pride comes from the travel they’ve undertaken, and to be lumped in amongst the package tourists takes away from that. It’s like someone taking a helicopter ride to Everest Base Camp, and someone trekking there. Sure, they both have arrived at the same place and are seeing the same thing, but one is not the other by a longshot.
Someone greater than me once wrote, ‘It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.’
As far as where I fit on the totem pole? I’m a wanderer, not a traveller. (A mover, not a shaker?)
While I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the Post, I must observe the concluding definition is severely incorrect. “an experience that changes you and your perspective” would be getting cancer, having a loved one die, or birthing a child! Most travel is enjoyably mundane compared with things that can happen in your own house.
“Wherever you go, there you are”, is one of my favorite travel quotes. The most dramatic experiences take place within oneself; travel is lauded for encouraging that, but sometimes it’s the opposite, providing an escape from facing your issues.
“Travel” means physically going to a different location; a traveller is anyone doing that. Since the definition is so inclusive, sub-definitions necessarily have evolved: “backpacker”, “tourist”, “nomad”, etc; these are all good (and all subject to interpretation.
My favorite sub-category is “Hobo”, proudly defined by Utah Phillips:
A Hobo is a person that travels to work.
A tramp is a person that travels and won’t work.
A bum is a person that will neither travel or work.
Wow – what thoughtful responses!
I agree with @JoAnna in that people who simply leave their front door should be given kudos, because for some people that’s half the battle, and represents a push beyond narrower comfort zones than what other more intrepid travelers might have.
And once you hit the road for a while, like @Chris, I can’t fathom going back to 9-5!
@Homeless Jetsetters Club – Thanks for weighing in! I agree that the means makes a difference, and no two “Base Camp” missions can be viewed the same for that reason. But why do you label yourself a wanderer instead of a traveler, and what does the difference mean to you?
@Buzz – Again, you must define “travel” before going so far to say it’s enjoyably mundane in comparison to your other examples, which as life events – will of course chance you and your perspective. Some types of travel can be considerably transformative (if we allow it to be so).
And I like that definition of Hobo too! 🙂
Travel is what I do when my wife gets tired—understandably—of listening to me and tells me to get the hell out of the house and go somewhere…anywhere.
I do have one “rule” about what travel is, and a couple of the earlier comments hinted at it: travel begins as soon as you leave your front door, and NOT when you arrive at some predetermined destination.
You can put that down as Rule No. 1 over here at Sand Dollar Adventures.
I think my idea of travel is more related to how far you are from home (the corner shop doesn’t count).
But then the definition of travel is dependent on your definition of home. I would tend to categorise:
– ‘tourists’ as people away from home for less than four weeks (standard leave allowance here).
– Travellers as people away from home for longer than that. And
– ‘real’ nomads as ones who don’t really have a concept of home any more, or consider their whole world as home.
A body at rest tends to stay at rest.
A body in motion tends to stay in motion.
@Wannabe – Indeed, the journey is at least half the fun! But I also agree with @kazari in that a trip to the corner store, although it technically fits the “travel” definition, might be a touch light.
@kazari – I’m still resistant to the idea that tourists aren’t travellers. What are tourists doing, if not traveling?
Having said that, the definition of home is a great way to define different types of travelers. As a hobo, I guess I fit into the nomad category…
@lostinthewoods – The laws of perpetual motion; I never thought of applying them to travel! 🙂
The word “travel” has a broad definition, and it doesn’t require a simplified one. As long as you’re happy traveling in the fashion that you do it doesn’t matter how other people view your travel style. All catagorizing travel styles does is expose any bias in the one who catagorizes.
Hey Nora…thought I’d drop a line. You crossed my mind the other day and I opened your website for the first time in quite a long time.
Sorry to read about your break up with Kelly Nora. Shit happens when you’re on the road I suppose.
It’s good to read that your still happy through it all. I hope that it continues for you.
@Steve – Thanks for checking in! Great to hear from you. I’ve wondered how you’ve been doing lately.
And I would tend to agree: those who are the most adamant about who “real travelers” are, are probably a little misguided and biased towards their own preferences.
Hello Nora, I discovered your blog this morning and am delighted! You are talking about things and situations that are ever so familiar!
Really enjoyed this post and follow-up discussion. Here’s a question…what to call people who fit more than one of the profiles. Are they the “real travelers”? Of just confused ones? I ask because I’m one one of them; an air force brat (TR.1) who did the TR.6 thing in Europe after university, married a kibutznik and was a TR.7 for few years. We traveled and worked in Australia/Asia for over a year (TR.6 again), emigrated back to Canada and, when the relationship ended a few years later, I could only manage shorter TR.5 trips (rescued Leatherback Sea Turtles in Costa Rica and walked the Camino de Santiago). I was finally able to create a 4 year job for myself in Greece (TR.7) and am now trying to arrange work in India for a year (hmmm, subcategory TR.7?). Did one type of travel change my life more than another? I have always maintained that growing up in the nomadic lifestyle of the Air Force set the pattern but neither of my brothers have been filled with the same burning desire to not just visit but experience as much of the world as possible. The tourist trips were often the stimuli for seeking the means and way for an extended return to a place so do indeed have “life changing” attributes.
I look forward to reading more of your articles.
Hi SGG – Great perspective! You’ve certainly tackled the “travel” game from many angles, and as such, you’ve got it! Tourist traps or not, travel is the act of getting “out there” beyond your comfort zones and geographical boundaries and engaging with a different world. And you’ve been able to do this on a number of levels.
I think this is a pretty exhaustive list. I am #5 and #7, trying to become more of #7
Indeed this is an exhaustive list, but even on re-reading this old post, I can think of a few more definitions of travelers!