by Margareth Sioson

I decided to go on an unplanned trip and take you with me. As I entered the minibus, I realized that a few people also hopped in. I took my seat next to the window at the far back. Before the journey began the tour guide left this question with us. “How would you classify yourself? Are you a tourist or are you a traveler?”

A passenger next to him tried asking, “Is there a difference?” But he dodged the question and answered, “I’d rather let you discover the answer as we end our departure.”

The question sure did linger on me. I felt as if I am a tourist for I didn’t know where I was supposed to go or where I belong. I didn’t know anyone at all. I observed my co-passengers but they don’t seem baffled at all. It was not long enough until the wheels stop and the breeze distracted me. I took my first step outside and the sea welcomed me. It was peaceful. It was comforting. A place that feels home. That was what I was looking for when I decided to join this trip. 

We were assigned to our rooms and a single key was not given to us. I was confused with the gesture but I disregarded it like everyone else. The walls of the room were painted white, it was simple but it showed purity. There was a window overlooking the beach. Instead of lying down in my bed all day, I decided to head out and feel the sand and waves with my toes. “I’m liking my first day here but why am I here for?”

I fell asleep and saw the sun was about to set when I opened my eyes. I immediately went inside my room to organize my belongings. Which on the other hand, were too few to even be organized. This trip was all spontaneous. The next thing I know, my name is listed under the attendees. 

On my second day, I had a wider view of my surroundings. Of people, places, and even things. In the early morning, I saw these people running till their out of breath. I knew it was a productive day and so I wanted to join them. I saw their smiles which signaled a good morning. Until I saw this person about to leave the island. They said he was not ready. My initial thought is that like me, he didn’t bring enough of his things. 

We then took our lunch together. A not so typical one. Our lunch does not only include food. It includes gratitude. That we are present in this moment, all together. Extending our hands to one another. I was happy that not a single one was complaining as we eat on the banana leaves resting in front of us. Instead of complaining, one was curious. Asking how did we get the idea. One replied, “Often we tend to look for MORE not realizing we’re taking for granted what we have right in front of us.”

As we call it a day, our tour guide decided to unfold the answer to the question he left us beforehand. “Are you a tourist or a traveler?” I hope you discovered a few things through your stay here. But I wanted to point out their differences. A tourist observes but a traveler experiences. Your first day was up to you whether how you wanted to spend it. I hope you chose to experience this wonderful place around you. A tourist wants to see all the beautiful sights. But a traveler wants to discover some and eventually find something interesting that is not included in the guidebook. As you wake up on an early morning, what did you discover? Yes, there was a beautiful sight right in front of you. The beach. But I hope you also notice how the people around you filled that beautiful spot. A tourist separates themselves but a traveler blends in. You decided to jog and spent your day with the people whom you do not know. One of you left and some of you notice that he wasn’t ready for this trip. And he is, he’s not yet ready to become a traveler. But let’s hope that one day, he will be. Just like you, me, just like us.

I decided to raise my hand to ask, “Is this the reason behind you not giving keys to lock in our doors?”   

He replied, “That leads me with the next difference.” A tourist complains but a traveler is curious. A plate wasn’t available that is why we chose to eat on banana leaves, which to my surprised, no one complained. On our first day, I did not give you keys to see if one or two would ask me “Why?”. For me, it has two reasons, on this trip I want you to acknowledge each and everyone while taking your own time. You can ask for a key and I could give it to you, I would gladly respect your privacy. But no one did. You have built a good connection with everyone without even starting a conversation. You felt what needed to be felt. That is why it was easier for you to trust one another.

To finally find out if you’re a tourist or traveler I’d leave you with this statement that I would like you guys to work on. A tourist is oblivious but a traveler is sensitive. You may ask yourselves, where we are right now is a good place with good people. But let me remind you that not every place is filled with good people. But you, you have a choice to be a good one.

Spend the next morning however you like it. Alone, together, or simultaneously doing both. It’s all up to you. You can welcome the sunrise or you can wait for the sun to set. It doesn’t matter. For the former, you will learn how to appreciate how you manage to wake up on a new day. While with the latter, you will learn how to appreciate the time you have spent today. Both signify your presence. Both signify a difference you make just by existing.

As we end our night, we saw right through each other. We let the waves crash the shore in the meantime. We’ve decided to collect the shells–– especially the broken ones. We have learned to let these now dead life forms find their home to us. We have learned to cherish them until we can mourn, relive rather, the life they’ve conquered just like us.

At the end of this trip, we realized that we were all wandering souls waiting for a home to welcome us. We are troubled minds, waiting for someone to listen. It may not look like it, but both sadness and happiness look different to each passerby. Someone who laughs often can be someone who cries just the same. 

On this island, we thought we are going to find ourselves as tourists. But all along, We are all travelers of this journey. One who experiences rather than observes. One who discovers beautiful sights but later on uncovers much more interesting things that lie within. One who blends in, in words, in actions, in feelings. One who is curious and sensitive at the same time.

I want you to treat the minds of each people you meet as an island. I want you to be a traveler of those islands. Do not just observe and see what you wanted to see. Immerse yourself in the situation they are in, to fully understand that what they are, does not make them any less of a person. Discover what they can do and what they can still be, but never limit them to do things that you do just because they struggle mentally. There is rawness and authenticity  behind their struggles. One way or another, they’ll be the ones to show you how to be compassionate more than anyone else.

Yes, an island is a pleasing spot. But just like them, each island is different. We don’t know what lies within the deepest part of their bodies of water. The same thing goes for the texture of their sands, so be curious yet sensitive at the same time. They are fragile but there is strength in their weakness too.

We need more travelers in this world full of tourists because there is so much more to be seen, to be heard, and to be felt. 

Life would take us on a never-ending trip. So when you became a traveler, be sure to become a kind one. You would never know who or what you would meet and discover in the first place.

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