My Kind of Travel
By James Michael Dorsey
Most of us have been or will be tourists
at one time or another. Some of us will venture on to become
travelers, while fewer still will become explorers.
Many people draw no distinction between
the three, but as one who has wandered the earth for four
decades, I can speak with some authority regarding the differences—none
any better or worse than the other, but each with unique
nuances. The differences can only be drawn by the intensity
with which we travel.
So in an age where an electronic screen
can take us anywhere in the world instantaneously, why leave
home in the first place? The answer is that until you take
in the sensory experience of the unique sounds, tastes,
smells, images, and imperfections that define a destination,
you only perceive a flat facsimile of a 3-dimensional world.
You must physically visit, look people in the eye, shake
their hands, and respectfully ask, "I want to learn
about your life." No guidebook or web search can approximate
such direct experience.
Most people first leave home as tourists,
be it for a weekend getaway or a prolonged vacation. Tourism
can be a respite and refuge from the daily repetition of
the 9-to-5 world; getting away from it all to “recharge
the batteries,” as my dad used to say. For some, it is a
necessary escape from the daily pressures of modern life.
Tours are a popular and good idea for
those who have limited time. However, most are by definition
hit and run visits to some very special places. Unless you
can afford a private guide, you can look forward to 10 minutes
to appreciate what you came to see before being herded into
an overpriced trinket shop. If you want to spend extra time
at a location, it is often impossible, as a schedule must
be maintained and the demands of the group frequently supersede
the wishes of the individual. On a tour you are at the mercy
of multiple distinct personalities, like them or not. If
you are traveling alone on a tour, you must often pay an
exorbitant single supplement.
On the plus side of such forms of tourism,
they do take people out of their everyday comfort zones
and present new challenges. Even with the inherent restrictions,
tourism is a doorway to expansion and learning, especially
smaller tours or tours that offer a bit of time for independent
I was a tourist for many years, grabbing
my 2-week vacations whenever I could, but the more I took
the more I wanted to see behind the surface veneer. That
is when I became a traveler. So where are the dividing lines?
The esteemed travel writer Paul Thoreau
has been attributed with the following grandiose statement,
“Tourists don’t know where they have been and travelers
don’t know where they are going.” While on the surface,
it might sound as though Mr. Thoreau is looking down his
nose at tourists, he is actually spot on about travelers.
I would modify his statement to say, “Tourists travel to
escape while travelers go to learn.” For a traveler, the
journey is as important as the destination, if not more
so. Being a traveler means to be in the place and moment,
wherever that may be. Travelers seek immersion in the culture,
language, food, transportation, customs, and ceremonies.
They seek to meet and engage people directly, and for those
who have it, spend as much time as possible during their
journey. Contact with a local is a better entree to a culture
than any guidebook, and invitations to their homes are treasures.
Finally, if travelers end up sleeping in a grungy hotel
and eating stale food, they are all right with that because
they travel humbly to gain knowledge and experience. Greater
luxury is an option when returning home.
My preferred type of travel is exploration.
In my view, that means going where no one else has gone,
be it a physical location or conversation with a local.
Exploration doesn’t have to be dangerous or even physically
demanding, but it does require stepping off-the-beaten path.
When you make a concerted effort to see what has not been
seen, you return richer in experience. Personally, the most
important part of a trip is what I bring home in my soul;
being the first outsider to shake a tribal hand, or knowing
you are the only person watching the sunrise from the summit
of a ruined temple. No electronic screen can duplicate the
thrill of entering a Maasai hut or floating over Bagan in
a hot air balloon. Such moments cannot even be defined by
words; they must be experienced.
I may never know exactly why I am here
on this earth, but consciousness is a gift not to be squandered,
and attempting to learn my place in the story of humanity
strikes me as a noble quest. My own place can only be found
by comparing it to others I meet along the way. The further
I go off-the-beaten path, the more I learn about how the
majority of people on earth actually live. The more people
I meet, the more I define myself as a global citizen.
I am blessed to be an explorer and to
make a living writing about my travels, but the finest part
of such experiences can be summed up by a great explorer
in the world of art, Pablo Picasso. The artist wrote, “The
meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life
is to give it away.” Nothing makes me happier in my travels
than to bring the remote world back to those who have not
yet set on eyes on such locations, through the medium of
Remote travel is not for everyone, but
some form of travel, no matter how limited, should be, in
my view. Who knows? You may even find that you like sleeping
on the ground in a mud hut.
The bottom line: If you are able to,
there is no finer educational experience than to venture
out to see the world for yourself.