Tourist or Traveler: that’s the Question!

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Sharing about myself was never easy, even though I’m a talker. This is a story of change. Too short to call it a story, maybe a tale of change sounds better. How do our travels and our destinations change whom we are. And so I start…

Who doesn’t want to see the world? To be in all those beautiful, faraway places, and send out pictures that make everyone else jealous? But are you cut to be a tourist or a traveler?

Several years ago, when I met my partner in life, I had many dreams about traveling and visiting places shaped  by hundreds of years of history, places I’ve been inspired by, like Paris, Athens, Rome, London, or New York.

Imagine how thrilled I was when my partner told me that his biggest desire was to see the world!

How long, do you think, until we realized how different our travel styles were? Well, after a couple of short trips done in the sweet honey-moon style, we went on our first “real” vacation. During this four week trip that took us driving from Germany, to Check Republic, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and back to Germany, we clashed a few times quite badly.

The first real stop was St. Petersburg, only about 2,500 KM and 5 countries away. The plan was to spend 5 days here and then move on to Helsinki, Finland – only a 4 hour drive from St. Petersburg. To me, the highlights of this trip were the big cities and their history. I left home with my mind set on certain places I had to see. So, tourist or traveler – that’s the question.

When we entered ”the land of a thousand lakes” in Finland, spread between the cities of Kuopio to the northeast and Savonlinna to the southwest, I almost didn’t know how to open up to that kind of beauty. Wild. And they call it “a thousand lakes” only metaphorically, because there are over 187 thousand of them!

These were places I haven’t visualized on my little agenda.

One evening I went to the Finish sauna. Coming from Germany, I wasn’t surprised by anything because people there like  to sweat in the sauna naked. But the Innkeeper tells me the sauna is open in the evening from eight to nine for women and nine to ten for men… this kind of startled me, but I thought… ok. I went to the sauna at eight, only to find myself all alone in a room that could fit up to fifteen people. Apparently, I was served the tourist “Menu” as everyone else knew that the actual time to go to the sauna was nine to ten, the so called “men’s hour”. And so, on my way back to my room, a jolly group of about ten men and women were making loud jokes while going to the sauna. Oh, well.

Moving north, we crossed the border into Norway, drove past the Arctic tree line, and went all the way to Nordkapp, the last piece of land you can set foot on in Europe. Here we spent a couple of hours just gazing into the Arctic Ocean and looking at peculiar tiny flowers growing bluntly on rocks, a myriad of colors. So be honest and tell me, wouldn’t you be happy to be there right now?

But I wasn’t! Nope, not me. I was this miserable tourist, complaining about how windy and cold it was and wondering how much longer until we get to a decent coffee shop.

And that question pops in again: tourist or traveler?

A tourist’s plans for a trip include places to visit. A traveler’s plans include tips on how to stay alive. Time and again I was taken out of my comfort zone and overall, this whole trip was one cold traveler’s drop – added to my touristy garden.

When I look back at it now, I see a lot more than a charming vacation. I see a discovery journey, where we’ve learned about secluded places, tried local foods, but most importantly, discovered each other.

At the end of this trip I was still a tourist, but perhaps a better one. My partner and I continued to disagree on vacation styles until life shaped us into the travelers we’ve become. And I’ve gotten to the point where I understood why Henry Miller said that “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

What about you, are you cut to be a tourist or a traveler?

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