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The Differences Between Going Abroad as a Tourist, a Backpacker, or a Traveler

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Traveling and seeing the world for oneself, is, without a doubt, one of the most important experiences a person can have.

A journey to foreign lands and interacting with new, unfamiliar people can open one to greater possibilities and awaken personal potential. Travelling has the effect of breaking down barriers and dissolving cultural divides, built, unknowingly, through years of absorbing the norms of a single culture. Time spent abroad allows one to shed personal prejudice and relate to others at a deeper, more human level.

What cannot be denied, however, is that people can travel to the same part of the world and have entirely disparate experiences. The difference can be traced to how the individual sees him or herself in terms of their journey. Do they identify themselves as a Tourist, a Backpacker, or a Traveler?

  • Tourists tend to participate in organized excursions–week-long packaged tours in comfy hotels and the like–and focus primarily on personal comfort and safety.
  • Backpackers typically stay in hostels and travel for a month or two on a budget, making an attempt to immerse themselves in local culture.
  • Travelers usually roam indefinitely with no real plan, doing their best to push the envelope in order to create stories that they can think back upon through their old age… provided they survive the experience.

The following are three examples of how these self-imposed labels have personally defined my experiences abroad.

1. France

As a Tourist

Stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast, Maison de l’odeur corporelle, on Rue Saint Honore’. Spent an educational afternoon at the Louvre and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Took some wonderful landscape photos from the Eiffel Tower.

As a Backpacker

Hitchhiked north from Marseille and made extra money for two weeks picking grapes in Bordeaux. Caught a ride to Biarritz, slept on the beach, and spent the days surfing and reading Gustav Flaubert.

As a Traveler

Robbed a bank in Marseille for shits and giggles, bought a tour bus, stocked it with 12 ounces of amphetamines, and drove north to Paris nude, along with the French all-girl R&B group Les Nubians.

Set up headquarters at Jim Morrison’s grave, sold acid, and gave face tattoos. On a dare, attempted to replace the Mona Lisa with a velvet Elvis. Now doing 8-10 years in a malaria-infested labor camp in French Guyana.


2. The Caribbean

As a Tourist

The cruise ship let us out at Paradise Island, Nassau Bahamas. We had a lovely stroll at the Ardastra Gardens, and a delicious conch salad for lunch at the Atlantis Casino. Irving actually won $15 at the roulette table.

As a Backpacker

Flew into Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and checked into the El Hotel Desnudo Gordo to finish my novel. Lost the sense of my main character after a month, so boarded a fishing boat headed for Cuba with my guitar. Spent three weeks in Havana drinking Canchancharas and jamming with Charanga Habanera.

As a Traveler

Having been discovered stowing away aboard the Dilbar, a super yacht owned by Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov, and having impregnated his 17-year-old daughter, Sis’ki, I was tossed, unceremoniously into shark infested waters, 200 miles due west of Montserrat.

After three days of survival floating and drinking my own urine, I was picked up by Haitian coke smugglers, who, after using me to mule product into San Juan Puerto Rico, dropped me off at Port au Prince. There, I became apprenticed to Madam Rends Ta Ve Misérable, a local medicine woman, who is currently teaching me how to make Zombie Powder.


3. Thailand

As a Tourist

Flew into Bangkok, and our tour bus took us directly to the Eastin Grand Hotel Sathorn, where we were treated to a traditional Thai dinner–not too spicy of course. The next day we visited the floating market, which was adorable. Wat Arun was a magnificent site to behold.

As a Backpacker

After a few days acclimating at the Happy Falang Guest House in Banglampoo, I bought a 250cc Yamaha FZ 09, and made the trip south to Krabi Province, subsisting on sticky rice and noodle soups. Set up at Railay Beach for some rock climbing, and soloed Captain Hook and Right Hand of Buddha.

As a Traveler

Set the Guinness World record for “Most ladyboys humped in a single evening” live on BBTV Bangkok and became, simultaneously, a cult figure and persona non grata in the Land of Smiles. Stole a tuk tuk taxi and raced north to Chiang Mai, stopping only for petrol and repairs after plowing through a herd of water buffalo at 120 kilometers an hour.

After arriving in the Northern Capital, I spent the afternoon feeding magic mushrooms to a passing herd of elephants, resulting in the destruction of Wat Tamnak and half the campus of Chiang Mai Polytechnic College. Subsequently, I checked into the King Vajiralongkorn Opium Den, where, presumably, I still reside, the entirety of my life from that point on nothing but a soporific hallucination…


Tip: The Lonely Planet travel guide can provide legal council for those facing 50-year jail sentences in third world countries for offenses such as yodeling at the Sultan of Brunei, flicking a booger in the vicinity of a Mullah in Kurdistan, or allowing an orangutan to “lead” a foxtrot in Sumatra.




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