The Master Traveler

I received a comment on a recent post that I want to spend some time discussing here.  The comment reads:

I have always loved the idea of being a mastered traveler.  I have several friends, including you, who are modern hobos, seekers, and/or travelers.  Part of me loves watching their adventures and growth, but the other part of me knows how lonely it can be to be a traveler.  Can you be a master traveler and still have a community/home that is fulfilling, or will you always be wandering?

Before saying anything else, I want to thank the person who made this comment.  You really got me thinking, and for that, I’m grateful.

I replied to this comment as best as I could after thinking about it for a while, but I want to revisit it in detail because it’s a great question and deems further consideration. I’m going discuss this in two posts.  The first will deal with the concept of a master traveler.

There are 195 countries in the world (196 if you count Taiwan which, as an American, apparently, I’m not supposed to do).  I once met a person who had visited something like 120 of the world’s countries.  If there’s anyone who could be considered a master traveler upon first glance, it would be this man.  And yet, in several of the countries he visited, he admitted to stopping in only one or two cities.  To be a master traveler, how much of each country does one have to see?  How many cities?  Does it mean that one must be knowledgeable about every aspect of the cultures of the countries he or she has visited?  I would say this goes too far.  Yes, I would have to argue that the number of locales visited is a factor, but I think it goes deeper than this.

The best way I can describe this the idea of a traveler is by a point of comparison with a tourist, though I’m not going to focus on the usual distinction between these (e.g., tourists only go to the tourist sites, versus the travelers who go off the beaten path).  This has already been written about a lot.  Instead, I’m going to focus on a different side of the divide between these two camps.

Travelers realize that even walking down the street can be an adventure.

Let’s look first at the differences in definition between the words traveler and tourist.  Both are defined as ‘a person who is traveling’, but there is an important distinction: the definition of tourist adds ‘especially for pleasure’.  I think this is fitting.  Yes, travelers get pleasure from traveling, but it’s more than that.

Tourists are people who come to a place for a time, and then they leave.  They enjoy the sights and the time they spend there, but afterward, they return home to the life they already knew.  To be sure, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this.  This just isn’t the way travelers do things.

Travelers, on the other hand, are those who come to a place and let the memories and interactions change them.  They explore.  They realize that even walking down the street can be an adventure.  Travelers, if they return home at all, do not come back as the same people they were before they left.  For the traveler, the sights are merely part of the reason they go; it’s more about encountering something new, even that which is uncomfortable.  All of it, the good and the bad and everything in between, is all a part of the travel.

A friend I met traveling this past year codified this contrast.  In a message she sent me recently, she said, “I quit my job, and I’m leaving in 3 days to do things that set my soul on fire.”  She left the security of her home and job and went out into the unknown.  To some, this is crazy.  Yet there’s a thin line between foolishness and courage.  When I consider her actions, I see bravery.  I see someone who looked beyond what she considered to be the vapid veneer of that which society calls ‘the good life’.  Instead of blind acceptance of what others told her she should want, she put off the comfort of familiarity to look for more.  She fully adopted the mindset of a traveler (and, if I may be so bold, a pilgrim).

This is an extreme example, but it is an example nonetheless.  She looked at her life and, having changed due to her travels, she couldn’t simply go back to her job and the way things were.  She needed something more.  This is obviously not going to be the response of everyone, and that’s okay.  However, one of the lessons I’ve learned from my own travels (and, more importantly, from Jesus) is that I shouldn’t judge what others do.  We each have to walk our own path.

Therefore, although the number of places one has visited should not be disregarded completely, it shouldn’t be the sole determining factor.  Ultimately, I think the answer to this question about a master traveler deals mostly with the individual’s mindset.    It’s easy, while traveling, to begin thinking that you have it all figured out.  However, there’s always something more to learn, and there are always new people to meet.

Thus, to those who consider themselves to be travelers, I say this: go forth with humility and with a heart and mind that are always willing and able to grow more.  It’s with this attitude that you’ll live up to the name traveler.

To those who are/would be tourists: let your various experiences, travel and otherwise, change you.  Grow.  Explore.  Learn.  Put yourself out there, even (especially!) if it makes you uncomfortable.  Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone, even in familiar places.  You’re much more capable than you may realize.  You may never reach the point of being a master traveler, but few people do.   Moreover, it’s not about what others think about you.  I’ll repeat what I said earlier: whether traveler, tourist, or anywhere in between, we each walk our own path.  How we walk determines the course of our lives.

As an ode to my pilgrim friend, I’ll close with this piece of advice: don’t be afraid to do those things that set your soul on fire.


A pilgrimage is an intensely personal journey, but it is not one that a pilgrim undertakes alone.  I don’t want to ‘talk’ into a vacuum.  I want to hear other voices, too.  What I’m trying to say is, I want feedback!  Have I spoken something to you?  Is there something you think I should know?  Do you have a question about something I said?  Please leave a comment below or contact me at

Also, follow me on the Pilgrim Shelter Facebook page to stay up to date on any new releases and for information about future posts.

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