At first glance, especially to an untrained eye, the difference between a tourist and a traveller can be unclear. After all, aren’t they the same thing? I have pondered that, and I came up with a few things that distinguish tourists and travellers.
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When it comes down to it, we are all tourists at some point in our lives. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being a tourist. I think anyone who makes an effort to see the world should be applauded. How you see it, however, becomes that line of transitioning from tourists into travellers. Let’s take a look.
Tourist vs Traveller
Let’s be honest. We have all seen that annoying tourist, loud and obnoxious, plowing through the crowds with their companions in tow. They tend to stand out like a sore thumb and are oblivious to the horrified glances from everyone around them. Everything about them – from their clothes, shoes, accessories and attitude – screams foreigner. They are easy pickings for the pickpockets, scammers and drifters all around.
These ladies and gentlemen are not travellers. They do embody many elements that make them stand apart.
Blending with the locals
Most tourists will always look like tourists. Why? Because they don’t blend in with the locals. Those obnoxious Hawaiian shirts, white sneakers with thick socks, safari hats, backpacks and maps are all clues that point to the obvious. As this type of tourist, you are like a beacon in a sea of darkness.
Travellers, however, tend to blend in more. Their clothes, shoes and accessories are more low-key. They are often mistaken for locals because they act and look like them. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a guidebook hidden away in their belongings or that they aren’t going to see the sights. A traveller is also there to enjoy the place, culture, and vibe and see the sights.
What’s in your bag
Tourists are more likely to fill their bags with more stuff than they need. Clothes, shoes and accessories are endless, even if they won’t need them. They have many bags, overpack and probably exceed their baggage allowance weight. They are a nightmare if you get stuck behind them in any line, especially if they forget to take off their belt and take out that laptop.
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Travellers have learned how to pack. Some even become absolute experts at it. They tend to bring the necessities, packed most efficiently and organized beyond reason. These individuals travel light, often with only a carry-on or small luggage. They don’t need to bring their whole wardrobe with them. These people know how not to hold up the security line at the airport.
Where you stay also has a lot to do with whether you are a tourist or a traveller. Tourists stay in hotels. The more familiar the brand, the better. They like their comforts, access to hotel amenities and luxuries. They pick up all the travel brochures in the lobby and ask the staff for recommendations. When they venture out, they are in their full tourist garb, map in hand.
Travellers are more open to choices when it comes to choosing accommodations. They love to stay at private lodgings and get to know their local hosts. Travellers love to experience life just like those who live in whatever place they are visiting. As a traveller, you are more open to trying things out of your comfort zone and are not afraid to interact with locals even if they speak a different language.
Sights and attractions choices
What you see and how you see it also varies. Tourists tend to check out the spots in their guidebooks. They stick to routes and itineraries. You can easily recognize them, especially when they travel in a group. Tourists love big, splashy cruises and the organized trips that come with them. They visit the restaurants, hotels and “must-see” spots recommended by the guides and stick to them.
Travellers prefer to veer off the beaten track. They like to get lost in the place they visit and discover spots that are not in the guidebooks. While travellers will also visit the major sites, they are there for more than just a selfie. They will most likely take many photos, videos, and anything in between to keep the memory alive. They had done their research about the places they are visiting way before they even got there.
What you eat and where
The biggest tell-tale that you are a tourist is where you eat. Tourists will go straight to the places that have food familiar to them. McDonald’s, anyone? They are comforted by what they know, no matter how great the local culinary choices are. When they try local foods, they make a huge spectacle out of it and go for burgers and fries right after. I am baffled as to why you would come to a place like Italy and choose to eat at a greasy chain store? I have no words.
Travellers are more open to trying new foods. They might not like them all, but they will still try. These people would never step a foot into a place like McDonald’s. You will likely find them in local spots, hanging out with the locals and having a great time.
Tourists and travellers on the ground
While tourists are more likely to stick to touristy places, they are also less likely to try speaking the local language. A traveller, however, makes an effort to learn a few simple words in other languages. It’s not because travellers have language learning powers. They are simply more likely to go out of their comfort zone.
Travellers are also those that dream about their next journey almost all the time. Tourists plan their next vacation during set times of the year. For one, it’s a lifestyle; for the other, it’s an activity. Neither is wrong, just different.
Bringing it together
Are tourists destined to be tourists forever, or are they meant to evolve? I think many people are perfectly content, being tourists. They don’t need to or want to evolve into travellers.
I think any type of travel broadens our minds and expands our outlook on the world. However, I do think that there is something that causes people to become travellers. They are not content with the same experience as tourists. To them, travel becomes more of a lifestyle.
While I consider myself more of a traveller than a tourist, I think that line is sometimes very challenging to distinguish. The world needs both to discover new things, document and appreciate them. Some countries depend on the tourism industry to support their economy. We shouldn’t discount that factor.
So what do you think? Are you a traveller or a tourist? Do you think there is a difference? Let me know!