I Feel Guilty For Being A Tourist

This post first appeared on Medium

This starts with a trip planned to Thailand.

I have been talking about going to Thailand for the past year. Ever since I got back from my backpacking trip to Europe last summer I had my heart set on going to Thailand. “Right after Christmas” I had been telling everyone. “Bangkok and Chang Mai,” I told everyone. “Two weeks” everyone.

Most of my social circle knew about this trip. Friends, family, co-workers, my boss (need to request that PTO). I have been mentally preparing for the past year, pinning shit to Pinterest, and slowly piecing together an itinerary for a year. I was going to freakin Thailand and there was nothing stopping me.

You see where this is going, right?

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Over the summer work started to pick up. I started working more and traveling more. Working late and on the weekend. I became more stressed, more anxious, tired and downright beaten down at times.

I then went on two shorter trips in late September during what was possibly the worst weeks to leave work. The timing was so bad that I ended up working during my second trip (I have a big no-no policy on working while on PTO, so, the fact that I brought my work phone with me is a testament to how busy and stressed out I was.)

These two trips weren’t relaxing trips either. I was hiking in Arizona, running around Austin, visiting friends, and drinking and dancing at a music festival for three days straight (and then going out to drink and dance some more). It was exhausting. Fun and amazing, but, exhausting.

When October 1st hit I realized I only had two months before my Thailand trip and I started to stress even more. Every week “Plan Thailand” was on my to-do list, and every week it got moved to the following week. The amount of time I knew I would need to put into looking for flights, accommodation, tours etc. overwhelmed me. Researching for this trip was just one more thing I needed to do on a CVS-like receipt of my to-do list.

I started thinking about what my options were. Do I just go and wing it? Do I not go and waste the PTO days? Do I go somewhere else? And if so, where to?

I started thinking about what I really wanted at that point. What, in the thick of work being horrendous, and me being a stressed and tired mess, did I want?

What I wanted was to go somewhere warm. I wanted to go to a beach. I wanted to go someplace where I could sit my ass in a chair and sleep half the day and read the other half. I wanted people to bring me drinks, or swim up to a bar and sip on a cocktail. I wanted to not have to think, and not be stressed, and to do nothing. I needed to do nothing.

And I felt guilty for it. I felt guilty for wanting to take an actual vacation. You know, one of those things where people relax and decompress, and recharge. Allegedly.

But I don’t go on vacations because vacations are for tourists. They are for the people who can’t handle “real” travel, who like being in their sheltered little bubbles on their compound on the beach and never leave the resort. I’ve always viewed those vacationers as a bit lazy and unimaginative. Playing it safe. Sticking to what they know.

I, on the other hand, was a traveler- someone who is active and explores and is constantly doing something new.

In my mind trips are different from vacations. Trips are busy, active, exhausting and tiring. They are a bit uncomfortable, taking you out of your comfort zone, and pushing you both physically and mentally. There isn’t a ton of relaxing and decompressing. In fact, you are usually trying to compress as much as humanly possible into a small amount of time. You are constantly in motion.

I rarely (like, literally, three times ever) use my time off for vacations. And when I have, it’s because I had burnt myself out.

I was burning myself out.

So, here I was, two months away from my next trip, and desperately wanting a vacation. Knowing I needed a vacation. But feeling guilty for wanting to take one. Feeling like a failure and somewhat of a fraud for wanting to be lazy and unwind as a “tourist” as oppose to going and exploring a new place as a “traveler.”

So, for the last month, I have beaten myself up over this dilemma. Do I stick with my original plan to go to Thailand, knowing I’ll be seeing and experiencing some amazing things while stressing myself out in the process? Or do I actually listen to my body, take a fucking chill-pill, and go relax and recharge?

As of yesterday morning, I am officially going to an all-inclusive in Mexico in a little over two weeks. A place that is warm, and sunny, has a beach, a pool, and someone giving me drinks. A place where I can sleep half the day and read the other half, and where I don’t have to think.

Despite not wanting to be a tourist, I need to be a tourist right now. But even though I know, and have known, that I need a break, I still struggle with how this time away will be perceived. I was (and shamefully, still am) concerned how this looks. 

Does being a tourist at an all-inclusive make me less of a traveler?

The amount of judgement I have passed over myself the last few months simply for wanting to relax was both eye opening and a bit disappointing. Not just with how much I have struggled to give myself permission to relax, but also how much prejudice I apparently hold towards people who travel differently. The travel sphere has become so divided into two camps (traveler vs. tourist), I hadn’t realized how much I had bought into the fallacy that vacationing and being a “tourist” was somehow not “worthy” enough to be deemed traveling.

And frankly, that’s bullshit.

Who am I to say if how someone spends their time off is worthy enough to be considered “traveling” verse simply touristing? It’s a bit elitist, right? Just because I spend my time running myself into the ground going all over god’s good earth doesn’t make me better or more of a “traveler” than someone who chooses to recharge on a beach in the Caribbean. Who am I to say what is “right” and what is “wrong?”

It’s a shame that some “travelers” (myself included) look down on “tourists” and view them as less-than simply because they want to spend their time off differently than we do. What makes one better or more legit than the other? Shouldn’t we all just be supportive and encouraging of the fact that we are all leaving home to begin with? Going somewhere? Anywhere? Is that not enough?

I’d be lying if I said I don’t still feel a bit guilty for backing out on Thailand. I do, and am still judging myself for it. But, I also know that going to a resort to sit and do nothing right now is exactly what I need regardless if it makes me less of a “traveler” and more of a “tourist.” And frankly, I cannot wait.