Ashlee Cowles has a great piece in Humane Pursuits on the difference between being a tourist and being a pilgrim. This is something that Ben Novak and I touched upon in Conserving Mount Nittany—the difference between experiencing Mount Nittany as a sort of sacred, pilgrimage-type experience, versus experiencing it as another item on your college bucket list:
It all starts with intention. The tourist is often seeking an escape from reality, whereas the pilgrim is seeking a deeper experience of reality. Spiritually speaking, the medieval pilgrim was in pursuit of Ultimate Reality (God). Yet pilgrimage isn’t about finding God somewhere else, but about learning how to see, just as a weekend getaway with our spouse can reawaken emotions buried beneath routine—reminding us of why we fell in love with this person, our lifelong playmate, in the first place. Sometimes, there’s nothing like a change of scenery to help us recognize what’s been there all along.
Tourism, in contrast, is typically about getting more of the same. Sure, tourists want to transcend the 9-5 and all the obligations that come with it, but that “escape” better take place in an environment that looks, smells, and tastes just like good old America (if you’ve ever been on a Caribbean cruise, then you know what I mean). Instead of setting out on a path where we are sometimes forced to experience vulnerability and discomfort (a.k.a. the seeds of growth), tourism is about being as cozy and secure as possible.
Tourists over-plan, pilgrims wait on whimsy
Get lost. Wander the backstreets and see where you end up. Make room for providential encounters and serendipitous discoveries.
Tourists consume, pilgrims connect
I love taking photographs when I travel as much as the next guy. … But it’s also easy to live through the camera lens, instead of allowing an atmosphere to work its full magic on you. … And tourism is all about consumption. Eiffel Tower. Check. Westminster Abbey. Check. Van Gogh Museum. Check.
I’m content to travel to a place and experience none of the conventionally worthwhile places and things.