Tourist, traveller…should you care?

Who you are is how you travel, so just be YOU…

Blame it more on the selective pages I’ve ‘liked’ on my Facebook and Instagram news feed, but everyone seems to be travelling these days. Athirapally Falls to Alaska, Gangotri to Galapagos and That to Tashkent, people are either going, have just been or are in the mood to go. Some more often, some longer, some farther, some to popular destinations, others where no man has gone before, some for passion, others for fun. And some for FOMO.

Apparently, each of us fit into one of two species out there, the ’tourist’ or the ‘traveller’. On one end of the continuum is the archetypal play-it-safe group tourist, who’s happy to be trailing along 8 countries in 10 days, while being fed on staples of standard menus, fixed itineraries and ‘just-tick-don’t-think’ schedules. I believe this type travels less frequently and wants optimum bang-for-the-buck in each trip. On the other extreme is the maverick new-age experiential single traveller, who revels in crazy adventure, challenges himself/herself by getting off the beaten track, mingles with the locals and seeks out distinct, unique, exciting, authentic, interactive and educational experiences, often at the cost of comfort. They say the mantra here is low-costs, frequent miles, deals, budgets and adhoc spontaneity.

As if this stereotyping wasn’t bad enough, the ‘traveller’ seems to have transcended to a superior level, while ‘tourist’ is now seen as a lesser mortal. I wonder if there should be a third category…the travel snob, recognisable by statements like, “Rome is too touristy for me. I wouldn’t be caught dead taking pictures near the Colosseum!” Or “Tours are for dummies.” If that’s what your calling is, by all means, do it. But does that need to apply to us all?

My take: the ‘tourist-traveller’ distinction is not a ‘black-or-white’ kind of situation…there’s a little bit of a tourist and a traveller in all of us. If I think of the different people we know, and the different people who know these different people that we know….there are so many other sub-species. There’s the 20-30’s crowd, whose primary agenda on holiday is casual clubbing with friends (incidentally, the locations happen to be someplace high-end and hip, far from home country). Nightlife, beach parties, pubs, bars…they’re on! There are others who have to tick off 100 destinations before they hit 30…multiple trips every year, and quick ones! These ones want to ‘do’ any and every worthwhile city there is on the planet. There’s the drifting road tripper, the whacky backpacker, the villa-and-cruise-jet setter, and the quit-my-job-to-see-the-world idealist. But even these other broad stereotypes don’t define everyone completely.

By the way…if you crave for a buffet spread or a feathery-soft pillow, does it make you less of a traveller? If you plan your days better to accommodate more, does it make you less of a traveller? If you take selfies with the most-seen spots and museums, does it make you less of a traveller?

If you free-float in a foreign land without a specific agenda, does it make you less of a tourist? If you stay in dormitories and cook your own meals, does it make you less of a tourist? If you hike to unseen, unvisited places, does it make you less of a tourist?

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Charming multi-hued streets of Obidos, Portugal

I think it’s not about what you do while on holiday…its about how you are affected by what you do while on holiday. You can get goosebumps on your arms even if you’re with a group tour…are you a tourist or a traveller? You can be unmoved by the shattered glass of an abandoned church in a far alley…are you a tourist or a traveller?

Undeniably, the unseen, hidden and forgotten have a unique power to enthral. But aren’t the most-seen sights, extraordinary, and don’t they have a history to prove it? And as long as I haven’t seen them, they’re new for me. Why should I bother about the ‘touristy’ label…if it appeals to my senses, if it fascinates my intellect, if it soothes my soul, I want to go there. I’m not skipping a sight just because everyone goes there, I’m not ignoring a destination just because its thronging with crowds. On the contrary…I want to discover for myself what the fuss is all about. I am equally happy being a tourist and a traveller, (if they really are two different beings).

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Can’t resist those Eiffel-peeks from any corner of Paris, but upfront is my fave!

I’m embarrassed to admit that I did fall into the travel type-casters trap and even tried out a few silly travel personality quizzes to slot myself. My only takeaway was something I’ve believed for long: One’s travel personality is a reflection of one’s personality. Period. How we live our life is how we travel…organised or spontaneous, casual or formal, superficial or deep, frivolous or serious. A creative person fills his day with art, an intellectual one explores museums and a social one interacts with the locals. Some thrive in groups, others enjoy being alone.

Just like living, there is no single way to travel or fit into any slot. What’s important is whether your travel style is true to who you are inside. It will be…if you allow it to slowly unfold and evolve, with each trip, like yourself. You don’t have to win the ‘traveller of the century’ award, you don’t have to be ‘cool’, you just have to be who you are, go where you want, how you want, as often as you want. No questions asked, no justifications required. No judgements, no applause.

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59 thoughts on “Tourist, traveller…should you care?

  1. Great points. I’ve been to some really touristic areas and loved them. I should mention that I get frustrated with the tourists here in Amsterdam. Part of being a PERSON should include being aware of how your behavior impacts the people around you. I was on the bus today and these three British girls were openly drinking wine (which is illegal) and yelling, which is just really inconsiderate (and illegal). In general, it’s good to be considerate wherever you are (home or abroad).

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    1. You are so right…I feel its the seriousness that we attach to travel which comes up in the way we travel. A lot of people just travel for fun, but he importance of responsible and considerate travel cannot be undermined.

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  2. Great article! My take is that a tourist doesn’t really get the goosebumps you speak of but sees everything through their smart phone while clicking away. A traveler is someone who puts the camera down for a moment, breathes into the moment and thinks about the past, present and future of whatever they are seeing…and then takes the photo. Add to that the ability to connect with the locals and their culture in some way, appreciate their surroundings, and make the best of whatever situation they are in is what makes a traveler.

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  3. OMG I cannot tell you how much I am over this and particularly over the travel snob. I travel often (as much as my 9 – 5 job will allow lol) and I am sick of people being so judgey. Travel is a wonderful experience and I say we should all do it by whatever means we can. If you don’t want to take a picture at the Colosseum then don’t but don’t take the joy away from someone else by making them feel less than adequate. Don’t be afraid to be a tourist. There is usually good reason where the ‘touristy’ places are so popular … Because they are just so damn good! Don’t miss out on possibly the experience of a lifetime because you think you are above it! Love this post 💕💕💕

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  4. When we first went travelling around Asia, so many ‘friends’ made comments about how we weren’t proper travellers because we stayed in private rooms over hostels and took suitcases over backpacks. I hate when people put labels on us! The way I see it, we saved and saved to travel so we want to see, do and travel however and whichever way makes us happy. I raise my hand and say I will go to very tourist spot in a new country because that is why I am there! 🙂

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  5. How you explained this phenomenon is spot on. I don’t understand why we have to fit ourselves into certain traveling types to appease the travel snobs. I unapologetically love the touristy spots, but I also know that’s not all there is to your trip. Trips are a time of adventure, immersing yourself in the culture and meeting new people- locals and fellow travellers alike. I tend to sprinkle tourist attractions throughout the neighbourhood exploration I plan out for the day. I like to do the tourist attractions once, and make my trip unique through my own experiences exploring new areas. I will definitely be saving this post for whenever I get frustrated by the travel snobs. Thanks for your thoughts!! P.S. Love your writing style! Definitely inspiring me to write some more blog posts 🙂

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    1. Your detailed comment makes me think that we really connected on some plane somewhere . What makes me sad is that there is an ongoing pressure amongst so many travellers to put on an impression. I guess that is one of the banes of modern times.

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  6. Such an insightful reflection. “One’s travel personality is a reflection of one’s personality. Period. How we live our life is how we travel…organised or spontaneous, casual or formal, superficial or deep, frivolous or serious” How I completely agree to this. You are very right!!

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  7. FOMO, haha. Well, reasons of travelling are, when you really get into it, so diverse, but I definitely met those… who just travel because everybody else does to tick it off their list. To take that selfie in front of Eiffel tower (sorry this came just to my mind and doesn’t refer to your picture!) and quickly move on to make it to Arc de Triomphe before rush hour. But then I think again… who am I to judge? What do I know about those people that I allow myself to think better or worse of them? So I think… we all go our paths, we all (at least I like to think that) follow our own dreams and wishes as we travel. So I have my purpose, my passion, others have their own drives… 🙂 But it’s definitely a nice thing to think about – thanks for your thoughts!

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    1. I guess its natural for everyone to have their own biases. Like I don’t understand the idea of ‘completing every country’ before ‘x’ age. But as long as what you do makes you happy, and you’re true to yourself, its all ok.

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  8. It’s so hard to distinct between ‘tourist’ and ‘traveller’…as you said, it’s not so black & white. What really stood out for me with what you said in your post is: “its about how you are affected by what you do while on holiday.” I could not agree more. No matter if you are a ‘tourist’ or a ‘traveller’ you experience something very special while you are on holiday. I personally prefer not to label myself either way as sometimes I just want a group tour to take me around and other times I prefer to explore by myself. Whatever it is, I am always positively affected when I travel – I feel like I grow as a person each time because of all the experiences and new knowledge gained.

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  9. Interesting post…and I have had this debate in my mind often..am I a tourist or am I a traveller? Well, I guess the entire objective to visiting a new place to enjoy and experience something new. The tag of a tourist or traveller doesnt matter, so long as you are having fun. What do you think?

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  10. What I don’t understand is why people even discuss this, why it even is an issue for some and why stereotypes exist! You’re right, each person’s travel style really reflects their personality and their interests. I can say i’m a bit of both “traveler and a tourist” there are times i like to rough it up camping for days in untouched beaches ala survivor. There are also times that I like to treat myself to a really nice resort and get pampered like crazy. I’d say it also depends on my mood above all else! 🙂

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  11. Oh my gosh! I’ve been talking about this for the longest time now! I can’t get over how “tourist” has come to be such a dirty word, and how did giving up visiting a world famous monument in favour of hanging out in a bar become the cool thing to do? We try and do a bit of both on every trip we take!

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  12. Great post and I love your Idea about it! You mentioned this phrase above: “the ‘tourist-traveller’ distinction is not a ‘black-or-white’ kind of situation…there’s a little bit of a tourist and a traveller in all of us”; anyway I do think that tourist and traveller are 2 distinctive “person”, first one is just tour (most of the time not cheap), hotels, restaurant (Italian people look for italian restaurant), relax on the swimming pool and many things like this…. A traveller is under adventure, cheap hostel, street food, exploring the landscape by himself…
    In the middle of those 2 people there are many kind of different people tht are just a mixed, in different percentage, of them! 😀 thanks for sharing

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  13. I totally agree to your point of view. Though I prefer to explore a lot and be a traveler, when I visited Italy, exploring anywhere without visiting Pisa (though its touristy), sounded just wrong! Yes, at times I’m a tourist and at times, a traveler!

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  14. So well said. Nobody needs a label of tourist or traveler. I myself say travel to new places, enjoy seeing what you have not seen. Every place is magical and travel teaches you a lot. I love reading what you write. it makes so much sense.

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  15. Why label yourself a tourist, traveller, etc. wherein technically we all live in one planet, we are all humans, and we all share the air we breath? Labels only separates anything – humans, objects, animals, etc.

    What matters most is how you are as a person, and no one will recognize it first but yourself. Be yourself.

    -blairvillanueva

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  16. I really enjoyed reading this article!! I completely agree that the tourist vs. the traveler isn’t black and white. I find that sometimes I like to be a tourist and do the most touristy things! And sometimes I prefer being a traveler and trying to find things off the beaten path! Really insightful article and well written!

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  17. that time I had to google search the word FOMO…I am so not cool with the lingos any more! I totally agree with you on this, “Just like living, there is no single way to travel or fit into any slot.” I do not get it when some people make disparaging comments about other people’s way of travel if it is not similar to theirs. Ah well. I sometimes wear the hat of a tourist, a traveler, an organized excel spreadsheet traveler in uncertain regions, a group tour traveler, or simply hire a car for a month and travel wherever I feel like. No need to be defined, just simply doing whatever I feel like based on my travel mood.

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  18. You wrote a great post, I liked reading it. Actually I agree with you I think it’s too easy to divide people into these two categories. I think everyone travels the way he/she wants and there’s no better or worse way to travel. I also liked that you compared traveling and living 🙂

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