To the average person it can be very hard to distinguish the “mindful traveler” from the “mass tourist.” However, after one spends a good deal of time in a country foreign to their homeland, the differences become readily apparent. The mindful traveler is able to judge that the journey is not just about them while the mass tourist will focus only on what they take away from their travels.
Traveling promotes exchanges of culture and the mindful traveler is aware of this—for example, they try to speak the language of the locals and explore their surroundings. The mass tourist, on the other hand, thinks the locals should accommodate them. Slimbach states the difference in a quote on page 81 of Becoming World Wise, “If the ‘old’ mass tourist was all about sun, sand, sea, and sex, the ‘new’ mindful traveler aims to be sensible, sensitive, sophisticated, and sustainable.” Here he seems to be saying that it is possible for the mass tourist to become a mindful traveler.
Studying abroad helps one to become a mindful traveler because they are placed in a culture different than their own—from the very beginning of the experience people have the ability to be a mindful traveler. It’s easy to be a tourist for a few days or a week but once that time has passed the local people will start to expect something in return from you. Being a mindful traveler is about both giving and taking.
I believe that I embody the characteristics of a mindful traveler (or so I hope). I understand that the world doesn’t revolve about me and that my study abroad experience will be largely impacted by interactions with the host culture. I am conscious of my environment and don’t expect people to speak English to me. I am trying my absolute hardest to communicate in French and be considerate of the culture I am now a part of.
During the first workshop our class came up with a definition for the global community that consisted of “a shared living space of interdependent individuals endowed with human rights, while acting upon them, embracing differences, and working toward common goals.” After reflecting on what a mindful traveler is I believe these are the people who will make the greatest impact to the global community. One needs to be a mindful traveler in order to embrace differences and it will be these people who work together to reach common goals. So yes mindful traveling is a key characteristic of intentional participants in the global community.
A few weekends ago I travelled to Amsterdam with two study abroad students and we came across a café that had a saying written on the window. We all stopped to marvel for a minute and took the time to fully appreciate the message it offered. It’s funny to think that this happened a few weeks before this journal entry because I had already started to reflect on what the difference between a tourist and a traveler was.