There is an endless variety of travelers wandering about the world. There’s those backpackers who buy hideous elephant pants and wear them everywhere, perhaps not noticing that the only other people wearing them are other tourists. There’s the oblivious, obnoxious, loud-mouthed over-tanned American who considers herself a gift to the world. There’s holiday travelers on the road for just a week or two and splurging in five-star resorts we only dream of. There’s gap year kids whose primary concern is getting drunk. There’s the massive Chinese tour groups that every other traveler hates because of how loud and inconsiderate they are. There’s the retirees who spend half their year on the road and the other half (or less!) at home. There’s those who make a distinction between a tourist and a traveler and pick a side (guess which). If I had to describe Matt and I, we are part of the band of ultimate players roaming around — low profile until we congregate at tournaments and go nuts.
The subtle nuances of travelers can often be seen in the places they choose to go. The Thai islands attract people into partying. Those with only a few weeks of holiday also prefer places like Thailand where there’s plenty of traveling to be done but with many of the creature comforts not found with backpacking. People interested in attending yoga / religious / meditative retreats flock to India. America attracts many, many people curious to explore the place depicted by Hollywood, but only a few can get in.
For most of our trip, we have encountered many other travelers like us: backpackers on trips of 4-8 months and in their mid-twenties and thirties. But in Myanmar, we are way out of our league compared to some of the other travelers we’ve met. Myanmar was closed to tourism and considered dangerous until fairly recently, and today it seems to attract those who have already been everywhere else, are on super long-term trips, and older, more experienced travelers. Examples:
- Frank & Lauren: Americans who lived in Kauai for four years and then taught for a year in Siem Reap. They are now traveling for a bit before teaching for two years in the Philippines (Manila).
- The American couple from Wisconsin: The guy runs a private land trust for a nature conservancy and his wife is a family practice doctor. Both have traveled extensively for years, and they were telling us stories about Nepal back in ’87.
- The older French couple who has been to Nepal 50 times! They went overland from Switzerland to Nepal back in the 1970s. She was born a backpacker, basically, and they married at 18 and have been traveling together since.
- Jazza and Alesha, Australians traveling overland from Southeast Asia to South Africa. It will take them 3 years, though they’re just a month into it so far.
- Zoe, a Brit who is 40 and in the midst of a 4 year trip. She has been an avid traveler since she was in her early twenties. She is 2.5 years into what started out as a 6-month plan and now extends through 2015.
I’m ridiculously competitive, and, at first, meeting all of these other travelers made me feel inadequate. My trip of 6.5 months is nothing compared to what some of these people are doing!
But, as is true in most aspects of life, it doesn’t make any sense to compare ourselves against anyone but our previous selves. We have no idea what other peoples’ backgrounds are, the journey they’ve taken, what they’ve had to struggle through, or any of the obstacles it took them to get to this point. We only see them at this particular snapshot in their life with no context around it. All we know is what it’s taken to get to this point in our own lives, and this version of Lisa is doing pretty well compared to the one from even just a year ago.
I can compare myself to other people out there, pretend like I’m better than certain ones, make fun of the dorky ones, be in awe of those who have done more, and endlessly compare [travel] resumes. But it’s a pointless exercise — all that really matters is that I’m out here, on the road, seeing the world and becoming better versions of myself.