The Alleged Difference Between A Tourist and A Traveler—And Why That Distinction Is Irrelevant

Are You a Traveler or a Tourist?

There’s a lot of heated discussion in the travel blogging world about the difference between a tourist and a traveler. Apparently, according to some, you’re not supposed to use them interchangeably, as one absorbs their experiences and plans their journeys differently from the other.

Are you a Traveler or a Tourist?
Traveler or a Tourist?

There’s a funny quote by Paul Theroux which goes “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” This implies a lack of understanding on the part of the tourist, and a sense of wanderlust in the traveler. But are they really so distinct from each other?

Taking Souvenir Photos
Taking Souvenir Photos

A tourist is defined by all of the negative stereotypes that you can see in someone who travels: someone who complains a lot, refuses to get out of their comfort zone, sticks to the most famous attractions and most obvious destinations in a country, and brings home lots of trinkets and souvenirs as part of the experience.

1.2.3. Selfie
1.2.3. Selfie

A traveler, on the other hand, is frequently defined in other blogs as a more “curious” and “adventurous” traveler—someone who doesn’t stick to the beaten path, likes to try new experiences, immerses themselves in the local scene and tries to really learn more about the culture and the people in the place he or she is visiting. These two are presented with the admonition that people should strive to be more like travelers and less like tourists, in order to really make the most of their time and money when they leave their home country.

Souvenirs from Amsterdam
Souvenirs from Amsterdam

However, I don’t really think that there is a difference between a tourist and a traveler, and I think these two words can and should be used interchangeably. After all, when everyone starts out with their first backpacking trip or their very first taste of another culture or country, it’s a normal reaction to want to seek the comforts of home, or to have some trouble getting out of your comfort zone. It’s also equally difficult to expect someone to not head to the tourist trap souvenir store when pretty much everyone in your family and close circle of friends is hinting that you should bring something back with you for them—so even if you’re not the kind of person who likes these “touristy” spots, you end up going there anyway.

Joining Tour Groups
Joining Tour Groups

Additionally, it’s only possible to really become that idealized “traveler” when you’ve had some traveling experience under your belt. When you’ve learned to pack less with you, that you can live without certain things and these are the experiences that you really want to have, going for trips that are less dependent on travelling agencies and tour packages becomes a more feasible option. Letting go of some of your fear in an unfamiliar setting is also key to becoming that ideal “traveler”, as well as discovering that your creature comforts are not as important as your newfound fascination with a place and its culture.

Whats in your backpack
Whats in your backpack?

Feel free to use them interchangeably. It’s a distinction between experience which we should have, and we should seek to keep newbies informed and interested in seeing more of the world—not scaring them off by making fun of habits they still haven’t let go of, or setting ourselves above someone else because we’re fine with hostels while they feel like they should book starred hotels.

Hostel Sign
Hostel Signage

Travel is about immersion, but it is also about the choice to be somewhere—and everyone should feel free to choose the conditions for where they are when they visit. So take that tourist myth with a pinch of salt, and do whatever you want. It’s your money, your vacation, and your memory!

  1. […] Also Read: The Alleged Difference Between A Tourist and A Traveler—And Why That Distinction Is Irrelevant […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: