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Traveler vs Tourist: Why Does It Matter?

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What’s the difference between a tourist and a traveler? To many, the answer is similar, but not the same. While a tourist is a traveler, a traveler isn’t necessarily a tourist.

Over the years, the word tourist has developed kind of a negative stigma. An image of a confused man sporting a fanny pack, flowered shirt and oversized camera around their neck immediately comes to mind. This is someone who just wants to snap photos of the big-name sites, without really getting to know the culture. It’s a person who visits a place without really getting to know it, simply skimming the surface without going deeper.

However, is this necessarily a bad thing? To many “travelers,” visiting a new destination is about immersing yourself in a population, exploring unique landscapes and tasting exotic foods; however, if someone wants to travel in a different fashion, is that a big deal? Travel is about being open-minded, so shouldn’t we be accepting of other people who don’t explore in the same fashion we do?

It’s as if an adventure traveler judged a luxury traveler just for being different. Travel should be about experiencing a place the way you want to. That’s the beauty of it, it’s selfishly wonderful. It’s about indulging your interests and curiosities, whether that means taking part in a cultural festival in China and trying guinea pig in Ecuador, or eating at a McDonalds in Italy and doing silly poses in front of statues.

I would also like to point out that many times, it’s the “open-minded travelers” making these distinctions. I’d be surprised if the “tourists” were insulting themselves. If travelers are supposed to be so accepting of everyone, why does there need to be such a differentiation between those who go local, and those who simply want to snap photos of a new place?

Many people may not realize it, but they fall into both categories. Are you going to say travelers don’t take myriad photos of touristy sites like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York? I’d bet a few jumping shots get into their camera roll, as well. And I’m sure there have been a few “tourists” who’ve tried some kind of adventurous food, or befriended a local in a dive bar. Instead of defining each other, let’s enlighten and inspire each other to travel and experience new things, no matter the method.

What’s your opinion on tourists vs travelers?

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5 Comments

  1. Karin-Marijke Vis on October 20, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    well said.

  2. Anita Mac on February 22, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Do we really need to put so many labels on everyone?? I think you nailed it on the head…we put negative connotations on things. Sure, there are times the “tourist” deserves the negative connotation, but equally, there are times the “traveller” deserves the same negative connotations! To each their own when travelling. After all, are we all not both at different times? And if we behave in a boneheaded way, we deserve the stigmas! At the end of the day, tourists and travellers, we hopefully have positive influences on the places we visit, the people we meet, and end up slightly more well rounded for the experiences we have!
    Happy travels.

  3. jess2716 on February 22, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    “At the end of the day, tourists and travellers, we hopefully have positive influences on the places we visit, the people we meet, and end up slightly more well rounded for the experiences we have!”

    Love that! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  4. John StVincent on January 30, 2014 at 2:21 am

    My thoughts:

    A traveller is a person who travels for any reason at all, pleasure, business, to attend a funeral.

    The dictionary definition of a tourist is; a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure.

    A tourist is seeking pleasure, physical or intellectual. If that is the prime motivation for your travels, you are a tourist, a subset of travellers.

    Whether you stay in five star hotels and eat in the most expensive restaurants or stay in a hostel eating street food is irrelevant!

    • Jessie Festa on January 30, 2014 at 2:29 am

      @John: Great clarification. I think many people think of “tourists” more as people who wear fanny packs and snap quick pictures of tourist attractions while “travelers” are the ones really experiencing the culture. I’m not saying this is true, just what my impression of public opinion is. Either way, I think travel is selfish and you should be able to experience a destination in whatever way you please 🙂

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