The difference between tourism and travel was a widely discussed topic in our classes in Rome. During one of our classes, Rachel said that tourists know where they’re going but do not know how to get there and travellers know how to get there but have no destination. To me this perfectly sums up the definition of the two. I noticed that our small group began the journey as tourists but emerged travellers.
In the beginning, we considered ourselves travellers because we wouldn’t in Rome just for a short time; we were living there. Even though we didn’t want to admit it, we were definitely more tourists than travellers. As we got our bearings in the city we had noses shoved in maps and we viewed sites more through camera lenses than our own eyes. We took pictures of everyone and everything, documenting each moment.
As the weeks progressed and we became more accustomed to life in Rome we were transformed into travellers. I’m not sure how or why it happened, but eventually it did. We became more laid back about what we were going to do on free days and during free time. We would say things like, “I’m not really sure what I want to do so I’m just going to wander around.”
During those wanderings we had some of our best adventures. Dr. Kim gave us an assignment to find a non-Italian restaurant, so we split into groups to complete the task. As we walked down Via Nazionale my group and I passed a small bookshop. A classmate and I were immediately intrigued and asked the other group members if we could go inside. They agreed, and what we found was an unexpected surprise.
Two wicker baskets sitting unassumingly on a table held hundreds of old postcards. Some had been mailed to friends or family members, and some were blank, but all were unique and interesting in their own way. They had come from countries all over Europe: France, England, Germany, Hungary, and many more. We spent close to an hour going through the baskets and picking out our favorite ones. The shopkeeper didn’t speak a word of English, but he would smile and nod at us every so often to show that he appreciated our wonder at his collection (and pending business as well). Each of us walked away with at least five of the vintage postcards, and I still think they were the best things I bought for myself on the trip.
That little bookshop is something we wouldn’t have discovered if we had been acting as tourists. It was in those moments, the spontaneous, unexpected ones, that we made the best memories on the trip. Not having a set destination allowed us to freely explore and get to know the city in the way only a traveller can. As J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Not all who wander are lost.”