Experimental Traveler

Experimental Traveler – A Tourist or Traveler?

“Are you a tourist?” someone asked me while I was visiting a city in Europe. “No, I’m a traveler,” I wanted to say, but instead, I replied, “Yes, I’m a tourist. I’m here to …” I don’t remember what I said—probably about visiting a museum, or an art gallery, or some such places—but I do remember feeling bummed why I didn’t have the guts to say “I’m a traveler.” What’s the difference anyway? I sat at a bar, knocking back a few beers, deep in thought to sort out this problem . . .  

Experimental Traveler Sahara Desert

. . . At the bar, after knocking back a few beers, I came up with the differences between a tourist and a traveler.

Experimental Traveler – My Blogs

A tourist, in its simplest definition, is a person who travels driven by a set of goals. The goals could be an itinerary of places to see, of foods to eat, or of things to do. A tourist could be driven by a compact and personal “bucket list” of the to-do’s before dying. The key motivator is “pleasure.” To have a good time before you check out of your life. Take lots and lots of photos to take back home for remembrance sake of all the fun things you’ve done.

A traveler, on the other hand, is a person who journeys in search for something beyond a set of goals. The main thrust of the traveler’s journey is to search for the unexpected, the unknown, the happenstance that cuts a little deeper into the human experience. For a traveler the journey is more than simply checking off the “been-there-done-that” blocks. The key motivator is “self-discovery.” Not to accumulate the bragging rights of how many countries you visited. Nor to take lots and lots of selfies to show off just to prove your self-worth.

So, I decided to aspire to become a ‘traveler.” This blog is where I log my discoveries, not only of this world but also of myself.

Experiment with Your Life

Experimental Traveler – The Key Idea

Edward Readicker-Henderson, one of the greatest travel writers of our time, gave me an insight into what it means to be a real traveler. I never met Readicker-Henderson (how I wish I had) but years ago I took his advanced travel writing online workshop. Readicker-Henderson had a keen way of experiencing and marinating the world around him, the same world in which I live, yet he so differently perceived it, so eloquently expressed by his writings.

Edward Readicker-Henderson

He was like a boy full of wonderments. In 2014, Readicker-Henderson spoke at the TEDxMaui, Hawaii, about what he called “Killing Your Bucket List.” His heart had been failing him for years, and at the time of his talk he perhaps knew that his time on earth was quick stepping toward its end, and so much so for that, his words had the power of a wise man revealing his hard-earned secrets of the art of living and traveling: “Don’t travel by what you want . . . Travel by what you ‘wonder’. . .  Just ask questions and then go somewhere to see how that place answers . . . Go to a place to see what is happening, to see what the place wants to tell you . . .”

Experimental Traveler
Edward Readicker-Henderson at 2014 TEDx Maui, Hawaii

Discover Yourself in the World – Experiment with Your Life

The world is like a school. You’re in it to learn something. Whether in the classroom or in the playground, whether from your teachers or from your friends, your life gives you the chance to learn something about yourself.

The catch is, you just can’t stay home and wish for self-discovery. You’ve got to get out. Go places. Throw yourself into the world and at the world and see what the world gives you in return. You’ve got to experiment with your life. Experimentation is the key to “self-discovery.”

Experimental Traveler in India
In Ranthambore National Park, India

Travel to Deepen Your World

Dare to Become a Traveler

So, let’s just go for it. Become a traveler. Turn yourself into a guinie pig of your experimental travels. But keep in mind that you are, as all other members of the humankind, a flawed being. You’re not perfect. You’ll stumble. You’ll make mistakes. You may even find something you don’t like about yourself.

On a TV series “Idiot Abroad,” Ricky Gervais (the host) told Karl Pilkington (the idiot) that “people travel to India to find oneself.” Karl replied, “What if you don’t like what you find out about yourself?”

The catch is, whether you like or not like what you find about yourself, you will never know with taking that plunge into the unknown. No try. No gain.

Experimental Traveler
In the Desert of Morocco

Who Am I?

My Former Life – NCIS Special Agent

My  names is J. Almon Polk. I am a writer. Before my writing life, I worked for the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). For 20-plus years, I traveled all over the world as NCIS Special Agent, to nice places on cushy assignments and to tough places on dangerous assignments. I carried a gun and a badge and chased bad guys and bad gals—arsonists, rapists, spies, murderers—I’ve met them all. Twice I deployed aboard U.S. aircraft carriers, USS Independence and USS Kitty Hawk, the latter during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Before I retired from NCIS in 2006, I volunteered for a mission in the war zone of Iraq.

My Current Life – A Struggling Writer

Now, instead of chasing criminals I chase my dreams. Dreams of writing as my second career. Experimental Traveler is my blogsite as I journey through the world collecting pocketful tales about my findings.

Bruce Chatwin, a great wanderer-writer, wrote “Real home is not a house, but on the Road.” So, on the Road is where I want to be. I’d like to follow Chatwin’s example and travel the world, sometimes on the whim, experimenting with my life. I hope, as Chatwin had asked, to get an answer to my craving question about my life: “What Am I Doing Here

Experimental Traveler in Iraq
In Camp Blue Diamond, Ramadi, Iraq

What Am I Doing Here?

Be a Tourist with a Traveler’s Heart

Even if you’re on a Rick Steve’s Tour (I have been on one in Turkey for two weeks; one of my best trips) going through the bucket-list sites, you can still take that plunge. You can still go for the experience. Use all your senses. Open up all your emotions. Interact with the locals. Listen to their tales. Learn their different ways. Try their strange foods. And by doing so you will discover something new. Ask yourself “What am I doing here?” If you listen carefully, the place will answer your question.

You’re the protagonist of your life’s journeys. Edward Readicker-Henderson said, “. . . you’re in the river of time; you’re a story instead of a list.” So search for your unique stories. Live with the attitude of wonderment. View your life as an uncharted journey. Break out from your comfort zones. Travel to the distant lands. Or even to your neighborhood communities. And search for something meaningful that leads to a new awareness of who you are in this world. 

Collect a Pocketful of Journeys before Traveling to the World Beyond

Tony Robbins, the motivational power talker, said you must weigh your life yet to be lived against a “Rocking Chair Test.” One day when you approach the end of it all, when you’re too old, too sick, or too tired, how would you reflect upon your life lived?

When that “rocking chair of old age” falls upon you, wouldn’t you rather have a pocketful of life’s journeys to keep your mind busy? You earn those nuggets of meaningful experiences only if you have lived deeply.

Please Leave a Comment


Tim Hogg · March 2, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Good about me page!!

    J Almon Polk · March 3, 2015 at 8:23 am

    Thank you, Tim. This is work in progress; I’m working on fine-tuning the About page.

J Almon Polk · May 6, 2021 at 3:42 pm

I received several comments from subscribers of a disposal temporary email domain ktumail.com. They all seem to come from one person based on the timestamp and the theme of the comments. Although, the senders prefer to hide behind this temporary email domain, I find their comments helpful; consequently, I decided to respond to them as my general comment to my About Me page.

Here’s one of the comments I received: “What arrogant pomposity. Your description of a traveler can be applied to many tourists. Get over yourself and stop trying to present yourself as being better than others.”

I appreciate the candid comment that holds some truth. I agree that my description of a traveler can be applied to many tourists. That’s why I’m confused. I’ve met people who are real travelers, and I know I’m not like them. Years ago, I became a good friend with a young Japanese man who left Japan with minimal funds, traveled on a whim through the world, tracing the Silk Road, for nearly two years. Oh, what wonderful, sometimes dangerous stories he can tell you. I also have an American friend who retired from the military, and he moved to Thailand, where he bought a beat-up motorcycle and traveled all over Asia on a whim for nearly three years. He, too, has great stories to tell. Now, they are travelers. I wish I could be like them, just take off on a whim. Perhaps, I don’t have their courage. If I present myself as being better than others in my About Page, it’s the fault of my bad writing. On the contrary, I feel I’m not as good as others. I wish I could be a better writer. That’s my problem. I’ve been struggling with writing for years; I have a bunch of rejections accumulated over the years that sometimes make me feel that I should give up writing.

To the senders of comments from ktumail.com, I appreciate your input. I really do. I will take heart to your comment and try to improve my writing.

J. Almon

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