Everyone travels in different ways. Some people see everything through the camera on their phone, some people dive into the tourist restaurants with the 5 star yelp reviews…and then there are a small handful of travelers who really embrace the culture before them. Slimbach discusses how there are three types of travelers in the world; the ‘mass tourist’, the ‘carefree drifter’ and the ‘mindful traveler’.
The mast tourist is all about the ‘been there, done that’. They are typically obsessing over their Instagram filers, booking a trip to the latest and greatest all-inclusive resort and trying to find a cute outfit in one of the brand name shops in their country of choice. Their mind frame is in the U.S… always looking for something to show off to their friends and completely unaware of the surrounding culture passing by. The carefree drifter is similar but spends most of their trip going with the flow. If they are with familiar faces, they are happy. Typically the carefree drifter will find themselves at a ‘American bar’ or the ‘tourist traps’ of the city. They “simply go with the flow, even if that flow is shallow and trifling” (Slimbach, 74). These people would probably be happier doing other ‘off the beaten path’ activities but they are either too shy or too scared to stray away from their familiar surroundings.
On the other side of traveling, one will find the ‘mindful traveler’. The mindful traveler, according to Slimbach, is made up of 5 different parts that include economic mindfulness, cultural mindfulness, social mindfulness, ecological mindfulness and spiritual mindfulness. This type of person aspire to narrow the gap between tourists and natives, find a mutual respect between all people and look to understand the host countries culture. Mindful travelers understand that spending money in their host country is beneficial ONLY if they are spending it on the family businesses and the home grown shops. If not, the money being spent is probably going straight into the pockets of some big company in another land that won’t give back to the natives.
Personally I find that most study abroad students that I have encountered are a carefree drifter or a mass tourist. Snapchat has taken over our culture and no one knows how to enjoy things for personal pleasure. I find that when I go to a tourist trap restaurant or even day trip I am completely unsatisfied. That being said, I will admit that I take a thousand photos but I don’t take photos in hopes of posting an Instagram that will get over 100 likes or to show off my adventures. I take photos to help document my journey and life changing experiences.
Being a mindful traveler is all about interacting with your surrounding cultures which is a huge part of global community. If traveling to different countries and staying in 5 star hotels, driving Italian Ferraris and eating macaroons in Paris was global community… we would all be experts. But the reality is that global community takes much more and it starts with cultural interaction with mindful travelers. If I had to alter the definition of global community we wrote in class, I would include something about not only being aware of another culture, but diving into it – not only to help someone else, but to experience life from a new perspective.
Being a mindful traveler is a key characteristic of intentional participants of the global community. I believe that I am currently being a mindful traveler not just because I enjoy trying new foods down unpopular streets and bargaining with street vendors, but I am always interacting with people from another culture. No, when I say this I am not referring to ordering a croissant from our local bakery. I’m talking about the times I started a conversation with the person behind me in line, or the Italian waiter that was serving me for the night, or even the person I was sitting near on the train.
The picture that I decided to post this week is from my train ride home from Venice last Sunday. It may not look like much to someone at a quick glance, but the people in the photo will always have a lasting memory that I will carry with me throughout all my journeys. The family trying to get their stuff together on the side of the train are actually my new friends from Dubai. They were traveling destination-less with their two children, one eight and one 12 months old. Our conversation started when their son started crying and we overheard them talking with an older gentlemen about where to stay and what to do in Italy. For the next two and a half hours we all got to know each other so well (with broken English and Italian – definitely one of the bigger challenges that inhibit mindful traveling) that Ayan, the little boy, started telling us his address in Dubai because he wanted us to come visit when he got back home. Cam’ron started complimenting u, telling us that we were just like his children, taking photos and talking about how glad he was about being separated from the rest of his family who were sitting a train car ahead of us. We shared drinks and snacks and in the blink of an eye, we were at out stop. We helped the couple off the train, started hugging goodbye and turned back to see that Cam’ron had come to the train door to wave and say his final goodbye again. Oddly enough, this small two hour event showed me more than any other part of my travels. I felt my heart grow a little heavy when I squeezed Ayan goodbye knowing that I will never talk to them again, but then quickly realized just how lucky I am to be able to experience things like this. Being a mindful traveler will not only enhance my abroad experience but also change my views and mindsets from here out.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, Va: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Print.