Tourist, or Traveller?

The travelling tourist, or the touristy traveller?

According to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary,

Tourist: One that makes a tour for pleasure or culture.

Traveller: One that goes on a trip or a journey.

Both mean the same. No big difference here.

Recently, a friend of mine was explaining to another friend of his and he said “yeah, I did some travelling. I travelled to Greece and stayed there, and visited some islands for 10 days.”

Firstly, it is simply mind-blowing to see how the word: “Travelled” is being mindlessly and loosely thrown about.  In everyone’s minds, no one is a tourist. No one admits to being one. Everyone is a traveller. This debate has gotten to me, and I decided to dig a little deeper to understand the difference, if anything existed.

So, in a nutshell, what would a traveller do that a tourist would not?

Here are some of the things that seem to make a distinction as can be gleamed from the internet and travel boards, and travellers.

Tourists expect toilet paper wherever they go. Travellers carry their own, minus the cardboard.

With 500 euros, a tourist will visit one place, for a week and tend to give you an insight of the traveller. With the same 500 euros, a traveller will go to 5 different places, sees a little, leaves the rest out for another visit (because they are already thinking of the next time they would be coming) make a friend or two, and move on.

A tourist settles on his destination and takes the quickest way to get there. The destination is the aim. The adventure doesn’t start till the getting there ends.

A traveller is someone who travels to travel.

A traveller is someone who travels to travel. The twelve hour train journey while you make conversation to someone with a giant beard who tells his stories, and finally invites you for dinner, or the lady who speaks to you with fervor and emotion about the days of her youth, or the spending of the night in a tent, all are just as important as to getting to the destination. It’s not where you go, but it is how you get there. A traveller finds the most imaginative, sometimes the longest and interesting way to get to a place. The journey is just as important, with all the sights, sounds and adventures in between here and there.

A tourist is a person who travels to escape.

A tourist is a person who travels to escape. The aim: find a nice place to relax and forget about day to day stress. Someone else can cook, and clean up after you, and guide you to destinations. A traveller travels because he or she has to. It is much more than a vacation, it is a necessity. It is a blessing and sometimes, a curse to be footloose.

Tourists seem to have a checklist, whereas travellers seem to have a purpose or a reason for being, other than ticking a box.

A tourist says they have been to Greece, after visiting Athens and Santorini. A traveller says they have been to Athens and Santorini.

I think the fundamental difference would boil down to this: A traveller would tell stories about getting to a place, rather than the place itself. A tourist would tell you about how a destination was.

After all this, what is the difference? Does there exist a difference at all, or is it simply in our own head and egos?

The debate about being a tourist and being a traveller is big, and possibly never ending. And I fear I’m compelled to argue for one of these sides. As much as people believe that they are travellers and staunchly against tourists, the reality is that once we are on foreign soil, we may try to blend in or break out. But ultimately, we (usually) end up following a well-trodden trail at one time or the other. Perhaps a new word should be coined to address this: ‘The Travelist’. There is nothing that suggests a traveller is better than a tourist. Perhaps a tourist appreciates where they are. A traveller demonstrates an understanding of this world that we all live together. In the end, what we call or define ourselves, or others are not as important. What is important is how we travel, how we experience a place and its people, and how much we get out of the experience, and how much we give back. There is more value in focusing less on the identity and more on the world, the culture, and the people around. In the end, when you arrive somewhere new, to the locals, you are a tourist, no matter how you travel or how long you travel for. If you think you have a better distinction, let me know.

There is more value in focusing less on the identity and more on the world, the culture, and the people around.


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