Features | Adventure: Three ways to see the world

The pros and cons of tourism, travel, and adventure

There are three kinds of people in the world: tourists, travellers, and adventurers.

Tourists are those people you see wandering around with cameras and maps with their heads to the sky, staring at everything they pass. You know, the stereotype. They stay at resorts for a week. Then there are travellers. These people visit places and learn about the culture, meet the locals, have fun with friends. And finally, there are adventurers, people who encounter the real world wherever they go.

The fundamental quality that distinguishes a traveller from an adventurer is this: adventurers seek out or instigate “mishaps.” Travellers actively try to avoid these mishaps, whereas adventurers fail to avoid them.

I went on a tour of Europe with my family when I was 13 and living in Cambridge, England. We planned it weeks in advance, and there was an itinerary – one that completely disintegrated. We were on a train going from Rome to…somewhere – we hadn’t decided where we wanted to get off. When we were about five minutes from Pisa, at about 10 p.m., my mom started getting a little anxious.

“Are we getting off in Pisa or are we staying on until La Spezia?” she asked.

It was late, and my siblings and I really wanted to see the leaning tower. So Pisa it was.

It was 10:05 p.m. Our next step was to find a place to sleep. We got a hotel right beside the tower, and then, at about midnight, went for food – greasy, unidentifiable poultry. A stray cat jumped on my dad halfway through the meal. The next morning, we woke up to tiny bug bites covering our bodies. The rest of the trip was equally spontaneous, full of other mishaps that made it one of the best experiences of my life.

Since then, I’ve experienced different types of travel. I’ve been a tourist, spending a week in Disney World, at an all-inclusive resort. I’ve been a traveller; when my family lived in England, we drove to Scotland and Somerset, stayed at bed-and-breakfasts and hotels along the way, and saw all the big churches and castles. I’ve been an adventurer; when I drove with my family to Jasper, Alberta from Kingston, Ontario, we did not stay in hotels. We pulled a tent trailer behind our un-airconditioned minivan, cramming six or seven people into the vehicle for the whole way. I’ve also been horseback riding along the Athabaska River, explored the rock formations of Dinosaur Provincial Park, and when we were in Nicaragua, we drove in a pickup truck with about 14 other people up the slopes of a volcano along a very unpaved, overgrown road meant for horses.

Trying different types of travel has given me a great deal of perspective; each comes with its pros and cons. Tourists do not have to worry much. Touring is relaxing. Travellers experience a kind of happy compromise between the relaxation of tourism and the experiences of adventure. They usually have to make travel and accommodation arrangements themselves, and have to deal with unexpected problems like food poisoning and diarrhea, but for the most part, planning has been done in advance – you just have to follow the plan. Adventurers, on the other hand, don’t make any plans to follow. As a result, they’ll experience exhaustion, get food poisoning, have no place to sleep, and spend late hours wandering, disoriented. But the pros of adventure far outweigh the cons – there is nothing in the world like striking up a conversation with a Nova Scotian fisherman who has lost most of his fingers in the ocean.

You cannot get the same understanding of the places you go to by forcing yourself into a glossy version of them. The Marriott Hotel in Rome is not representative of Rome. But the convent just outside of the walls of the Vatican, where the nuns insist on cooking you supper, is. Experiences like these offer a far more intimate look into the character of Rome than the Vatican Museum gift shop.

For all you perpetual tourists and travellers, when you go punting in Cambridge on the River Cam, please do not hire someone to do the punting work for you. Try it yourself, and enjoy the glory of getting the pole stuck in the underside of the mathematical bridge.