How to Define Travel: Which Type of Traveler Are You?
by Nora Dunn | March, 2008
What is travel? This is the eternal question. The differentiation between “tourist” and “traveler” has been made, and “travelers” frequently stick up their noses at “tourists”, while “tourists” don’t really understand what “travelers” are trying to accomplish.
The Great ‘Tourist versus Traveler’ debate aside, the world of long-term traveling isn’t as clear-cut as it may appear at first blush.
There seem to be a number of people who plant themselves in the traveler category: those who work abroad, those who take sabbaticals or longer vacations, and those who live a nomadic lifestyle. Often travelers will manage a combination of these options too.
Those who fall into this category make traveling a priority in their lives. They work like dogs at home, sometimes living like monks and saving as much money as possible. Then – off on an adventure! Six months in South America, three months in Australia and New Zealand, or a year in southeast Asia.
During that time, these travelers pack a lot into their trips. Staying in hostels most of the time and cooking meals instead of eating out, expenses are often minimized to extend the travel dollar.
Trips are generally well-planned, with enough flexibility to take advantage of unexpected side trips, changing plans to travel with new friends, and incorporating necessary down time to relax or enjoy a particular place with a good vibe.
Those Who Work Abroad
In these times of globalization, it is rare to encounter a household without the internet. Email is an accepted (and often preferred) method of communication, blogs are prolific, and many people get all their information from the web. Not to mention the ability to shop for anything, pay bills, and operate small to large businesses in cyberspace. (Heck – you’re reading this article online; I’m preaching to the choir)!
So those who have the ability to make a living without having to go into a physical office can hang their hat wherever they wish.
There are also many people who travel and work abroad by teaching (English being the most common subject, but outdoor education and a variety of other topics are gaining popularity), or by being professional tour guides, scuba dive masters, or working in the tourism industry in general.
Working abroad can get sticky in terms of taxation issues and work visas, so opportunities to get jobs in foreign countries can be limited or difficult to land. Even cyber-jobs can open up a can of worms at tax time, so before you jump on a plane to work abroad, it is prudent to consult a tax professional.
People living nomadic lifestyles take travel to new levels, and often are a combination of the two above types of travelers. There are a variety of people with different backgrounds and stories, having led them to their nomadic approach to life. Some nomads don’t even leave their own country; they simply manage to drift from job to job and city to city, and enjoy the diversity and variety of not staying in any one place for more than a short while. (These people may or may not even identify themselves as travelers).
Other nomads yet are known as “Trustafarians”; trust-children who have inherited wealth, don’t have to worry about finances, and can wander the world experiencing their own adventures.
Nomads come in many ages, shapes, and sizes, and tend to be a breed all their own. Some would say that to be a nomad is more of a state of mind than a way of life, and I agree.
So … Who is the Real Traveler?
Within these wide definitions of travelers, there can be some dissension among the ranks.
Many people who take long vacations/sabbaticals (vacationers) consider themselves to be a true breed of traveler, because they dedicate their time and energy solely to traveling when they’re on the road. They aren’t distracted by the need to earn a living, sidetracked for example by teaching English so many hours each week that they can barely lift their heads on the weekends much less see what their location has to offer. They also feel they can appreciate their trips to a larger extent than their nomadic friends, since they’re working with limited time and will dedicate all available funds to squeeze everything they can out of the trip.
Those who work abroad in turn plead their own case for being true travelers, saying you don’t know a place until you live with the locals; drinking their water, eating their food, working shoulder to shoulder, and sharing in their celebrations and tragedies. You can’t do this on a vacationer’s timeline, and nomads may not appreciate where they are if they don’t have direction to begin with.
Those who live nomadic lifestyles might preach a similar mantra as those who work abroad. Without ties to anything, they have the ultimate freedom to go where the wind takes them, allowing them to experience the full spectrum of culture – the underground, as well as what the tourist sees. Nomads who don’t have to work abroad would say that having to work saps your ability to enjoy where you are, and the vacationer misses so much for all the touristy stuff they’re packing into their trip.
What About Hybrids?
Personally I am a traveler who plants roots. I am a Professional Hobo, and my trip is one of no fixed duration and many fixed addresses. As far as the categories of traveler above, I am a combination of the “work abroad” and “nomad” traveler. I have money stashed away from my years in business so I can roam free to a point, but I also make a modest living on the internet and tend to sequester myself to work in my room no matter where I am.
To stretch my travel dollar even further, I like to trade part-time work for accommodation, in order to travel in a sustainable manner, and to allow me to take the time to live, drink, eat, and work shoulder to shoulder with locals.
Drawbacks to my choice of lifestyle have been numerous. I try to live frugally and so I don’t always do some of the touristy things a vacationer might do, which occasionally leaves me out of the loop as to some of the reasons a place is attractive to visit. I also have been known to bury my head in working away on my laptop and wonder where the week went. Between working for accommodation and working modestly for a living, some would argue that I traded one “rat race” for another.
But there are benefits to my lifestyle too. I now have friends (in some cases very good friends) from all over the world. Not only does this give me a place to stay in many desirable locations when I visit, but it is enriching to relate with people from a variety of different countries and cultures. I can also draw on the benefits of both the working traveler and the nomadic traveler, and because of the extra cash from working I can even take advantage of the odd vacationer’s extravagance.
No matter what type of traveler you are, cultural immersion, adventure, and lots of amazing stories are definite perks of having the right attitude on the road. If you are open to seeing new places, meeting new people, eating new foods, and experiencing new adventures, then no matter what your style is, you’re a Traveler in my books.
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About the Author
Nora Dunn is the The Professional Hobo, a woman who sold everything she owned (including a busy financial planning practice) in 2006 and has been travelling the world in a financially sustainable way ever since. She is an internationally published freelance writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design, with columns on Wisebread, Flight Network, and Care One. Check out her latest musings on Facebook and Twitter.