Hacks For Wanderlust · Inspirational Corner · Thoughts · World Lust

Travelers vs. Tourists: An Honest Comparison

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.

Girl, Unspotted -- Thailand

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.

Girl, Unspotted

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.

Girl, Unspotted -- Street food

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.

Girl, Unspotted -- Angkor Wat sunrise

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.

Girl, Unspotted -- Bali

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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29 thoughts on “Travelers vs. Tourists: An Honest Comparison

  1. I wouldn’t compare a traveler vs. a tourist, sometimes they are just the same, and sometimes maybe not. Afterall, we all travel for different reasons 😉 It’s just like having a travel blog doesn’t make us ‘really’ a travel expert..there are a lot of world travelers that don’t have travel blogs..;)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I must say I detest the tourist vs traveller debate, it usually boils down to petty, judgemental let downs and uses labels to say one is right and the other is wrong. Who is anyone to judge anyone else? And whose to say being a tourist is a bad thing, I never understood that. We’re all tourists deep down seeking out new and exotic places and there’s no shame in how we go about it as long as we leave judgement aside.


  3. Excellent article. It annoys me as well that some people portray themselves as superior because they see them self as travellers. It is a load of crap. Whats even worse is when they talk down your opinion because i have been their longer and what would you know. We are all out there because it is something we love. Its not a competition its personal choice


  4. I think we all do annoying things when travelling at times. I like to explore areas like a tourist at times- some touristy spots are fun. I’ve even looked at my home state the way a tourist would and found some places I’ve never been to. Traveler or tourist I don’t care as long as you try to be a good person:)


  5. I am both. But i am more a traveler as I steer clear of the touristy things and do my own thing. I find all the filming locations i visit take me into new areas i wouldn’t know about and that makes me maintain the traveler haha


  6. I saw the same group of comparison graphics and thought it stupid as well. If I see the Eiffel Tower then I am a tourist? Does that mean a traveller will never see it? I do not hitch-hike but hire a car for long roadtrips, I am currently driving 5 weeks through Europe. I am stopping at amazing small towns and villages but am I not allowed in the elite because I pay for transport?
    A good, well expressed article but the whole debate still annoys me.


  7. Great article, and I’m generally a traveller, but sometimes I like to shut off my brain and be a tourist, because that can be fun too. If you decide to do the tourist thing, go full-bore, get the shirts, the oversized novelty cups and and jump in with both feet 🙂


  8. Nice write up. I used to be on board with the traveler vs. tourist debate. However, I’m starting to believe they are the same thing, different people finding different ways to travel for different reasons. Maybe only the person traveling can really define if they are a traveler or a tourist. I think you make some very good points about the differences in the way people travel. It’s been an interesting road for sure, this travel road.


  9. Completely agree that you are just a tourist if you are not actively trying to understand and appreciate the culture. Sure, it’s great to check off places on a list, but the true joy of traveling lies in the small moments where you get to glimpse into the lives and culture of where you are visiting


  10. Great article – I completely agree with you, I often think it’s a little pretentious to come out and say that there’s only one way to travel and I feel like there are far too many people who judge you based off your travel style. Because you know what, being a tourist doesnt have to be a bad thing all the time!! Sometimes I need a good break from being a “traveler”, and just need a different type of trip for a change. There’s no right or wrong way to travel, and I feel like we can still promote immersive experiences without attaching shame to the “tourist” name.


  11. Written with terrific conviction! I don’t typically like this debate because it inherently feels judgy. But, I do agree with the point of immersing yourself in a place and being open to learning new ways, cultures, foods, whatever. Whether you couchsurf or stay at a 5-star hotel, there is so much to learn from the experience itself. Be present and in the moment and come away with a few golden nuggets. Nothing else matters.


  12. It’s very interesting post, however it’s not always so easy to distinguish between both…
    For me, e.g., people who go somewhere and do only crazy things without thinking about nature are tourists, not travellers…


  13. Some very good points you raise here. There’s always a big debate around travellers vs tourists and I think we’ve all been there 🙂


  14. I love this post! My favorite quote: “… 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… ” I totally agree with you here! I really hate the way some people view their travels as superior to others. Not to mention, here are so many amazing places in the world that are tourist destinations for good reason – they are spectacular!


  15. I have heard this debate in various forms on and off over the last 20 years of travelling, and it was nice to hear your take on it. Personally, I travel to learn and discover things. If people want to label me as a tourist or traveller to help them with their own cataloguing system, that’s up to them :p


  16. Definitively disagree with the pictures, I am not sure the way you travel is actually a definitive factor as to what you are. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a tourist. I have been to 90 countries, lived in 6 and traveled for the last decade almost every week. I sometimes like to stay at a hotel and relax. I sometimes wander off in a rattled bus and a small bag, getting lost somewhere. To each their own 😉


  17. You are totally spot on with this! It isn’t how you travel or to where but how immersed you can be in those places. Just showing up and buying the t-shirt isn’t enough to be called a traveler. And self-centered selfie takers should be outlawed at every destination!!


  18. Interesting post – have never thought much about traveler vs tourist but I would like to consider myself a traveler even though I like comfy beds and wheelie suitcases and flying (well, not really, but it’s a means to an end). I love to see and learn about new places and immerse myself as much as possible. Whether tourist or traveler, I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about respecting those around you, being polite and not pretending to be better than someone else.


  19. Fantastic read! You’ve nailed it perfectly and something I’ve been thinking/commenting about on travel groups but too afraid to say it out loud on my blog.

    It totally annoys me when travelers judge other travelers based on HOW they travel or go see. It’s not about that at all. Like you said it’s your attitude and willingness for things. Love it and shared it! Thank you for this.


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