I spent a lot of my youth travelling to various countries and exploring their unique treasures. Travel has always been an invigorating and fulfilling activity for me. When I travelled, I prided myself on not being a tourist, but a traveller.
To me, the distinction came from how I engaged the country I was visiting. A tourist stays in a bubble and views the country they are in like one watches a show on television. A traveller engages the local population, attempts to learn some of the languages, eats in the back-alley restaurants where tourists won’t set foot. Tourism is sterile. Travel is romantic. Tourism showed your sites. Travel engaged you with those sites.
I admit, my travels caused me to be judgmental about those who didn’t travel as well as tourists. I held both groups in a certain contempt in my mind. This is why I am both surprised and ashamed (to a small extent) by what I recently did. I went on a cruise. I know, I know. That confession elicits both a so what? and a really? from people I tell.
Being a Tourist
Some of my friends had a field day with it. “You went on a cruise. Haha! You became the very thing that you have held in contempt for so long. Did you wear black socks with your sandals? Did you spend your evening at the buffet? Who was the lounge singer?” All of these barbs were understandable. Because I had canoed alongside alligators, hiked the Inca Trail, snorkelled in cenotes in the Yucatan, playing shuffleboard on the deck of a luxury cruise ship seemed out of character. And it was.
All of that said, I enjoyed it. I liked the ballroom dancing and the sense of freedom I witnessed from my fellow cruise mates. This was a sanctuary for people, who weren’t as comfortable immersing themselves in a foreign culture or risking their lives in an attempt to absorb local traditions, but they want some reprieve from their daily lives. They deserved some recreation that fell within their comfort zones. This became infectious as I travelled alongside these seasoned cruisers.
What I didn’t expect was a culture shock. Surely, if I can immerse myself in the cultures of the Baruka, I could do the same among my fellow Americans on a boat. But this was their world. They owned this reality and it was up to me to adapt. The first thing that was a bit of a shock was my welcome package. On my bed in my cabin was a goodie sack filled with sponsored gifts designed to improve the experience of cruisers.
Included in this sack was a month supply of Cialis for men with erectile dysfunction. At first, I smirked. Then I realized that I was surrounded by octogenarians pitching tents and looking for love all over the ship, and it’s not really all that surprising, considering the availability of free Cialis coupons on the internet. Suddenly, I have confronted again with the limits of my ability to adapt and immerse in a foreign culture.
Another unexpected shock came when I started to feel claustrophobic. As I walked around the deck, I was in the open air, yet I felt confined. This was different, somehow than being confined to a small island. The fact that this small island moved across the ocean seemed to trigger my sense that my world was small and enclosed. What worked to counter this sense was working out. I ran around the ship. I went to the gym (I felt self-conscious using a rowing machine on a ship, but not rowing the boat for some reason). When I played on the ship’s climbing wall it seemed to suspend my sense that I was in a confined space.
Then I went to dinner. The abundance of food initially triggered my sense that this was gluttony, wasteful and excessive. There were islands of buffets representing foods from all over the world. I toured these buffets and it came to me that my fellow cruisers were experiencing Lomo Saltado, Spaetzle, tiramisu, couscous, quinoa, quince and more. This was a lesson to me that the world is abundant and in my travels, I enjoyed the exotic difference in the variety. These cruisers were experiencing this diversity and exotic cuisine while staying within their comfort zones.
I have never been a good candidate for going on a cruise. This cruise came to me on a dare. I took that dare and instead of merely enduring my experience I realized that I had been a tourist among my own culture. By taking this cruise I opened myself to the diversity that existed at home, that I took for granted and avoided. Now I see with clearer eyes, and that has always been a reason why I loved to travel. Do you travel? What is your favourite vacation destination? Leave a comment in the section below.