What makes a nomad a nomad? Or a backpacker a backpacker? How do you define a budget traveler?
Am I a nomad because I move around a lot, or did I give up the rights to call myself that when I got an apartment? Am I a luxury traveler because I stay in a hotel or a budget traveler because I use points to stay in them for free?
I was faced with these questions last month when asked how it felt to no longer be a nomad. I responded by saying I didn’t feel any different nor did I think the label had any special meaning. Once a traveler, always a traveler!
There are a lot of names for people who travel the world: backpackers, nomads, vagabonds, tourists, explorers, travelers.
Labels are everywhere but seem especially prevalent among travelers seeking to differentiate their style of travel. For many travelers, these labels make them feel superior over another.
Andrew Zimmerman from Bizarre Foods once said “Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.”
This quote is symbolic of the mindset that travelers are better at exploring the world than tourists. They dig deep into the culture, drink it up, and get to know a place whereas a tourist takes pictures and claims to have “done Paris.”
But that mindset is elitist travel crap.
We are all tourists.
Out on the road, backpackers love to talk about how authentic their travels are and how inauthentic tourists are. “Look at those tourists over there,” they say. They scoff at others who travel too quickly or to places they deem not off-the-beaten-path enough. And they do so from hostels while eating hamburgers and drinking beers with other travelers, an irony often lost on them.
The only way to really get to know a place deeply is to live there. If you want to live like a local, then find an apartment, get a job, commute to work, and do the same things you did back home.
We are all merely passing through a culture, getting a small taste of it before moving on to the next place. Even if we stay weeks or months, we’re just grazing the surface. In reality, we are all really just tourists.
Call yourself whatever you want – it’s all the same.
Let’s take budget travel as an example. Who defines what a budget traveler is? Though some places are more expensive than others, my average daily budget for travel is $50 per day. Sometimes I spend more, most of the time I spend less. However, to some that’s not cheap enough.
“You spent $50 a day in London? Well, I spent $30!”
“Ha, I only spent $5 dumpster diving and squatting in homes.”
There is a one-upmanship on the road about who can be a cheaper traveler, especially among backpackers. Everyone is trying to race to the bottom, thinking it makes them a better traveler. But no matter how much you spend – or don’t spend — we’re all trying to do the same thing: see the world.
Don’t label anyone and don’t let anyone label you.
Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about how you travel, where you go, or the direction you take – dumpster dive, take a cruise, be a tourist, be a traveler, take tours.
We are all tourists. We are all travelers. What we are all doing is more important than what we call ourselves.
Let’s stop labeling each other.
Because it doesn’t matter.
There is a smug superiority among travelers when they use labels. The words convey the hidden message: “I’m a better traveler than you are.”
Sure, you haven’t yet hiked Kilimanjaro, sailed in the Amazon, or traveled across Central Asia — but you might one day. Or you might not. It doesn’t matter. It’s your trip — go at your own pace, do your own thing.
I don’t care where or how you travel so long as you go, see something new, and expand your horizon. Sitting at a resort isn’t my cup of tea, but if you like it, you’re no more or less a traveler than I am.
I call myself a nomad because I like the word (and how it combines with my name). But in the end, it’s a meaningless label.
The next time someone tries to define you, just tell them, “No travel labels, please. We’re all the same! Let’s just enjoy the fact that we are simply people on the road.”
No more, no less.