I never actually considered myself a nerdy traveler (new term, I made it up) until recently. I was on a trip with some friends and on the schedule were visits to two sites of incredible historical importance. I’m not religious per se, but for some reason I do love religious history and so it was with rapt attention that I soaked up every ounce of information I could at the sites. Wandering around I felt myself in awe of the history present before me but when I looked around to make a comment to my friends, they were nowhere to be seen. I found them on a bench, checking emails. They had absolutely no interest in the sites; a fact I had a hard time understanding. The more I thought about it the more I thought about individual travel styles. So much is written about budget, luxury, adventure and even family travel but very little attention is given to nerdy travel and as I learned that day, I’m definitely a hardcore nerdy traveler.
What is nerdy travel?
This won’t be easy to succinctly define, but allow me to share another story that I think demonstrates the differences between nerdy and non-nerdy travelers. When I was 22 I backpacked for a summer around Great Britain as a graduation present to myself. Every day I got up early, guidebook in hand eager to discover new castles and museums. I stayed at hostels and couldn’t help but notice most of the other folks my age stayed out until the wee hours of the morning, slept in late, lounged around and if they did manage to go out sightseeing it was limited and done under the thick blanket of an incredible hangover. I couldn’t believe it. You can get drunk anywhere; hell, save some money and just do it at home. But traveling the world is a gift and to squander it befuddled me then and it does now.
So, I define a nerdy traveler as one who first and foremost seeks out a more traditional style of education when they travel. We all learn something in the metaphysical sense when we travel; we all grow as people and become more tolerant, that’s not what I’m talking about. No, I’m talking about travel as the express way to learn about new cultures, their histories and what they hold most dear.
Nerdy travel varies
Not all nerdy travelers are cut from the same cloth. For example, before traveling to Jordan my very first question was whether or not the new Star Trek amusement park planned for Aqaba was open yet. It sadly isn’t, but that should provide a little insight into my own interests. I love history museums as well, but fine art is frankly lost on me. I can spend a little bit of time admiring famous works of art, but my attention span for it is very limited. Many people though travel expressly to see fine art and to witness first hand the creative pursuits that have changed the world. A friend of mine from college is an art history professor and he often leads students around Europe on trips that would frankly bore me to tears.
So, there is no one type of nerdy traveler. Whether it is art, history, transportation or even pop culture, the themes we choose to pursue may be different, but the commonality that ties us together is that we have a theme we want to pursue. Ardent adventure travelers don’t care as much about these things as I’ve learned. That’s not to say they don’t have a slight interest in history or culture, they do, but it is slight. And that’s fine, they have different personalities and for them it is much more important to get out there and do something rather than just look at things. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.
Why we’re the best kind of traveler
Allow me a few moments to be slightly tongue in cheek, but in a very biased way I firmly believe that nerdy travelers are the best kind of tourists. We understand the importance of learning and education and seek to absorb a new country and culture through their accomplishments and their histories. That’s not to say we’re overly bookish or boring when we travel. I like a good adventure as much as the next guy, but it’s all about a balance. All of the times I’ve traveled with hard core adventure travelers they’ve had only one thing on their mind: finding the next adrenalin rush. They ran through or skipped entirely museums and other cultural treasures, obviously bored out of their skulls. We nerdy travelers, on the other hand, can balance the two well and as a result I think we have a much more robust and frankly interesting travel experience.
We of course do have our drawbacks. We can be slightly insufferable with sharing information, as I learned on that same recent trip. Trying to explain the somewhat arcane importance of an admittedly 2nd or 3rd tier historical site to someone who didn’t care at all showed me then and there two things. First, it showed me I need to keep my mouth shut a little more often but it was also that moment that properly brought into light these core differences in travel styles.
We don’t mean to sound pompous or overly intellectual though when we try to get others excited about these things. Just as an adventure traveler wants everyone to jump out of that airplane with them, we want everyone to experience the joy of seeing a true world treasure in person for the first time. But just like I don’t understand the need to jump out of a perfectly fine airplane, neither do they understand why they should care about those sites. At the end of the day, that’s fine and neither one is really correct.
Be who you are
Ultimately, travel is about having fun. For some people that means going on long hikes and taking a kayak on class-5 rapids. For others that rush and thrill of the travel experience comes from seeing the Book of Kells in person and that first gaze up at the Sistine Chapel. More likely though it’s a mix of both and as my mom used to say, life is better if you take everything in a little bit of moderation.
What type of nerdy traveler are you?