Today, where tourism in many corners of the planet is booming faster than we can imagine, travel, by any means, has become more possible than ever. With thousands of millenials flocking to the airport in different cities everyday, and thousands of articles on the internet inspiring those not traveling yet to get up and go, the era of wanderlust isn’t about to die anytime soon.
With the many different possible ways to travel, there has been a division between traveling “like a tourist” and like a pro. It’s a sensitive issue, not only because nobody wants to be called out as a tourist, but, comparisons like this is basically just another way to find some loop for one to feel more superior than the other. I recently came across some graphics online depicting yet another comparison between the two. Apparently, a tourist will take the taxi, while a traveler hitchhikes and never pays for a ride. A tourist will sleep in a comfortable bed, while a traveler will camp out under the stars. Etc. etc. etc.
It’s the same ol’ usual stereotypes. You get the drift.
Honestly, it’s such a pretentious act to dictate what’s traveling and what isn’t when you focus only on what’s on the surface. We all have different styles and preferences in seeing the world and who’s really to say what’s better? I’ve done luxury hotels and I’ve experienced the crappiest forms of accommodations. I’ve wandered and have gotten lost on my own, but I’ve also traveled with group tours. I’ve taken comfortable VIP transports, yet I don’t mind getting on the most provincial buses or trains as well. I love taking landscape shots of beautiful sites but I also won’t think twice about posing in front of it either. Maybe even commit to a peace sign if I feel like it. Whichever way I was traveling, or whichever was more convenient for me at the time, one thing remained the same—I was exploring new places while learning at the same time, and that’s all that’s ever mattered to me.
I won’t, however, refuse the fact that there is a blatant difference between a traveler and a tourist. But to me, it doesn’t have much to do with your travel style or whether you travel by first class or a camper van. It goes beyond whether you’re couch surfing or you’re staying at a five-star hotel. Or even whether you buy magnets for souvenirs instead of homegrown herbs or what not. I think it comes down with how much you’re willing to learn about a certain place. How much you’re determined to get to know the unfamiliar and how much you’re willing to keep an open mind. It simply comes down to how you immerse yourself.
Just because you’re rocking a rollie suitcase instead of a backpack doesn’t necessarily make you a tourist. But if you have two full size luggages for check in plus carry-ons for a 5-day trip, then you should already be able to identify yourself—a tourist. If you fly instead of gallivanting overland, that’s cool. But if you happen to fly with a low cost carrier airline and complain about their crappy services and lack of free peanuts and blankets, you’re a tourist. If you don’t have the airplane safety instruction memorized by heart, that doesn’t make you a tourist. But if you’re one of those who rush to the aisle as soon as the plane lands, I think you are. If you complain and demand special treatments every single minute because of a delayed flight you obviously have no control over, you’re a tourist. And if you treat the flight attendants like crap, you’re a tourist. Or a sucky person, to be more precise.
You don’t have to eat the most bizarre street foods such as scorpion or bird fetus to be considered a legitimate traveler. But if you’re eating McDonald’s majority of the trip, you’re a tourist. If you’re in China and you opt for PF Chang’s, hell yes, you’re a tourist. If you don’t feel like eating in the small hole-in-the-wall restaurants because you’re skeptical, that’s absolutely okay. But if you snub off the idea thinking you’re too good for it, then you’re a tourist.
When it comes to the places that we see, there is definitely nothing wrong with going to the most touristic sites. They have become iconic for a reason, after all. It doesn’t make me less of a traveler just because I want to be kissed under the Eiffel Tower or because I woke up at 4 am to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. However, if you deny the fact that there are other precious history and beauty outside the most famous spots, then you’re clearly misguided. And yes, you’re a certified tourist.
All-inclusive trips don’t really make you a complete tourist either. But if you stay in the hotel the entire length of your trip, then you might just be one. You’re a vacationer, and I suppose that’s what you were signing up for. That’s completely okay to indulge in that fact. Why fight it?
Group tours aren’t always touristy either. But if you go on one with a guide and instead of listening to him explain the history of an archaic temple or a phenomenal castle, while you have zero interest in it and you’d rather go wander off alone, not to indulge in the arts, but to take even more selfies– you’re an absolute tourist.
You don’t need an expensive photography gear complete with a tripod to be a traveler. And you don’t even need a selfie stick to be identified as a tourist either. But if you disregard the other travelers behind you while you take your time taking selfies (with a selfie stick or not), you’re not just a damn tourist, but an extremely annoying one at that matter. Travelers have an unspoken rule of courtesy, and if you can’t figure that out by instinct, then you aren’t one.
If you show zero courtesy towards other travelers, you’re a tourist. If you disregard the locals and their lifestyle in any way, you’re a tourist. If you leave trash behind, you’re a tourist. If you disrespect a culture, you’re a tourist. If you refuse to abide by the rules such as feeding an animal, you’re a tourist. If you lack awareness and refuse to hear about sensitive tourism issues, you’re a tourist. If you have no open mind as you go, you’re a tourist. If you have no intention of learning from everything around you, guess what? You’re a tourist.
On another hand, you may be the most seasoned traveler who’s been to an x number of countries. You may have seen the sun set in every single coast. You might have hitchhiked your way from Europe all the way down to Indonesia. But then, you judge everybody else because their travel style is far different from yours or because they have less stamps on their passport. That does not make you an authentic traveler. That makes you a pretentious snob who’s probably traveling for the wrong reasons.
Traveling isn’t about finding validation on how one does it. It’s not about how many places you’ve seen and how many corners you’ve explored. And it certainly isn’t about making comparisons for superiority. Who cares how we all do it? Convenience is never a bad thing and taking off the beaten paths always leads to surprises. We’re all just victims to the travel bug. Either way you succumb to it, you’re not one-upping the other. In the end, adventure wins. Can’t we just marvel in the fact that when it comes down to it, we all just share the same desire to see the world?
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