Originally published on TheMiamiStudent.net
I never wanted to be a tourist.
I wanted to be a traveler.
A tourist sees the sights, returns home and thinks about her cool vacation, frames her favorite pictures and falls back into routine.
A traveler is an explorer, a globetrotter, a wanderer. Use whatever idealistic noun you want — that’s what I wanted to be. Anything but a tourist.
I packed for Europe specifically so I wouldn’t stick out — neutral colors, nothing to call attention to myself. I read articles, did research about which spots were tourist traps, and absorbed as much information as I possibly could.
Months before I left, I made detailed lists of the places I wanted to go. I counted the weekends of the semester, looked up how long Carnival and Easter breaks were and totaled how many places I could visit.
My list went up to the number 18.
My boyfriend, Luke, saw the list and told me I’d never be able to go everywhere. He said I’d have to pick and choose, that there were some places I simply wouldn’t be able to make it to in four months. I was determined to prove him wrong.
When I think about all the places I have seen, a flash of memories is associated with each city’s name.
Budapest — the rickety metro trains we rode into the city; seeing the Parliament building reflected in the Danube; hearing our tour guide, Norbert, tell us tales of distraught princes, daring architects and stone lions without tongues.
Venice — water-bus rides across canals; tiny shops full of intricate glass figurines or mysterious masks; the hazy horizon between the sea and the city in the early morning.
London — endless escalator rides in and out of underground stations along the Picadilly, Victoria and Jubilee lines; walking through Hogwarts at the Harry Potter studio; afternoon tea after taking in every inch of Westminster Abbey; meeting a friendly painter in Parliament Square.
Now, Luke was right — not that I like to admit that, especially in print. I didn’t get to go everywhere on my list. Realistically, how could I have?
During my Monday morning political science class, I passed the time by staring at the map of the European Union propped in front of us. I spotted the countries I’d already visited, my next destination, the places I planned to go before the end of the semester. But I never stopped there.
My eyes were always drawn to the others. The places I wouldn’t make it to see. Portugal. Finland. Romania. Slovenia. Morocco.
And though the map only showed the general European area, I kept going. I zoomed around a larger map in my head, pinpointing places on the whole globe that I was desperate to see in person. South Africa. Cambodia. Peru. New Zealand. Sri Lanka. Egypt. Brazil.
My problem is, and always has been, that I want to go everywhere.
I want a passport full of stamps, friends in far-flung countries and journals bursting with stories. I want to see the sun rise and set from every possible part of the globe. I want sleepless nights, long plane rides and midnight strolls through thousand-year-old towns. I want all of my possessions to fit in a single backpack. I want to have walked so much that my feet grow accustomed to the pain. I want to leave pieces of myself in each place, so that I can finally call everywhere “home.”
Four short months are not enough if you want to go everywhere. A weekend is not long enough in any city— Cincinnati or Paris, Oxford or Barcelona.
But it is enough to teach you the difference between what it means to be a tourist and what it means to be a traveler. Travelers are
They search for the right turn, the next train, the best deal on a plane ticket to fly across the globe. For restaurants where the locals eat, the unexplored back alleys, the small details of a place that no one else notices. They search for the sights that will leave them disappointed and others that will make them wonder.
For travelers, seeing a fraction of the world is never enough. It is just a taste, an idea of what is waiting to be discovered.
I’ll be back in the States in a week. Back to constant cell phone service, free refills and bathrooms, Hulu Plus and the English language.
But there is so much more out there — and I’m not done searching for it.