I’ve been on the go for the past week and a half now. As I travel, I’ve been reflecting not only on what I’ve been doing with my life for the past year and a half and what I want to do in the future, but also on what I’m currently doing as I make my way down to South Africa. I’ve remembered the following fact about myself:

I hate being a tourist.

Even when I first started to travel, I hated being a tourist. Rarely have I ever enjoyed seeing the standard tourist attractions. I visited them because people told me I needed to, but more often than not I was underwhelmed. Now I don’t even bother to go.

I’m also tired of all the introductions that come with the life of a tourist. I no longer care who the other travelers are, how long they’ve been traveling, where they’re from, where they’re going, etc. I especially don’t care if they’re only here on a two week vacation. (This may sound a bit harsh to unseasoned travelers, but it’s the truth.)

And yet my entire life is traveling. Mostly on a country-wide scale, but on a day-by-day scale, too. Even when I lived in the same city for four years (at university, for example), I was always out and about, visiting friends. People don’t come to me; I go to them.

So why do I do it? Why do I continue to travel so much when I have this strong aversion to being a tourist?

I’ve boiled down my personally acceptable reasons to travel into four categories.

1. To work. Working in a given place means I am there with a purpose and seen as a temporary resident (which means I can play the local card when I need to). It also allows me to be immersed in the culture in a way that tourists can never be.

2. To study. Living at a university is often the equivalent of living in a bubble, but I’d take the university bubble over the tourist bubble any day. At least I have a long-term purpose when living in the university bubble.

3. To visit friends. I’d rather learn about a place by learning about the people than by learning about the sites. Friends are an immediate connection to the local culture.

4. To rock climb. The one tourist attraction that appeals to me is a mountain or rock face.

I recently told this to a friend of mine and he responded that by limiting myself to the above four reasons, I will not be able to push my comfort zone in the same way as a traveler who walks into the complete unknown. While he makes a valid point, I’ve learned that I no longer enjoy walking into the complete unknown. Not because I don’t enjoy pushing my comfort zone (which is actually one of my favorite activities). But because I’ve had enough with surface-level connections and I’m finally looking for something deeper.

(Photo: Red Sea, Egypt, 2004)

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