Travelers vs. Tourists. Which is better? If you’ve traveled at all, you find that everyone has an opinion on this debate. The debate ends today. Here are the two sides:
Tourists are quite obvious. They’re usually the large group with cameras near any semi-important monument/site. They’re usually fully outfitted with fanny packs and cameras and depending on their time in the location, they may or may not all be wearing identical T-shirt as proof that they indeed did see the location in question. They’re more interested in the guided tours, obvious attractions & 4 star hotels than the traveler is and they are easily amused by quaint little things like accents.
Travelers see tourists and usually end up going in the opposite direction. While they will go see historical sites, they’re looking for the indie/hipster place to go. They want to see the place only the locals know about. They’ll try to learn the language, meet the locals and fit in with the culture. They’ll laugh at the travel faux pas the silly little tourists commit as they bumble through the city.
I used to consider myself a traveler. I usually stay away from the typical “touristy” things. I’ve slept under the Eiffel Tower for multiple nights, I’ve lived in the mountains of Jamaica for weeks on end and I’ve spent months in a living in the the Dominican Republic in some interesting conditions. When I travel, I usually tend to “rough it” and I was pretty proud to label myself a “traveler.”
This last trip to London was different though. I didn’t feel like a “traveler” at all. In fact, the only “traveler” type thing I really did was stay in hostels [if that even really counts].
I was attending a conference that met in a very nice [i.e expensive] hotel where we spent a solid 3 days. During my stay I mostly socialized with the conference attendees and went to lunch at the nearby locations. I didn’t spend really any time with local Londonesians and I honestly didn’t get much off the beaten path. I didn’t try to learn much of the native tongue [my English accent is horrendous] and I even went to a McDonalds once.
This was tourist behavior! *gasp* The horror.
But a funny thing happened: I still had a really good time.
My former “traveler” self would have had a heart attack seeing me do such “touristy” things, but I started to realized that didn’t matter and I didn’t really care. I don’t travel because I want to be labeled something. I travel because I want to have memorable experiences that shape me in meaningful ways.
That’s what I want out of travel. That’s what I want out of life.
Sure that will look differently for different people, [some people will do that in a touristy manner, some in a traveling manner] but I believe that’s the biggest underlying reason for everyone traveling.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big advocate of true cross-cultural experiences, language study & truly getting to know the locals, but any travel is better than no travel at all: including tourist travel.
After all, the tourist visiting Paris is wanting the same thing out of the trip that the traveler is: an amazing experience. How they go about it will be different, and what they experience will be different, but if they both come away “wowed” at their experience, their mission is accomplished. [Now if both of them do “nothing” and come away with nothing, I’d argue what’s the point?, but that’s another issue].
Before the travelers out there get too upset with me. Ask yourself: When did you take your first trip? Describe what you looked like. Got it?
You probably looked a lot like a tourist.
I know I did.
I was gawking, ignorant and said lots of stupid things. I got lost and ripped off and spent way too much.
Why does selfish cycling annoy me so much? For the same reasons that I believe anything annoys anyone — because it represents something about myself which I dislike. – Jim Hodgson
Jim is writing about newbie cyclists, but I think it applies a lot to traveling too. I find one of the reasons I used to be annoyed with tourists so much, is because they represented how I used to travel. I used to be that guy with the t shirt, and camera who spent a disproportionate amount of time looking at bad souvenirs.
Everyone starts somewhere.
Tourist-type travel can be fun. And it’s where most people start. Whatever you do, whether you’d rather spend the weekend in the park in front of the Eiffel tower and sleep in your car while on a cross country road trip, or spend your vacation in an all-inclusive resort while exploring Disney World and getting as many pictures with the Disney Characters as possible, don’t worry about the “label” you’ll get from doing it. Make sure it’s memorable.
What do you think?