Some travel bloggers love to debate the difference between “travelers” and “tourists.” Nearly every single idea I’ve read about this implies that tourists are lower on the evolutionary scale than travelers – there’s room for both, in my view. But I don’t want to be what I consider a tourist. My goals are just different.
Anyway, I think I’ve stumbled on a major difference between travelers and tourists. It’s not the sole defining factor, but it’s a big chunk in my view. And here it is:
Travelers crave some degree stress when they travel. Tourists travel to decompress from stress.
Why am I thinking about this? Well, April is Stress Awareness Month. A company called Dropcam is asking travel bloggers to share their tips for stress-free travel. (Disclosure: Dropcam did not compensate me or even ask for the link – I think they deserve it for giving me the idea for an interesting blog post.)
My first thought … “who wants travel to be stress free?”
As a westerner, I spent my first several days in Vietnam being stressed. Crossing streets, ordering food, inhaling motorbike exhaust, calculating the dong-to-dollar exchange rate … all bodychecked me out of my comfort zone. It would’ve been a lot easier to go on a nice Alaskan cruise where I could relax, hit the buffet and not worry about whether people could understand my heavily accented and broken Vietnamese phrases.
But I don’t travel to avoid stress. I travel to see and try something new and interesting.
Trying something new is a good – no, GREAT! – kind of stress. Of course, there’s the stupid kind of stress. That’s the stress born from being careless with your passport, not researching your destination, not keeping your wits about you. Sure, those can all result in learning experiences, too. But they distract from the bigger picture that you can find when you’re well-prepared.
What do I suggest for banishing the stupid kind of stress for the enriching and beneficial sort of stress? Here’s what I do:
- Before I leave home, I triple-check every door and shut off the water to my toilets. Find out why I shut off my toilets, and read my other pre-departure tips.
- I pack days in advance using compression sacks. I use a checklist to ensure I have everything.
- I know the weather and terrain at my destination before I pack. Being soaked in a deluge with no rain gear sucks.
- I bring non-perishable snacks for times when I might be away from civilization. Hunger equals stress, and sometimes bad decision making.
- I pack pants with lots of zippered pockets – perfect for stashing documents and gadgets.
- I bring a way to carry water no matter where I go. Like hunger, dehydration equals stress and sometimes bad decision making.
- I bring my sense of adventure, and look at stressful situations as chances to get outside my norm.
Let’s wrap this back up with my recent trip to Vietnam. I overcame the stress of the first few days. I went from “I’m not sure I’m enjoying this” to “this is one of the greatest trips ever.” I embraced the stress, and it ebbed away hour by hour.
Now, go find the good stress for yourself. You just might love it.