“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” ~ Paul Theroux
It boggles my mind that there is even a discussion about who is a traveler, and who is a tourist. Who is traveling in the correct way and who is doing it all wrong. A quick Google search will teach you how to be a traveler and NOT a tourist. I found this infographic online, which explains the argument:
I understand the idea behind the argument, travelers are there to explore the culture and get off the beaten path, while tourists are following along with the guidebooks. I believe even travelers stick out depending on which country you are in, and I know long-term travelers who complain more than anyone I’ve met, because they have experienced so much. I don’t believe tourists would travel if they weren’t curious and expected to gain lifetime experience.
To be a good ‘traveler’ we are supposed to leave our stereotypes and preconceived opinions at home. All this traveler vs tourist debate does is bring out the worst stereotypes about traveling, which is a great education for anyone no matter how you travel.
The point of travel is to explore and experience, meet new people and be open to changing your perspective. We are all different people with unique preferences, it only makes sense that we will all travel in different ways.
While one person can argue that if your entire vacation is spent at a resort or with a group tour, then you aren’t a true traveler… just a tourist. I would argue, we are all travelers and all tourists. We are all visiting new cities and our individual preferences take us in different directions.
The adventurous stories that travelers tell, I think are personality-driven and may not interest someone else – not making you less of a traveler, but a different type of traveler with a different style.
Traveling has led to more experiences and opened my world up to more possibilities than I could have ever imagined. Whether I was at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Machu Picchu or in the middle of nowhere in Botswana, I was still a tourist in that country, but also a traveler, exploring, experiencing and creating my own path.
My personality lends itself to spontaneous activities and trusting strangers which usually ends in ridiculous “how did i get myself into this situation” stories. I know plenty of friends who wouldn’t do half of the things that I do, not because they are any less of a traveler or more of a tourist, they just have different likes, dislikes and comfort zones.
I believe that traveling is all about pushing your own personal comfort zone. And something that may be tame and normal for one person is a wild change or new experience for another. The goal is to return home having learned more about yourself than when you left. Being able to open up and let some of each culture, person and place impact you along the way. As I mentioned in the beginning, we are all travelers, and we are all tourists. There is no right way to travel, only that we get out and do it!
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Here’s another perspective: It’s great to be a traveler while on a trip, immersing yourself in the local culture, but a tourist in your own town, seeing it with new eyes, getting out of your rut. Exploring the “sites” right under your nose can teach you a lot about the place you think you already know, and make you appreciate it even more.
Oooh, yes. That is what I love about hosting on Couchsurfing! Helps you get a fresh perspective and see your hometown through appreciative eyes.
Although I have been always so curious about the world, meeting new people and exploring different places on a budget, there is one thing I have learnt from my travels – EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT. I might enjoy getting lost and sleeping in cheap hostels, but there are people who would never go out of their comfort zone and booking all-inclusive holiday is a must do thing once a year. At first, I was frustrated to see and hear some tourists complaining about locals not speaking English, the food not being good enough, etc. Right now nothing surprises me. I focus on my way of travelling and never join those who don’t share my travel style :).
Well said. I can’t stand some of the labels that are applied, classifying us on whether we’re travelling right or wrong. Whilst I may not wish to spend my trip in the way supposed “tourists” choose to or vice versa, ultimately as long as that person has a positive experience of their trip then that’s all that really matters.
I get so irate when I see long term travellers mocking what they term tourists, I completely agree with you that we are all travellers and tourists. People really need to get off their snobby high horses! However you travel, you are out exploring the globe and that’s an amazing thing.
We recently met a elderly couple in Peru who had a private guide for their whole trip, not something we would ever consider doing but if it made them feel comfortable and they actually left home to see this amazing country then good on them.
Heather no her travels says
To look down on the ‘tourist’ is to be a travel snob. The vaste majority of people who travel cannot adopt a long term travel style that allows them to travel slow and immerse themselves in the culture. They have jobs and families and want to enjoy themselves in the short time they are on holiday. If you’ve never been to Paris, of course you want to see the Eiffel tower, but perhaps you’ll also find time to sit in a local park, have coffee in a neighbourhood patisserie – the one doesn’t exclude the other.
Francis Tapon says
Amen! Those who make the traveler vs. tourist argument are elitist snobs. Let’s put them on a cruise ship and sink it. 🙂
Seriously, good article. On my website I took a slightly different argument (though in the same spirit as yours): I argue why we should love tourists!
oh fucking hell yes!!! That’s what I’m talking about. i hear you there. it pisses me off when I read or hear stuff where travelers are looking down on other travelers way of traveling by labeling them as tourist and talking shit about them. wtf is this crap, black on black crime?!?! come on now. traveler, tourists, both words are inter-exchangeable. whether people travel solo, or on a guided tour group, it doesn’t matter. i’m a traveler, i’m a tourist, i came and wandered here from far away just trying to find my way.
With you all the way on this Caroline. I hate the superior attitude some take on this – the one thing I’ve learned on our RTW trip is how highly individual travel is, and what different experiences two people can have of the exact same place.
(My thoughts in a previous post here: http://nzmuse.com/2013/06/what-kind-of-traveller/)
I don’t agree with the labelling; traveler or tourist are just empty descriptions when, as you say, everyone’s traveling style and experience is unique to them. But the message is one I do agree on. I believe the description of “traveler” above is the better way to travel, but it can be achieved on differing levels. The labels means nothing – I certainly don’t believe this infographic gives the correct definition of “tourist”- but the message is a good one: to be open-minded and curious of a foreign place and not simply looking for home comforts with better weather. That, I think, is worth all of us aspiring to and pushing ourselves to, to whatever level we feel we can. I agree tho, the superior attitude blows! Very interesting post.
Deia @NomadWallet says
I completely agree with you. It’s such a vague distinction and totally unnecessary. Which traveler doesn’t have a list of must-sees? Heather above made a good point; it’s about how much time you have, as well. If you travel three weeks per year and have to cram in a few destinations, then it just might not be possible to explore them more deeply.
Jessica of HolaYessica says
SO agree! It’s such a silly, pointless argument. Everyone has their own travel style and there’s no problem with that, as long as you’re a respectful visitor. Plus, “tourist” gets a bad rap, but I actually enjoy indulging in the fun, superficial stuff about a place too.
Lance | Trips By Lance says
I think I used to say things like “I’m not a tourist, I don’t take vacations, I’m a traveler,” etc. Now I just don’t care. I don’t have time for labels. I do wish more travelers would open up their minds to local experiences instead of traveling somewhere and seeking out comfort food in chain restaurants. I will say I don’t believe in the word vacation. I don’t travel to take a vacation from life. Travel is part of my life. And it is rare that I use my vacation time from work for a trip of relaxation. I usually come home and spend my time at work in a daze for a few days trying to recover.
Agreed. I think one difference or stereotype or whatever you want to call it, is that “tourist” stick together and need someone to go with, whereas “travelers” are perfectly fine with being alone and going off on their own.
Jon Curran says
I love all types of travel; from falling off the grid way off the beaten path, to being pampered at a resort. Many of my favorite trips have been work related. Though they were not vacations, they have been great opportunies to understand a culture, and meet people.
Si @ Man vs World says
I hate all the traveller vs. tourist stereotypes! Just because I enjoy one thing doesn’t mean I should look down my nose at people who enjoy another, and in the travel blogging community there’s a real sense that tourists are somehow lesser people. Just look at that infographic, for example – who’s to say that tourists aren’t sensitive or constantly complain?
So glad I found this article, I totally agree with you! “Traveller” or “tourist”, you’re a stranger and it’s up to you how you go about seeing the world. Man, I want to write on this argument too because it annoys me everytime I’m labelled ‘proper touristy’ for wanting to see a national monument of any kind. It’s getting to the point where the wonders of the world are becoming too mainstream for travellers; please…
(Thank you for writing this so well, I’m inspired!)
There is a reason travellers despise tourists. Here’s a hint, it has zero to do with preference of travel. It’s about disposition towards the hosts and changing the landscape of beautiful places in the world. When a person travels to….anywhere, and doesn’t desire immersion that personality type generally doesn’t care about much outside of the expectation of their experiences. This subconsciously creates a very disrespectful disposition towards the host residents. Generally people regarded as so called tourists by so called travellers, are far less conscious of the potentially offensive things they do and say. This would all be fine if it didn’t create a wall between locals and foreigners, that restricts access to certain places, forces governments to heavily regulate places of interest, and creates resentment with the locals.
This is not as simple as, “we’re all just shiny happy people just trying to see the world, with different preferences”. Having been to well over twenty countries on almost all the continents, and seeing “tourists” ruin the area with their neglect and disrespect (and almost always in large groups from a cruise ship or guided tour, no joke), I would have to say there is a distinct difference.
Most of my family fall in the category of tourist, as it reflects in their way of passively and unengagedly passing through life and how they travel. I could care less, as this is their preference and not my place to judge it, however this attitude towards life begets wrong behaviour towards everything.
Yes there are “some” tourists who ruin the area but the are also tourists who respect the place. I’ve been on some guided tours and haven’t experienced tourists disrespecting the place… Or maybe there are some… But not all… But that was just my experience… And while traveling to various places around almost all the continents, have you met all the tourist around the world? I supposed not… And please don’t tell me that the disrespectful people in the tour are the tourist and that the behave ones are the traveler… Ask the locals who we are in that tour… A “tourist”… You cannot judge a group based on the actions of some…