Tourists, Traps and Travelers


In days past, when I was much less the traveler and much more the longing-to-be-a-traveler, I would often ponder the differences between tourists, travelers, and adventurers. These are the three groups of mobile folk I felt comfortable enough lumping everyone into back then, and perhaps for the most part still do, at least when it comes to Americans traveling within America.

Tourists were simply vacationers, folks wearing wide brimmed straw hats and bad Hawaiian beach attire as they visited a destination for a week, being sure to sample the local McDonalds as often as possible and preferring to generally keep the vacation as homogeneous as possible, as close to the experience of being at home but with a better view or the beach, perhaps.

Travelers were people who made their way from place to place, typically in more lengthy spurts than a week or two at a time, to live in places long enough to get a better taste of what the place was like, sampling the local cuisine, getting drunk in places that are dangerous to get drunk in, and sleeping under the stars or on the beach when the moment called for it.

Adventurers were a grander lot, not hindered to any one location, always on the move, resting as long as they’d like and then rambling back on. To sleep outside would be normal for an adventurer. To dig through trash or gather berries from the forest might be normal, and the experience would be one so valuable as to outweigh all of the millions of dollars worth of happiness in Trump Tower.

As I’ve been a traveler for the past year or so, however, I have come into contact with many people who have many attitudes toward who is a tourist and who is a traveler. The lines between adventure and travel blur when you’re living in an RV, because it is a safe, secure abode, away from the night terrors of spiders crawling down your throat and bears eating up your arm while they sniff around for that last peanut butter bar you accidentally left stuffed in your hoodie. However, boondocking it, and those times you leave your RV behind to hop trains, hike mountains and disappear into the summerly abyss of homelessness that we seem so fond of, you can be certain that adventure is the right word. For the most part, when visiting a nifty little town like Bisbee, Arizona or Grand Canyon, places that would not even exist were it not for tourists, the attitudes are varied from two extremes, with little meeting happening in the middle.

One group despises the tourists and wishes they would never appear, saying these things out loud in an attempt to scare them away. These people are fools, because the moment that you take tourism, and the money that it brings, out of a town like Bisbee, you take the bars, the restaurants and the street paving out of Bisbee. Certainly there are a few old codgers who’d love to get back to dirt streets and cooking their own whiskey, but for the most part, the people who live in the town enjoy the things that tourism brings. This is where the true irony comes in, that the locals feel like the tourists are coming in and messing up their town, filling up their bars, raising the prices in their restaurants, but what they don’t understand is that it isn’t “their” town, it’s the tourists’ town, they pay for it, they’ve paid to build it and keep it running. The locals are, for all intents and purposes, just the hired help.

The second group fully realizes the need for tourists and, if not fully embracing them, learns how to work with the system to keep their Jeromes and Bisbees from becoming Sedonas and Tombstones. They work with the tourists to give them an authentic experience, they work with city council to keep out the Hollywood element, and they are friendly to the people who allow them to enjoy the experience all year round. These are the truly brilliant people, because they realize that while they’ll have to deal with loud, complaining, interruptive tourists 4 or 5 months out of the year, they get to live out the rest of the year in these paradise all to themselves.