In Chapter 3 of Becoming World Wise, Slimbach discusses the difference between being a “mindful traveler” and a “carefree drifter” or “mass tourist”. He says, “To be a ‘mindful traveler’ is to approach our field settings with a level of sensitivity and curiosity that raises our conscious awareness of how we affect the social and natural environments we enter and act upon”. To me, what Slimbach means is that mindful travelers are more active in their participation in the countries and cultures they are visiting, while carefree drifters or mass tourists are more passive in the way they carry themselves. So I asked myself, after a month in England, am I really a mindful traveler? Or am I just a mass tourist?
When trying to assess myself, I looked at what Slimbach says about mass tourists. He says, “The tourist gaze transforms all into aesthetic images of “nativeness” to be discovered, sighted, and ‘shot’” and that “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.” All of this comes back to my thoughts about being active rather than passive. Am I just passively taking pictures of the tourist sights to post on social media and show my friends? Or am I really taking an active role in my time here and taking time to appreciate the culture and environment I am living in for the next two more months?
I do think that “carefree drifter” is a term that shouldn’t be put together with “mass tourist”, as I think that all travelers are carefree in their open-mindedness and curiosity, which brought them to their destinations in the first place. However, I do think it is important to not be carefree in the sense that you are not appreciating where you are and what makes where you are unique in comparison to home. In some ways, I do think that I can be a mass tourist at times. I’m always taking pictures of the places I go to, especially if they’re famous landmarks like the Shard or Big Ben, especially since I am taking a course here where each week we go on walking tours of the city and see all of the sights. I am still very much in awe of this city and still feel as though I am in this magical place straight out of the movies. However, at the same time, I feel like in the last month I have really begun to transition from a tourist into a citizen of London. My daily commute to university and my many walks around my neighborhood and the rest of the city have really given me a chance to take in my surroundings and make me feel more and more at home. I’ve been trying to meet the local people at my university and when I am on a night out with friends. I’ve been going to local markets and buying produce from the vendors in order to support local business and consuming fresh foods. I’ve also been trying to adhere to the energy conservation and recycling customs here as they are adhered to more here than in the U.S. In these ways, I think I am becoming the “mindful traveler” that Slimbach describes, journeying “in ways that strengthen rather than undermine the goals of economic growth, cultural preservation, social harmony, environmental protection, and spiritual flourishing…”
In our workshop at the end of the fall semester, we defined Global Community as “All people around the world living by and fighting for similar social values and basic rights.” I think the concepts Slimbach discusses relates very well to our definition. Slimbach says that mindful travelers take active roles in their new communities to help them flourish rather than harming them. I think our class definition has the same intention in mind when we say “living and fighting for similar social values and basic rights.” I also think that these characteristics are definitely keys to participating in the global community. When I was in high school, we had to take the Ephebic Oath and in that oath we swore to leave our city greater than we found it, and I thought about this while reading Slimbach and looking at our definition of global community from class. There is always a theme of active participation and trying to benefit your community rather than harm it. I think as my time in London continues to pass by, my desire to be a “mass tourist” will fade and I will continue to grow into a “mindful traveler” that truly cares about the city that has become my temporary home.
I think this picture of myself at Kensington Gardens in Hyde Park best describes my journey so far and my growth into a mindful traveler. Living near Hyde Park has given me the opportunity to go on walks and experience some of the natural beauty of London that may not always be seen through the crowded streets of buildings. Kensington Gardens, which are, you guessed it, near Kensington Palace, are beautifully laid out and for me were a bit of an escape from the hustle and bustle of the main road just feet away. The gardens also overlook a large pond that is heavily populated by swans and other birds. It’s places like these that make me realize that London is more than just the typical tourist sights I’ve come to know and love. Now I am finding parts of this city that I can “call my own” in a way and I think it is making me appreciate my time here more and appreciate the city more as I transition from tourist status to Londoner status. I look forward to exploring more, especially outside of the city as I begin to go on trips, and become a true “mindful traveler”.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub. LLC., 2010. Print.