Nomads and tourists share a love for travel, but the way they travel and what they get out of it is very different. Trying to understand the nomadic life from a tourist point of view is a mistake, but an easy one to make. After all, most people have been tourists but few have been nomads, and we judge from what we know.
This post is an overview of the main differences between nomads and tourists, and later I will explore some of these topics in more depth.
The most obvious and important difference between a nomad and a tourist is how much time they have. A tourist normally travels for a week or two while the nomad travels indefinitely.
Every nomad has his own preferences for how long to stay in a place, but it is usually measured in months, not weeks. With that much time, the nomad can explore at leisure. There is no need to get up at dawn to cram as much sightseeing into each and every day. We can enjoy long breaks at a café without missing the chance to see some great monument or bazaar. They will still be there the next day, week or month.
(I must admit, however, that I sometimes miss the elated feeling of crashing into a hotel bed, drained to the brink of exhaustion by a long day of hard-core sightseeing, feet throbbing from the many miles walked along foreign streets.)
Travel for a tourist is a break from normal life. Travel for a nomad, however, is an ever-changing backdrop to everyday life. The nomad still does normal things like work, buy groceries, chill out in the park and watch TV.
But the nomadic life changes these seemingly mundane acts from being repetitive and predictable to exciting and new. Grocery shopping in the US is very different from grocery shopping in Mexico. New countries offer new parks with new floras. And of course, watching local TV is always fun, especially the commercials! (Nothing says more about a country than their commercials!)
It is easy to stay mindful and appreciative of everyday life when it keeps changing.
Tourists seldom make friends in the places they visit. Acquaintances perhaps, but not friends. There is simply not enough time, and too many things to do in that time, to make friends.
For a nomad, however, making friends is imperative! Not only is it lonely without friends, but they are also key to knowing a place. You can visit every museum in a country, but to understand its people, you must be invited into their homes.
Skills and Hobbies
Certain places are great places to learn new skills. Buenos Aires is the home of tango while Switzerland has amazing skiing. Tourists can of course try these things, but apart from the simplest of skills, there isn’t enough time for the tourist to learn much. A nomad, however, can dedicate months towards honing a new skill or hobby.
Doing this is also a great way to meet new friends.
It is hard to appreciate the serene landscape of some foreign land when the body is busy ejecting every last scrap of food and nourishment through any available orifice. There is also jet lag, heat stroke and altitude sickness to enjoy when arriving in a new country.
A nomad has time to acclimatize. These problems also become milder and less frequent the more you travel. (Your belly will eventually play host to the United Nations of Bacteria, able to take on any dodgy street food with no problems!)
Travelling as a nomad is a lot cheaper than travelling as a tourist. You are more flexible and can therefore find cheaper flights (see Airline Patron). Short-term rents are a lot cheaper than staying in hotels. Cooking at home saves a lot of money on restaurant bills. And of course, a nomad won’t be paying rent or mortgage for an empty flat or house back home.
Then again, it is generally easier to earn money holding down a geo-static job than through a location-independent career.