The Art of Travel by author Alain de Botton offers wise words for the person preparing to depart upon a long journey. Are we, for instance, tourists or travelers? Is there an important distinction between the two categories? Does it really matter?
In my reflections upon what I have read so far of this book, it seems that the difference is one of depth of experience. If the foreign visitor is comfortable visiting the usual spots and completing a long to-do list of sights and experiences, then perhaps the tourist label applies. On the other hand, if the person wishes to catch the daily rhythms and feeling of a place and its people in a more complete and profound way, the term of traveller may be more applicable. Of course, it seems to me that even the best traveller is likely to spend some time being a tourist within the same trip, and I don't see any negative dimension to this.
One short passage from The Art of Travel that particularly caught my interest concerned a visit by the author to a service station situated somewhere between London (to the south) and Manchester, about three hours distant. His descriptions of the eatery suggest one critical dimension of the traveler's quest: connection. "Vast panes were held in place by strips of beige putty, into whose chewy clamminess I was tempted to dig my nails."
It's a simple sentence, but it expresses a desire to experience a tactile connection with the here and now, to connect with the present. A friend of mine recently referred to this along the lines of marking time with the present in an action similar to tapping one's feet or fingers. It's so easy to let time flow past and not take a step actively into its waters. This element of connection seems to be one important message of this passage by Alain de Botton.