The Traveler vs The Tourist | My Family Travels

(Left to Right) Myself, Graham, Sophie and Mary after a long hike in the rain and forest in front of the Arenal Volcano.
A group photo in la plaza in La Fortuna.

“Do you know the difference between a tourist and a traveler?” That was the first question my tour guide, Don Marlon, inquired of our group on the first day (Don means “sir” or “Mr” in Costa Rica, it was not his first name). There was an assortment of students on the charter bus; some socializing on their own with no concern for his question and others were paying close attention but were too nervous to speak up. Don Marlon waited patiently with his microphone but no response. “A tourist is someone who creates a list of things to do and places to see, checks off what they do on the list, and says ‘Okay, onto the next one.’ A traveler gets the full experience of the country and has a life changing experience with what they did and learned. I want to you to be a traveler and make lasting memories that you can take with you for the rest of your lives. I am here to make sure you experience my country and its entirety.”

Costa Rica was home to everything a tourist or a traveler could want from tropical forests with rare plants and animals to Americanized cities full of American restaurants and shopping (who knew Denny’s was so popular in Costa Rica). It was not rocket science to see who followed Don Marlon’s advice and who did not. In the markets of Sarchi and Monteverde, some bought fresh fruit, such as mamon chino (rambutan in English), plantains, and mangos, handmade jewelry, hand painted ox carts, and hand carved figurines. Other students bought mass produced hoodies, cheesy I (HEART) COSTA RICA keychains, or items with the same image of a cartoon sloth showing off a big grin with the phrase PURA VIDA plastered in big letters (translated to “pure life” and means living day by day with no stress).

In the town of Jaco, some of my school group traveled to a very small Costa Rican eatery and ate rice, beans, and tacos. Right across the two-lane street was a restaurant called Ridiculous Burgers that screamed tourist hotspot with its neon signs displaying WORLD FAMOUS BURGER IN COSTA RICA and American diner interior. Most of the other people traveling with us were there and they ordered a massive quadruple-decker burger to split amongst themselves (we later learned they accepted the burger challenge where they had to eat the entire burger in 30 minutes and the burger would be free. They did not beat it and they had to pay $50).

Traveling to Equus Farm in Monteverde provided our group with a chance to interact with the locals, since the farm was owned by a Costa Rican family. My school group practiced our Spanish with our guide (who was one of the cousins) and interacted with one of the children named Brianna. We also bought handmade bracelets from some of the children who wanted to make a little extra money for the farm and we almost bought every bracelet from them. While all this occurred, the other groups took advantage of the free samples of coffee and sugar cane and socialized amongst themselves.

Based on what Don Marlon told us and what I experienced in Costa Rica, the traveler is someone who wants to open up their world to the world around them. The traveler seeks this world rather than lets that world pass them by and becomes immersed in everything they possibly can. Visiting any country should bring out the traveler in anyone, just like how Costa Rica brought out the traveler in me.

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