What it Means to be a Traveler, not a Tourist

What it Means to be a Traveler, not a Tourist

Audrey Mitchell

Big Fiji Explorer, 2017 | Moroccan Wanderer, 2018 | Southeast Asian Adventure, 2019

Audrey is from Duxbury, Massachusetts and is a current sophomore studying in the Communications department at Boston College.

All images have been provided bu Audrey. Read her story below!

Four countries, three summers, and too many stories, memories, meals, laughs, tears and hugs to count and I have really one thing to say: thank you.

I live in a tiny town just south of Boston. It’s so small that we have one traffic light, the kind of town where you can’t go to the post office or the grocery store without seeing someone you know.

My graduating class was pretty much the same as my kindergarten class, and while I have always been blessed to be a part of such a close knit community, by middle school I knew I wanted to break the bubble. That’s when I found Rustic Pathways.

After doing my research, I convinced my parents that this would be an experience that I could never get in a classroom.

For my family and me, it was really Rustic Pathways’ philosophy of “being a traveller and not a tourist” that separated them the rest. I lived that philosophy on all three of my trips.

Experiencing Fiji, Morocco, Thailand and Laos as a traveller, not a tourist, meant our accommodations might be four hours deep into the depths of the jungle or a rocky dive boat ride to an island with no cell service.

It meant that the skills we learned included bartering with local souk owners on the streets of Marrakech and the proper etiquette for a mosque, temple or church.

Most importantly, it meant that the people we met were farmers, monks, boat captains, surfers, mothers, fathers and school children. Without exception, the people we met welcomed us warmly into their homes, businesses, and places of worship.

They proudly shared their lives, customs and traditions with us and we quickly learned they were as interested in learning about us, as we were about them.

We also learned that although our languages, beliefs and food might be different from country to country, as people, we were far more alike than we were different.

The experiences I had on my trips were truly once in a lifetime. They can’t be replicated, nor would I want them to be.

I knew every experience I was lucky to be a part of was a unique moment in my life, and I appreciated that. Looking back on those times, I appreciate that even more.

I will treasure the memories of these trips for a lifetime. However it wasn’t just the people we met when our plane landed that had an impact on me – it was the people I met in the airport before our flight even took off.

Strangers that would soon become family as we embarked on the next three weeks together, the beginning of friendships that I will also treasure for a lifetime.

Starting with small talk about our ages and where we were from, hailing from all corners of the United States, these people soon became the sources and the centers of the stories, memories, laughs, tears and hugs.

We quickly got to know each other, on flights, in jam-packed van rides, over meals, and during community service.

We came from big cities and small towns and all different kinds of families. We all had one thing in common, we wanted to break our own bubble to see what else was out there, and Rustic Pathways allowed us not only to see it, but to truly experience it.

The bonds made on Rustic trips are unlike any other bond I could describe. From my trips, I have made friendships and connections that I know will last a lifetime.

They are the kind of friendships where the group message is still jammin’ three years later. We share late night FaceTimes with exciting life news and exchange family Christmas cards.

Our lives paths are taking us in different directions, but we have a shared experience that will always bond us tightly. Together, we were travellers, not tourists.

As much as we wanted to relive the past three weeks when our final flight touched down at JFK, we knew it could never be replicated — and it’s this special, bittersweet feeling that encompasses what it means to be a traveller, not a tourist. It’s knowing that nothing can replicate the conversations had or the experiences shared.

And so shukran! Kòp kun! Vinaka! Thank you. Thank you, Rustic Pathways, for providing me with a passport to see the world in ways I never thought possible.

A love of travel has been fortified in me, and knowing that there are so many more places to explore is exciting. But also knowing that there are more people to meet, especially knowing I have been lucky enough to have already met some of the best.

Learn more about Rustic Pathways programs in Fiji, Morocco and Southeast Asia, or view more Alumni Stories here