During orientation in Moulay Idriss, our group talked about what it meant to be a tourist versus a traveler. A tourist, to us, is someone who stays in western hotels, doesn’t try to speak the native language, wears disrespectful clothing, and carries a huge camera around their neck. On the other hand, a traveler learns helpful phrases in the language commonly spoken, takes local modes of transportation, and instead of seeking out tourist attractions that have the most Instagram-worthy scenes, visits places that are off the beaten path.
And yet, there are some ways that a traveler can only be a tourist. When we were in Fez, the merchants in the old city greeted us with bonjour instead of ssalamu 3alaykum because they assumed we were like most Moroccan tourist who speak French, not Arabic. We have also been embodying the stereotype of a camera-toting tourist by taking pictures of everything we see to document what we’ve done and capture memories.
What I’ve learned from these experiences is that it is impossible to succeed in being strictly a traveler. What we can do is travel with an open mind; without seeing everything through our own cultural lens. I think this quote from Pico Iyer’s article “Why We Travel” sums this idea up well: “Though it’s fashionable nowadays to draw a distinction between a “traveler” and a “tourist”, perhaps the real distinction lies between those who leave their assumptions at home, and those who don’t.”