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?
24 thoughts on “Confessions Of A Nerdy Traveler (And Why We’re The Best)”
THANK YOU!!! I love this post! Nerdy Traveler it is and what a fine “label” to be if a label was called for.
I love the thrill of bungee jumping and swimming with sharks but it’s also wonderful to wander around in a museum listening to the grand tour learning all sorts of new things. It definitely puts the things around you in context! Then afterwards, grabbing a glass of wine and people watching at a cafe. :)
Exactly! Glad I’m not the only one :)
I love to have different and best experience in traveling. And this post is simply awesome. I loved it.
I, too, consider myself as a nerdy traveller. I’m always often up at the crack of dawn, eager to undertake a walking tour and asking questions aplenty. I see what you mean about fine art. Like you, it doesn’t hold any interest for me and I would rather see architecture and history than romantic paintings that all seems to look the same to me.
You’ve also touched upon another point I feel very strongly about: Other Travellers getting drunk all the time. When I was on the Kiwi Experience in New Zealand, I couldn’t believe how many people stayed on the bus with hangovers when we stopped off at a place of cultural importance. They were simply waiting to get their next big drinking fix so they can look ‘cool’ in front of their new mates. To be honest, I thought the very few people who sat at the front of the bus listening to the commentary and discussing in-depth knowledge of a certain subject were actually pretty cool to me.
When I do travel with other people, I do make it a point to talk to them my knowledge of wherever we visit. But I start off small to gauge if they are interested. Usually they are ;) I simply use ‘hooks’ to get them interested and lo and behold, we are having a discussion when I’m the teacher.
Could this be a new niche identified now? Perhaps we should be called the Travelling Nerds…
Ha! I love that and yes, a new group has been formed. :) Glad I’m not the only history geek out there as well.
A massive YES to nerdy travel! I love nothing more than a good ol’ history walking tour wherever I go :)
We really need a logo or something I think
I was always curious to see in person the sights and historical objects I learned at school, and when I first went to London or Paris or Athens, I was the happiest nerdy kid on the planet! Nerdy travelers are really the best!
I also had the experience of traveling with a group of people to Europe, whose sole objective was to “be there”, take the picture to post on their Facebook and move on. I was eager to share my research on the sights we visited, but they zoned out quickly – and my 9 year old daughter was baffled how they wouldn’t pay attention.
But to each, their own.
Great post, Matt!
Very true, travel styles are so very personal but I still don’t understand traveling to party and I don’t think I ever will.
I’m with you there. I got excited seeing the Magna Carta for the first time. The others with me were like, “Magna…what?”
Yes! I remember when I was a kid it toured the US and I was SO excited to see it.
Nerdy travellers to the end!
Great article Matt! Clearly I am a nerdy traveler. :) I plan my trips around museums, castles, battlefields, archaeological sites, and historic homes! And I’m always up for a fun #artpilgrimage ! :)
I’m definitely more drawn to art, but broadly. I enjoy all types: historical art, fine art, and folk art. That’s my lens for experience past and present cultures, and experiencing other cultures is definitely what travel is all about. Exploring history help me learn about life in other time periods and civilizations which is also really cool.
Haha I love it! I’m an adventure traveler, so when you compare the two I can see where you’re coming from. I do agree that I struggle to understand why some people travel when they’re hungover and confined to the hostel all day, every day!
absolutely confounds me
Hooray for nerdy travellers! Learning about the history/culture/wildlife of each new place can make travel so much richer. Getting up early and exploring, while others are still sleeping, is one of my favourite things to do :)
I got my nerdy travel side from my parents–they always took my brother and me to historic sites and museums and talked about the significance of what we saw. I also love traveling through religious, political, and artistic history. But I also set aside time to enjoy the nightlife with locals (or just drink more coffee and skimp on the sleep).
Sounds like a great balance
I am a nerdy travel to the extent that I want to find out about the story about the story. Why is this temple here? Why do the merchants still come get water from it when they have modern running water in their shops? Why is this ingredient served this way and not that? I have never been a partier and have always profited from being an early riser when it comes to travel, beat the crowds when you are walking through the fish market at 5 or 6 AM!
Oh… I thought there was no point in travel besides the History… :) Well I don’t know if I’m a nerdy traveler… The thing I love the most about new countries is architecture — I don’t think I go to every museum there is to see. So, architecture first, food habits second and religious/cultural events third. Those I think are the top 3. Natural beauty comes fourth but I don’t actually seek it; it kind of happens. And people. I love chatting with people — if they speak English great, Portuguese even better, other than that I can make a poor attempt at Spanish, Italian and French; in India, my husband translates (and I know I could hardly get to the people if he wasn’t with me).
Welcome to the nerdy travel club! :)
Count me in on the nerdy travels! I’m a library geek. I was excited about seeing the Gutenberg Bible and the original manuscript of “A Christmas Carol” at the Morgan Library in New York, and wondered why my blog post about it didn’t get more traffic…. Sigh.
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