A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity… wait… I’ll rephrase that. A couple of weeks ago I HAD TO leave Guatemala in order to renew my visa. Such is the life of a Digital Nomad.
So, with family in tow, I headed to the warm and inviting waters of Belize, a SCUBA diver’s paradise and the closest Caribbean destination to Guatemala.
We had a great time and would love to go back. But definitely not in the same way.
Allow me to explain.
Did you know that a TOURIST is not the same thing as a TRAVELER?
This was never more apparent to me than after my trip to Belize, where I once again reluctantly played the role of tourist.
These are five observations that I came away with from the experience:
#1 – A Tourist Spends Way More Money Than a Traveler
Here in Antigua Guatemala, one of the most expensive cities in the country outside of Guatemala City, I’ve been able to rent a mostly-furnished house, some utilities included, for about $500 USD a month. During my trip, I blew through that amount in lodging in about a week.
Granted, there are cheaper options available, but the cheaper backpackers’ hostels are mostly out of question when traveling with young children. An uncomfortable wife does not make for a pleasant trip.
Lodging is way cheaper when you’re securing a place for a month or longer, something a tourist can’t or won’t think about doing. Which leads to the second point.
#2 – A Tourist’s Time is Limited
I definitely missed out on a lot of interesting things to see and do while in Belize, simply because I did not have enough time.
In fact, I visited San Ignacio, one of Belize’s charming towns, completely by chance. I was forced to stop there because of an unexpected delay at Customs and bad weather. It ended up being one of the highlights of the trip.
A tourist is usually limited to the usual highlights, often missing out on other less-well-known destinations. I certainly missed out on this gem on my previous “tourist” excursions to Guatemala.
#3 – It’s Harder for a Tourist to Get to Know the Locals
Most tourists, usually because of lack of time, choose to tour in chaperoned groups. They miss out on the most important part of travel: Meeting other cultures and people with a different outlook on life.
When you have time to wander around and explore, you open yourself to more enriching experiences. In Belize, I only had time to meet the locals that worked at the hotels. They were super-nice people and made me wish I had more time to get to know them, and other locals, better.
#4 – A Tourist’s Time for Relaxation… Starts When They Return Back Home
Somehow, there’s a misguided notion out there that vacations are a time to relax and unplug for a bit. This is hardly ever the case.
Second, most people get one shot to visit the place, so they try to see as much as they can during their short time-window.
I’ve met various tourists who tell me “I’m traveling to Guatemala for a week and want to see *EVERYTHING*… where should I start?” I sigh and tell them that Lake Atitlan alone, the most beautiful lake in the world, takes at least a week to soak in and explore.
After all the running around a tourist does, they usually end up needing a vacation AFTER the vacation they just had. I know the feeling, as it took us a week to fully recover from our trip to Belize.
#5 – A Tourist Doesn’t Spend Enough Time Traveling to Let the Place Change Them
No matter how crazy anyone is with travel, we humans are creatures of habit. Spend time in any place and you’ll discover new places, taste new foods, and make new friends that will change your way of thinking.
My diet has definitely changed so much that now eating fast food is asking for extended trips to the restroom. For example, I’ve replaced Coca-Cola with coconut water and fruit smoothies, deep-fried food with charcoal-grilled chicken and steak.
I’ve seen poverty up-close, something than in my sheltered, suburban life in the US I would never be exposed to. This has made me much more aware of world inequality and grateful of the opportunities I do have, a point brought home by John at JetSetCitizen.com.
In order to experience these things up close, a tourist often has to go off-the-beaten path. For a traveler, these things are not the exception, but the norm.
My Take as a Digital Nomad
I do agree that any trip abroad, and even local exploration, is better than sitting at home and moving solely within a limited social circle and geographical area.
I liken tourism to sampling ice cream at the shop across town.
True travel is like having a sunday with three different flavors, comparing it to the gelato you had last week, while trying to make your own homemade version from ingredients purchased at the local farmer’s market.
Are you a tourist, or a traveler?
What do you think?