Home. Transitions Abroad founded 1977.  
Travel Work Living Teach Intern Volunteer Study Language High School

James Michael Dorsey

Contributing Editor for Adventure Travel and Cultural Exploration for

Author James Michael Dorsey.
James Michael Dorsey

James Michael Dorsey's Articles for Transitions Abroad

Adventure Travel with Tuaregs in Mali. Among the Blue Men: Travel, Ritual, and Adventure with a Tuareg Nomadic Tribe in Mali
A whale off of San Ignacio, Mexico. The Whale Keepers of San Ignacio, Mexico
Climbing Kilimanjaro in Kenya.

Listening to the Silence: Climbing Kilimanjaro and Encounting a Maasai Elder in Kenya

With Maasia tribe Elder Marcus and community. Walking with Markus
Hadzabe: Early mankind in Tanzania. The Hadzabe of Tanzania: Visiting My Own Ancestors
Mekong river in Cambodia. Life on the Mekong River
Genghis Khan shrine in China. The Spirit of Genghis Khan: The Stone Monoliths of Kanas, China
An exorcism in Burkino Faso. The Accidental Spirit: Experiencing an Exorcism in Burkina Faso, West Africa
Haida Totems in Canada. The Haida Monumental Totem Poles
Monk in Myanmar Jungle Karma: How a Blind Musician in Cambodia Taught Me to See
In Myanmar on a motorbike. Going in Circles in Myanmar
Bagan, a sacred city in Myanmar. Sacred Bagan, Myanmar, Rising 
Volcano near Antigua, Guatemala. Antigua: The Soul of Guatemala 

James Michael Dorsey is an award-winning author, photographer, and lecturer, who has traveled extensively through more than 50 countries.

Dorsey is a contributor to Transitions Abroad and has also written for Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, BBC Wildlife, Smithsonian Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Perceptive Travel, Colliers, and Natural History. He writes for African magazines and is a travel consultant to Brown & Hudson of London, and correspondent for Camerapix International.

He was won numerous travel writing awards, including the Transitions Abroad Narrative Travel Writing Contest.

His books include:

The Lagoon, Encounters With The Whales Of San Ignacio

Vanishing Tales from Ancient Trails

Baboons for Lunch and Other Sordid Adventures

are available on all major bookseller websites.

My Kind of Travel

By James Michael Dorsey

Most of us have been or will be tourists at one time or another. Some will venture on to become travelers, while fewer will become explorers.

Many people make no distinction between the three. Still, 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, whether 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 extraordinary 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. Imagine you want to spend extra time at a location. In that case, it is often impossible, as a schedule must be maintained, and the group's demands frequently supersede the individual's wishes. On a tour, you are at the mercy of multiple distinct personalities, like them or not. If traveling alone on a tour, you must often pay an exorbitant single supplement.

On the plus side, such forms of tourism do take people out of their everyday comfort zones and present new challenges. Despite the inherent restrictions, tourism is a doorway to expansion and learning, especially smaller tours or tours that offer some time for independent exploration. 

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 those who have it spend as much time as possible during their journey. Contact with a local is a better entree to culture than any guidebook, and invitations to their homes are treasures. Finally, suppose travelers sleep in a filthy hotel and eat stale food. In that case, they are all right because they travel humbly to gain knowledge and experience. More lavish luxury is an option when returning home.

My preferred type of travel is exploration. That means going where no one else has gone, be it a physical location or a 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 essential 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. Words cannot even define such moments; they must be experienced.

I may never know precisely why I am here on this earth. Regardless, 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. Yet, 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 bringing the remote world back to those who have yet to set eyes on such locations through the medium of my stories.

Remote travel is not for everyone, but some form of travel, no matter how limited, should be. Who knows? You may even find that you like sleeping on the ground in a mud hut.

The bottom line: If you can, there is no finer educational experience than to venture out to see the world yourself.

About Us  
Contact Us  
© 1997-2024 Transitions Abroad Publishing, Inc.
Privacy Policy Cookie Policy Terms and Conditions California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) Opt-Out IconYour Privacy Choices Notice at Collection [an error occurred while processing this directive]