A few weeks ago a couple of friends and I had the amazing experience of spending a week in Cairo. Cairo, Egypt. I know. I have a hard time believing it myself. We were with friends and we had an AMAZING tour guide who is very knowledgeable about all things Egypt and he made the experience really positive. In fact, tourism there is really suffering. They desperately need our American dollars infused into their fragile economy, so if any readers have ever considered going to Egypt, go. It’s amazing, it’s beautiful, it’s safe and you will have the experience of a lifetime.
We did all the standard tourism things you would do in Egypt – pyramids, sphinx, camel rides, The Nile, etc. Of course. If we’d gone all the way to Egypt and not seen any of that you’d think we were crazy. But we also did things that were a bit off the beaten path, just to have a full experience.
We had a mantra on our trip – We’re not Tourists, we’re Travelers. To us that meant that we weren’t having a neatly packaged, pre-determined experience that was designed to give us the impression that we’d experienced Egypt. We allowed ourselves to get dirty, to experience local treasures and to visit places of extreme poverty to give ourselves the full experience of an urban center.
In addition to the great spots that everyone is supposed to do in Egypt, we visited a ministry to children in the slums of Cairo, the Embaba. One of the people we met who was a life-long Cairo resident never even went to this area until she was in her 40s. Other areas we visited had a kinetic energy that was palpable. This area had more of a desperation. The fight for everyday survival was apparent, but the faces of the children were priceless.
In direct contrast to my experience in Egypt, I spent the next week in Paris and was definitely a Tourist. Part of this was because I was alone and I wasn’t going to explore more seedy areas by myself. I saw the most beautiful parts of Paris, ate fantastic food that had been recommended by seasoned travelers and window-shopped in fancy boutiques. It was lovely. Paris has more “real” parts to it, as do all urban centers, and I’m certainly open to seeing them one day. This part of my trip was about being a Tourist, being nourished by a different type of beauty, experiencing solitude, walking and noticing.
Is one, Tourist or Traveler, better than the other? I don’t think so. I think the key is being open to whatever experience God is calling you to in a given moment. Sometimes we’re called to go deep into a situation and sometimes we’re granted rest. Each experience is rich in its own way.