I’m a traveller. By which I associate with a group of people who I’ve begun to see more and more as I get older. Generally they all call themselves “global citizens” although I find the phrase utterly pretentious and in need of a slap. I find my simpler definition more apt: a traveller seeks experiences to influence their opinion, without allowing their opinion to influence their experiences. It could be snappier; I know. Let’s stick with “traveller.”
Travel isn’t about miles covered or countries visited. Always, on my facebook feed, are people popping up with how much world they’ve gone to. You can’t say you know France by going to Paris, or Israel by going to Jerusalem. You can’t say you have travelled somewhere when the extent of your knowledge is one week spent in a tourist camp being heckled by touts. I travel because only with new experiences can I grow, and having experienced everything “here” I must leave, so I can return later to see “here” again with new eyes.
A traveller experiences the land, the people, the soul of a place. They impact it, leaving a memory, just as the land leaves a memory on the traveller. I have travelled the Middle East, East Africa, the Caribbean and am currently travelling in Asia. I have visited many more countries and regions but I do not know them. You have not impacted Malaga when you got drunk that one time at seventeen. You were a tourist.
When I first went to Saudi Arabia I was half convinced I would become a priest one day. I hid that intention and talked to people about religion, opened myself up to alternate ways of thinking. I saw “God” in many places and none. I was named a “friend of Islam” by senior clerics and left the country having lost my own faith but found trust in us, in mankind. I left a mark, and the country marked me. But my memories are of sitting on sand dunes as the sun rose, after a night talking to Bedouin tribesmen, eating dates, drinking coffee and quoting the poetry of Hafiz whilst our camels slept. I would not have learned about the country by sitting in Mamluka shopping for a week or driving around the desert in a 4×4.
In the Caribbean I managed election campaigns for politicians. I learned their problems, I learned about the countries. I experienced it by talking to drug dealers on plantations, to shopkeepers struggling to make a living, prostitutes working the tourist resorts, thieves working the marketplaces and students worrying about the future. In Africa I built businesses. I went everywhere and talked to everyone. It took me years. I would not know it with a safari.
A traveller opens themselves to a country and a people and allows them to change the traveller. They also let the country and people see that “others” are not that different to them, we only have different perspectives. A traveller becomes part of the place they travel and become, if not one with it, then something new. A tourist only sees what they came to see.
We aren’t global citizens. Yet. But the travellers among us maybe, just maybe, can give birth to the next generation that will be. And they will be something new.
I think it may be something truly special.