I’ve been thinking about this question for a while – on my bike trip, was I a tourist or a traveller? I have disdain for the word tourist. To me, tourism conjures the image of a Hawaiian print shirt, a camera around the neck, a large-brimmed sun hat, and a guide book. Tourists see what’s in the guide book, while missing out on the real experiences. They don’t get to know the locals, they get to know the other tourists at their resort. They don’t get lost on the local bus system, they take the air-conditioned tour bus to the designated location and then have 2 hours to have lunch and snap a few photos before going back to the hotel for the night. They see exactly what the tourism board wants them to see, but they don’t experience anything. They only scratch the surface of their vacation destination, and are spoon-fed the place’s brand. What’s the point?
Travellers, on the other hand, see and experience things first hand. They go off the beaten path, they get lost, they meet locals, and they see things that tourists don’t. To me, travelling is the way to go. If you’re not going to a place to experience different foods, sights, and cultures, then why not just stay at home at look at photos? Because really, that’s an adequate substitute for touring.
But what was I doing? Cycling long distances on a bicycle is referred to as “cycle-touring,” so was I a tourist? I wasn’t able to stay in most places for more than one night, I had to miss out on some sights, and (because as a lone female traveller, I felt safer) I stayed in campsites rather than free camping or using Warm Showers (like Couch Surfing but specifically for cycle tourists). Just like a tourist, I moved quickly from place to place, unable to really experience each locale. While I did try to live in the moment, not take too many photos, try some local foods/beverages, and talk to locals, was it enough to have been a traveller?
What could I have done to be more of a traveller, and less of a tourist? Maybe there’s a reason it’s called cycle touring. Had I stayed longer to really experience each place, I would still be in the Prairies by now. In order to complete my trip, certain sacrifices had to be made, but at what cost? I didn’t till a field, I didn’t go hunting, I didn’t go hiking in the mountains, I didn’t fish, or go off the beaten path, or diverge too much from my intended path. (Not that I would have wanted to do all of those things, but the principle stands.) But, I did try to take it all in, and appreciate the fact that I was lucky enough to have gone on this trip. I knew that every time I turned my head I would see something I had never seen before, and go somewhere I had never been before.
When I set out on this trip, my goal was to see my own backyard and learn to appreciate how amazing Canada is. I think I did that. But I can’t help but wonder if I did it as a tourist or a traveller.