To travel..

This week Johanna and I have journeyed to the coast with Vanja as she concludes her time in Tanzania and we travel after completing the semester at school. 

The “Hot Springs” where acrobatic locals and adventurous travelers take a dip

Starting in Arusha on Tuesday we drove east with a van full of friends to a beautiful desert oasis that the locals call the Hot Springs. They are not particularly hot, but it was a wonderful secluded watering hole with deep clear warm water surrounded by tall palms and mangroves all crawling with local boys doing flips off the rope swing. It was loads of fun playing with our Arusha friends and enjoying water play with the other Tanzanians of all ages. There were only a couple other wazungu travelers/tourists present.

I want to flesh out a little of my experience with those words: travelers and tourists. I find like most things we each have our own assumptions and connotations with these words, and again like most things I find my self experiencing the grey area of both/and rather than either/or.

I generally have a positive opinion of “travelers.” They are adventurous, flexible, open, curious, and have a desire to engage with the variety of human experience and perspective that this vast planet has to offer. On whatever scale they have the means and time for.

“Tourists,” I feel less kindly toward as they often travel in large groups, take pictures of everything, are oblivious to nuances of everyday life in whatever new place they decided to visit. They rely on schedules and structured consumer methods of seeing, experiencing, and tasting the world.

The negative of the tourist title is most definitely just as stereotypical and overstated as the admirable depiction of the “weirdly traveler” is. The grey area of my experience with these words come from the knowledge that there are usually a time and place for everything, and often they way I feel and think can be silly feels silly and yet true in the moment. Here’s some of my experiences and feelings on this coastal trip, with some previous trip anecdotes thrown in:

I feel like a traveler when I pack only a carry on or small backpack. I feel like a tourist when I check a suitcase.

I feel like a tourist when I take pictures of food. I feel like a traveler when I blog about pictures of my typical local meals.

I feel like a tourist when I wear a backpack on the front and the back. I feel like a traveler when I walk around a big city with a backpack on the front and the back.

I feel like a traveler when I wait for an unscheduled bus on a small bench under a tree in Tanga with a huge group of locals lounging around presumably for the same reason. I feel like a tourist when the only reason I get a seat on that bus is because a friend we just made fended off three people so we could get to the seats.

Packed into a daladala for a pleasant enough hot bumpy bus ride down the coastal country road between Tanga and Pangani
From the Pangani River ferry we took the most fun half hour bodaboda ride ever. Even laden with backpacks

I feel like a tourist when I opt for the taxi ride from point A to point B. I feel like a traveler when I hop on the bodaboda, squeeze in the daladala, and wedge myself between people for the long bumpy ride from point A to point B.

I feel like a tourist when I go to the Arusha Nakumatt supermarket. I feel like a traveler when I buy and barter in Kiswahili at the secondhand market or any stand on the street.

Uniquely rustic and luxurious: grass matts cover the sandy flowers and the windows are only sticks. The massive maskito nets keep us bug free like tents. No AC but perfect views and lots of ocean breeze
I highly recommend the Emayani Beach Lodge. We had the place to ourselves!

I feel like a tourist when I stay the night at a gorgeous beach lodge where I’m fed food of all kinds. I feel like a traveler when I stay a  night in a tiny Tanga hostel room with a tiny little fan where I eat a breakfast of beans and toast with a men’s basketball team from Mwanza.

Medy leading us through the winding backstreets of Pangani
The renovated Pangani Port used to be in ruin after it’s previous use, housing slaves, ceased

I feel like a tourist when I “see the sites.” I feel like a traveler when I “just visit” a town and the highlight is meeting a local named Medy who’s returning home from school and was happy to spend lunch and the afternoon showing us around his pleasantly sleepy coastal home town of Pangani.

I feel like a traveler when I learn something new about where I’ve been, who I met, and who I am. I feel like a tourist when I had fun  appreciating a luxury.

My traveling companions Johanna and Vanja

I feel like a tourist when I make decisions based on comfort. I feel like a traveler when I am uncomfortable and it was worth it.

The maskitos feasting on my ankles right now qualify as slightly more than uncomfortable, but they are well worth the ocean breeze passing through my open windows that frame an uninterrupted view of palms and the Indian Ocean at sunset. We’re making our way down the humid and beautiful coast lined with low key port towns from Tanga to Pangani, and on to Bagamoyo tomorrow where we’ll enjoy our last two days with Vanja. She’ll head to Zanzibar before home, Johanna off to Lake Tanganyika, and me to Dar Es Salaam for a bus home to Arusha.

I am beyond thankful for such wonderful women to travel with. And I’m so thankful for the chance to get out of the very tourist centered Arusha and experience more of the laid back friendly Tanzania.  I am thankful I enjoy traveling and have gradually learned to embrace the good that being a tourist is too.

What are some of your traveler vs. tourist experiences and stories?


Indian Ocean sunrise from our hut’s portch…no filter :)



Edited with BlogPad Pro

2 thoughts on “To travel..

  1. Karen Hill

    Traveler vs. Tourist –

    I think we, too, have had both experiences and often a blend. Being a tourist is relatively easy with just English, being a traveler is more difficult. Most of our travel has been in central and western Europe, which doesn’t compare to travel in other parts of the world, though we’ve had a bit of that. We’ve valued our time staying in small villages for a week at a time, where little English is spoken, but you can figure it out. I do wish we were a bit more adventuresome with interacting with locals or even other international guests. Since we mostly travel independently (and for extended times), we do a lot on foot, bicycle or public transport (rarely rent a car anymore). Using taxis is pretty adventuresome for us, though – never at all sure if we’ll get where we want to go :-).

    I think many people would benefit greatly by stepping out of their comfort zone here in the USA or the resorts available and explore just a little of our global world. Even a visit to an international city helps you to realize that it’s a big world out there and it doesn’t all revolve around ours. Get into villages and you really realize how differently much of the rest of the world lives.

    Glad you were able to get away for some play time – what fun.

    1. Thanks for sharing Karen! It really is amazing how stepping into the everyday world of locals is so different from the mask put on by the tourist industry, which certainly has some value ad well.

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