The Seven Types Of Travelers
Monday, December 20, 2010
One of the best things about hitting the road is all the new and interesting people you meet. After all, a place is just as much about its people as it is about landscape.
What defines a destination without the conversations, the artists, or the chefs? How would you check into a hotel room without a friendly face at the front desk? Of course, not everyone is an instant friend. Travel also means meeting people along the way you might not be totally in love with; whose ideas and attitudes may or may not align with your own. Yet with a grain of salt, the different types of travelers spice up the overall experience. You never know who’ll make a lasting connection.
1) The Memoirist
Everyone likes to tell a good story travel story — but some love sharing more than others . . . and won’t stop. The Memoirist is constantly reminiscing about obscure destinations, even when they’re in the middle of one.
As interesting as a good story is, it’s not half as fun as the experience itself. Besides, what’s an appropriate response? Maybe the listener answers, “Oh yes, that reminds me of this one time in Nairobi . . .” and it just becomes an awkward adventure competition. No matter how many times you recount how you hiked through the bowels of Cambodia, or danced with a Saudi Prince, I must retort that you just had to be there.
The Good: Fun to talk to
The Bad: Hard to get to stop
2) The Navigator
Sometimes travel can be overwhelming, and you just need to kick back while a confident friend takes the reigns. Lost in the Swiss Alps? The Navigator will take over. Not sure which Irish bar to stop at first? The Navigator has planned your entire pub-crawl. The Navigator is a wonderful, incredibly confident friend whose “I got this” can be heaven to your ears. Of course, confidence is a blessing and a curse. What happens when you want to veer off your friend’s carefully chosen path? What happens when you’d like to look at the map and figure things out? At worst the Navigator can make curiosity feel like an overstep.
Furthermore, although the Navigator is confident, that does not mean he or she is right. When you’re up a creek without a paddle (literally), then it’s safe to say you’ll wish you’d put a little less faith in the overconfident traveler.
The Good: You’re not stuck making tough decisions
The Bad: Sometimes it’s best to help make those tough decisions
3) The Ignoramus
Here’s a hypothetical situation: You’re sitting in a quiet French bistro. Faint accordion music echoes through the couloirs, when suddenly: “WHO HERE SPEAKS AMERICAN?”
What may be intended as a harmless sense of nationalistic pride can easily deteriorate into a scandalous level of disrespect. Some travelers revolve around the expectation that everyone caters to their native culture and never truly appreciate the merits of a new destination.
This is not my favorite person. Deviating from the norm is a luxury I could never trade on vacation, not for all the McDonald’s in the world.
The Good: Cultural dichotomy makes for great entertainment
The Bad: Why not just stay home?
4) The Casanova
Hostels can sometimes be sketchy enough place to be without being seduced by a backpacker who hasn’t had anything less than a questionable shower since he left weeks ago. There’s always the Casanova, looking for love in all the wrong rooms, bars, and tour buses.
Here’s a word of advice to all the self-proclaimed romantics masquerading as tourists: your soulmate is most likely not an Eastern European motorcyclist you have a chance encounter with in Tibet, nor is she the American travel writer trying to send you negative signals when you probe for personal details. Sex is cool, but please take it easy Casanova.
The Good: Love is in the air
The Bad: The results from the STD test
5) The Jokester
There’s no better way to enjoy good times on the road than with an equally upbeat partner in crime. Laughter truly is great medicine and definitely lightens the mood. I traveled with my best friend, and there was never a dull moment in times of joy. Of course, we also got ourselves into trouble by giggling practically all the time. Apparently it’s not funny to giggle at preserved cadavers in medieval cathedrals. Oops.
The Good: Giggles all around
The Bad: Not good to laugh in cemeteries and churches
6) The Linguist
Amidst the many ignoramuses fraternizing around the world, there’s the chance exception of an absolutely brilliant chameleon. If you think you haven’t met such well-blended traveler, that might be because you have and didn’t notice. The Linguist flawlessly picks up languages and mannerisms, discreetly absorbing culture so quickly that even locals forget they’re a tourist. How do they do it?
The answer lies in the discerning expertise of locals and fellow Linguists. Although the Linguist is an uncommon phenomenon, unfortunately, the skill may not be as cultivated as it appears to be. There’s a good chance the Linguist slips up from time to time, even as other tourists balk at the standard of excellence. Perfection is highly, highly unlikely.
Also, someone so smart can often let talent devolve into arrogance. You mean you don’t know how to say “Thank you for the kimchi, it’s delicious,” in Korean? Unacceptable.
Nevertheless, I respect the Linguist’s attention to detail. It’s not every traveler who makes adaptation a priority. Good call.
The Good: A God among travelers
The Bad: They know it
7) The Pack
One friend is a good thing. Two are still good. Three even . . . but seven? Eight? Thirteen? Thirteen in matching outfits that each say “Katie and Brian’s Wedding” across the pink windbreaker? When a large group of tourists busts into your hostel, emotions (and laundry piles) run high. It can be a blast to tag along with a group of rowdy teens or excitable 20-somethings, hitting up the nightlife in a whole new crew.
Of course, the downside to making so many sudden bonds is the missed opportunity for local color, or for meaningful connections tied to the destination. How can you talk to locals when you’re always out clubbing with a pack of collegiate alcoholics?
However, I generally don’t mind this method of travel because I think the people you meet along the road characterize the destination as much as so-called natives. I met some really wild Australians in Amsterdam well-suited to the experience, and had some really meaningful conversations about Indian Diaspora on a long boat ride in Greece. Sometimes the crazy nomads you meet along the way teach as much about travel as the destination itself. So regarding the Pack, no tears shed.
The Good: You’ll never be lonely with so many new friends
The Bad: It’s much more difficult to meet the locals
* * *
By the end of a trip, it’s safe to say you’re going to have pictures with strangers and a list of adventurers to add on Facebook. No matter who you meet, good or bad, likeable or unlikable, the different types of travelers enhance any journey.
If you see yourself in any of these personas, do not be worried. We all embody elements of these overriding characters because they are the traits of travel: we all love to tell stories of when we took control or learned a language, laugh with our friends and keep an eye out for romance. The true travel experience is in the overlaps.
Best of luck as you encounter one another on the road, you might never know who you meet, but with these general guidelines, you may have a better idea.
About the Author
Alexandra Bregman has written for The Expeditioner, Beyond Race, poetic and academic publications. She has a traveler’s spirit, big dreams post-Smith College graduation, and can be followed at @alixbregman.