Am I a Traveler or a Tourist?

The never ending debate between the separation of tourist and traveler continues.

photo credit: David Blaikie
photo credit: David Blaikie

Most travelers pride themselves on not being tourists. They are adamant about avoiding package holidays or group tours. They are proud of their free-spiritedness: not booking hotels in advance. They insist on spending less money and keeping that money in the local economy. They leave home not only to see other places but to meet the local people of the place they are visiting. And they certainly would never walk around the city with their camera hanging around their neck.

When I’m standing at the on-ramp of the highway looking to hitch a ride to Bordeaux, eating fondue on the mountainside overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland with my Swiss friends, or surfing in the Algarve with German hippies, I am a traveler.

But sometimes, I can’t help it. In my moments of weakness, I become a tourist. Be it for an afternoon touring the Prado in Madrid or a full day walking around Manhattan staring upward.

But enough from me. Here the world’s most prominent voices on travel duke it out.

Pico Iyer:

“Though it’s fashionable nowadays to draw a distinction between the ‘tourist’ and the ‘traveler,’ perhaps the real distinction lies between those who leave their assumptions at home, and those who don’t: Among those who don’t, a tourist is just someone who complains, ‘Nothing here is the way it is at home,’ while a traveler is one who grumbles, ‘Everything here is the same as it is in Cairo—or Cuzco or Kathmandu.’ It’s all very much the same.”

Paul Theroux:

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”

Rolf Potts, from Vegabonding:

“In reality, travel is not a social contest, and vagabonding has never represented a caste on the tourist/traveler hierarchy. Depending upon circumstance, a sincere vagabonder could variously be called a traveler or a tourist, a pilgrim or a satyr, and victor or a victim, an individual seeker or a demographic trend. Indeed, the main conceit in trying to discern travelers from tourists is that you end up with a flimsy facade of presumed insiders and outsiders. By the vacuous standards of fashion, insiders and outsiders are necessary — but in the realm of travel (where, by definition, you are always a guest in foreign places) such a distinction is ridiculous.”

Daniel J. Boorstin:

“The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.””

G.K. Chesterton:

“The traveler sees what he sees.  The tourist sees what he has come to see.”

Russell Baker:

“The worst thing about being a tourist is having other tourists recognize you as a tourist.”

Gary Langer, from Transitions Abroad magazine, Vol. 1, #1 (1977):

“Tourists are those who bring their homes with them wherever they go, and apply them to whatever they see… Travelers leave home at home, bringing only themselves and a desire to see and hear and feel and take in and grow and learn.”

Posted by Stephen Bugno for the Traveler’s Desk

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