The Art of Travel

I’ve been wondering over the last few days what the difference is between being a ‘traveller’ and being a regular ‘tourist’.  I confess to all you travellers out there that so far in life, I’m pretty sure I’ve fallen firmly into the ‘tourist’ camp.  Even my trek to the Himalayas was pretty much done through a very organised company, safe, with lots of back up plans (well used I might add) and emergency contact numbers.  But surely this is the sensible way to travel, no?

Boudhanath, Kathmandu.

Boudhanath, Kathmandu.

I recently did a bit of a tour of North America.  Having family there makes visiting the States easy.  I’ve been going every other summer for as long as I can remember, and always enjoyed visiting them in which ever city they were currently living in.  You could almost say I had a very spoilt travel up bringing because my summers were spent between the great America and the mystical India.  While all my friends were jetting off to Majorca or Tenerife I was heading much further afield at a much earlier age.  But somewhere along the road, they caught up and in fact succeeded in fully over taking me, leaving me well behind and puffing to even get anywhere near that finish line.  By the age of 12, I had already been to New York, Niagara Falls, Washington DC, Chicago, Urbana Champagne, Peoria, Iowa and probably more that I can’t even remember.  Now, at the age of 26 I can add San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, New York, Moneterey, Carmel by the Sea, Sonoma Valley, Bryce Canyon, Muir Woods, Yosemite, Zion and again probably more but I can’t remember.  I still have on my list The Grand Canyon (which was part of our tour but unfortunately due to snow we couldn’t go) and Boston.  I guess I’ll just have to go back and to be honest, I’m definitely heading back to Yosemite when I get the chance.

Yosemite

Yosemite

Some of these places are places where I have family and hence really enjoyed with a ‘staying with relatives’ point of view.  It was a convenient stepping stone to the likes of Disney Land and I really did enjoy those family holidays to Niagara Falls and Washington, though my memories are a little dim.  But of the places seen on my recent tour, I guess you could say although it was amazing to drop into all these great cities, the whole point wasn’t to be able to say, ‘I’ve been to such and such’, the whole point was to really enjoy and experience a place and I just don’t think you can do that when you’re only there for a day or even a few hours.  I did really wonder, during this tour, whether I’d do something like it again and after having done the whole Himalayas thing I think I would be more inclined to say no.

Everest, peaking out in the distance (middle peak)

Everest, peaking out in the distance (middle peak)

That sounds hypocritical really doesn’t it?  I mean, even the ‘whole Himalayas thing’ was done through a tour so how can I say I’m a die hard traveller when quite clearly I’m not?!  You’re right, I am faaaar from being a die hard traveller, and I know that I have a long way to go before I can come anywhere close to that.  But I still feel like something has awakened.  As if even the possibility of picking a destination, having some vague ideas of what I’d like to see and do, having a limited budget to work around and possibly even limited time and still managing to forge an adventure out of it may not be quite so far fetched.  I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m definitely keen to try.

Matrimandir, Auroville.

Matrimandir, Auroville.

Even India, my home, the place I have been frequenting on a yearly basis since well, since I was born.  A place where now, with a salary and independence, I feel the urge to visit at least twice a year.  A place which keeps calling me and like a drug I keep returning to.  A place which holds all of my past and sometimes I wonder maybe some of my future?  I have been an uncountable number of times, and yet my ‘travelling’ experiences have been limited.

An elephant, just strolling past our house.

An elephant, just strolling past our house.

But again, I lie.  My parents tried to take us to all the ‘cool sights’ but as a difficult child with a short attention span the likes of Mysore Palace, Mahabalipuram and the beautiful backwaters of Kerala were completely lost on me.  What a shame!  But now, as a fully fledged adult, I find my list growing ever larger.  Pondicherry, Amritsar, Mumbai, Bangalore (the traveller way, not the visit family way), Goa, Rajasthan.  I’m sure I could make this list longer if I tried.  And I realised, sitting here in Chennai in my Uncle’s house, that the difference between a traveller and a tourist is essentially this-It’s all in the way you see it.  That same lady selling jasmine flowers on the corner of Ganesh Temple in Pondicherry can sit on many similar corners all over South India, but if you chose to bring her into your mind as someone different and something special, she becomes a part of the traveller’s ‘experience’.  That same Marina Beach frequented by so many local Tamilians, crowded, busy, smelling of roasted something (cashew nuts?), the occasional broken glass, the groups of teenage boys, the local families on an evening out, the police women on horses acting as ‘life guards’, can be seen as part of the background noise or as something unique to a Chennai city beach, vibrant, busy, crowded, smelling of roasted something.

Marina Beach, Chennai.  Nearing sunset

Marina Beach, Chennai. Nearing sunset

We are all familiar with that phrase, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and to be travelling is much the same.  Every experience that you have can be an innocuous one or something which holds a special significance.  If you take the time to really see it and really enjoy it, perhaps then you’ll realise the difference between being a ‘traveller’ and a ‘tourist’.  Perhaps in the same way my parents find it strange that I would want to ‘travel’ around India, we too would find it strange for someone to hitchhike their way from Belfast to Enniskillen.  Experience what?  It’s just home.  But actually, if you look at it from a strangers’ perspective, a foreigner, a traveller, it’s green, it’s lush, it’s beautiful, it’s full of life, and music, and kindness, and then culture, history, the ‘Troubles’, the Titanic, The Giant’s Causeway, lakes (or lochs) and all round great people.

The Giant's Causeway, on a rare sunny day!

The Giant’s Causeway, on a rare sunny day!

I have officially decided to become a ‘traveller’.  It sounds naff I know, how can you decide to become one?!  But I’m not going to quit my regular life to do it.  Yes, I have taken a year out and hence facilitated much of the TIME to do most of the travelling I have managed to do this year, but from August my regular life starts up again and I don’t want to forget the travel part. This is the first time I have really travelled alone like this (well a moderate stint in Thailand during turbulent uni days was maybe the first, but even that was very moderated and very controlled, though no less wonderful), from Nepal to South India, to North India (pending) and back to South India (to family) but I’d like to stop off at a few places on the way.  The only hindrance is my bank balance as it’s a bit of an impromptu thought so I’ll do what I can and hopefully keep you posted along the way.

Naan, North Thailand near the Laos border

Naan, North Thailand near the Laos border

I’m purposefully not promising and purposefully not mentioning any names of places in case I don’t get to go and not only disappoint myself but also you, the reader.  I may even start a separate travel blog, I’ll see how it goes.  The list of countries I have visited so far has been few, but the list of countries yet to visit is vast.

I can’t wait to get started.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco.  One of my favourite cities in the world!

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. One of my favourite cities in the world!

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