Traveler or Tourist?

Traveler or Tourist?

We‘ve been to Greece a couple of times in the past 5 years. The first time was for our 25th anniversary. We chartered a sailboat and spent 2 weeks sailing from island to island in the Ionian sea. It’s a wonderful way to travel. You get to see small harbour villages that most tourists never see; eat in quaint tavernas, always by the water; shop in what they call supermarkets which are the size of a 7/11 – it’s all very relaxing. After this we explored the mainland for a bit and then visited another couple of islands in the Aegean.

On our second trip we visited Meteora where the monasteries are perched atop proud spires of rock that rise unannounced from the rolling prairie. We sailed again, but this time in the Aegean. Then we explored the island of Mytilini, renowned for it’s ouzo and sardines, just off the turkish coast.

We generally stay away from the typical tourist areas. We didn’t go to Santorini and we didn’t visit the Acropolis. Other than ancient Corinth we didn’t really see any ruins. Some people will be aghast at this. I understand. Others find history more compelling than we do. Besides the fact that I have an aversion to large crowds, when I go to another country I want to know what it’s like to be a resident of that country. I want to see what their daily life consists of, and what’s important to them – it’s hard to do that in a souvenir shop.

In Mark Buchanan’s latest book, Your Church is Too Safe, he talks about the difference between a traveler and a tourist:

Traveler literally means “one who travails.”…he immerses himself in a culture. Learns the language and customs, lives with the locals, imitates the dress, eats what’s set before him…He is gone a long time. If he ever returns, he returns forever altered…

A tourist, not so…He’s only passing through, sampling wares, acquiring souvenirs…He returns to where he comes from with an album of photos, a few mementos, a cheap hat. He’s happy to be back. He declares there’s no place like home…

There’s a parallel to be drawn between our spiritual life and being a traveler, or a tourist.

I sometimes wonder which one I am. Have I immersed myself in Christ? Have I let him change my life? Do I love those that Christ loves that aren’t part of my tribe? Or, am I just pretending to be one of the locals, going to church on Sunday, taking my spiritual snapshot, and then returning to the safety of my home for the rest of the week? Do those that I come into contact with in my everyday life even know that I’ve visited someplace else? Do they see in me something different  – something that’s the product of witnessing another way to live?

I hope I’m a traveler, but I suspect I’m a tourist more often than I want.

Rudy and his wife Cheryl are empty nesters in Stonewall. In the winter Rudy facilitates a small group of spiritual travelers. In the summer they like to explore Lake of the Woods on their sailboat.

3 Responses to Traveler or Tourist?

  1. Adelineberg42 says:

    Great analogy! Adeline

  2. Anonymous says:

    I like the way you’re using the distinction here, Rudy, and suspect that most of us move back and forth across that line without even realizing it. Out of interest, when we returned from six weeks of European travel back in 2008, my wife wrote a paper for a course she was taking and she added a third category; that of the pilgrim. The pilgrim is one who engages significant sites (and maybe the journey as a whole) as a kind of intentional spiritual discipline. Interesting to think about what parallels that might have to the life of faith… and really interesting to wonder if such pilgrims also slip back into being tourists from time to time!

    • Rudy says:

      Too true. A pilgrim would be another category. In some ways, whether tourist, traveler, or pilgrim, it’s all part of the same journey just with differing degrees of engagement. Ultimately, regardless of ones level of engagement, the fact that they are on a journey at all is something to celebrate.

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