“Are you a traveler or a tourist?” I call this the great debate because everyone has an opinion one way or another. You’ll see post after post about being a traveler and NOT a tourist, but personally? I don’t think one should be put on a pedestal over another. I hate that posts are written about the correct way to travel, when really, can we define traveling “correctly”? That would basically be the same as defining how to eat correctly, walk correctly, and talk correctly. Sure we can give suggestions based off of experience, but don’t be THAT person who judges someone that isn’t doing something the way you would do it.
If a person has the opportunity to get out in the world and experience new things, they should not ever have to worry about being condemned for traveling the “wrong” way. Period.
So What’s All the Fuss About?
If you Google search traveler vs. tourist you’ll see all sorts of posts and even infographics giving you information on how NOT to be a tourist.
The traveler stereotype* is: Someone who tries their best to immerse themselves in whatever country they travel to. A traveler usually brings little with them on their journeys, because for them, the experience is more important than having a new shirt to wear everyday. They’re experts at going it alone and like to avoid the overly populated touristy destinations.
On the outside they appear to have it all together and don’t seem to be bothered by unknown factors that come into place with visiting new lands. Travelers can be intimidating and unapproachable, especially to those looking to begin their adventures abroad.
The tourist stereotype*: likes to wear obnoxious Hawaiian shirts, big-brimmed hats, and tote giant cameras. Tourists tend to be loud, socially unaware, and enjoy holding up pedestrian walkways just so they can get a group selfie.
Tourists go to visit a country via tour, only seeing the highlights or well-marketed destinations that are easily accessible. A tourist generally makes little effort to experience and blend in with the real culture of the people currently inhabiting said country.
*stereotypes being a summary of information I found by searching ‘tourist & traveler definitions’ on Google.
I find both of these stereotypes absolutely ridiculous and complete opposite ends of the travel spectrum. Yes, you can find people that fit each stereotype relatively well, but then again, you’ll find a vast majority of people floating somewhat in the middle of things.
Finding a Balance
If you find yourself identifying more to one side than the other, just know you can easily find a good (and healthy) balance between the two extremes.
For the traveler: Sure you’re all gung-ho about doing everything yourself and really delving into a new culture; you’ll be eating, sleeping, and dressing like a local — I get it. But don’t be afraid to relax and take it a bit slower as your body may need time to rest and rejuvenate.
Tours aren’t always bad, and sometimes you might just learn a heck of a lot more on tour than you would visiting somewhere by yourself! Don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions of places to eat and things to do from a reputable source (local travel agency, legitimate business, or friends). You’re not a sellout by not discovering things 100 percent on your own!
For the tourist: Do your research ahead of time and be in the know about what area you are traveling to. Be sure to research tourist traps in the area you plan on visiting (this could save you time, money, and a lot of regret)! Try your best to blend in and not stick out like a sore thumb. Don’t be afraid to take the lesser traveled path, you may discover you actually like branching out from the norm!
Whether you lean more on the traveler side or the tourist side, I’m proud of you for getting outside your comfort zone and seeing the world. Keep it up!