In the travel world, there is often intense debate between whether you’re a traveler or a tourist. Many of the traveling elite (I call them the snooty and sometimes smelly backpacker demographic), consider themselves to be “travelers,” and scoff at the tourists who are silly enough to pose for pictures outside of the Eiffel Tower and gasp, would stay at a resort in Cancun. To travelers, tourists are those individuals who haven’t traveled a lot, are afraid of trying new things, get homesick, and constantly make comparisons between the destination they’re in and home. But I’m here to tell you that to me, there is no difference. And here’s why:
For the so-called travelers, I feel that unless you can speak the local language or have lived somewhere long enough to be considered more of an expat, you’re still a tourist. Don’t pretend otherwise. If your knowledge of the local tongue is no more than a few pleasantries and saying you want milk in your coffee and how long until the next bus, you’re a tourist. If you get arrested in another country and can’t say anything more than “help me” and “I need to call my embassy” as in no, you can’t try to talk yourself out of the situation you’re in in that local country’s language, you are without a doubt a tourist.
You’re a bold faced liar that if, on your first trip to Rome, you claim you don’t want to visit the Spanish Steps and hang there a while or at least take a photo against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower. There are “tourist trap” experiences and then there are those things I think everyone would want to see or do once in their life for the sheer pleasure of doing so. Loudly eschewing those quintessential experiences doesn’t make you a better traveler, it makes you appear more cynical and sometimes just downright rude.
Many people claim that tourists are the ones who get homesick. Well, I’ve read enough blogs of individuals on extended trips to know that even these travelers who backpack for $20 a day or less, who consider themselves to be so “savvy” in the ways of travel, get homesick-they want that familiar Starbucks coffee drink, they want their familiar brand of deodorant, they just want to be somewhere that they fit in and can be themselves without having to think about it. I do commend those travelers who are mature enough to admit those kinds of things instead of pretending that occasionally getting homesick is only for wusses.
I think more than anything else, tourist a term that can be applied to someone who is, at that moment, at a destination. A traveler I feel is what I am even when I’m not physically at a destination-someone who enjoys researching trips and itineraries, someone who loves reading travel blogs for inspiration, someone who is always interested in what’s going on in the rest of the world.
I’ve been homesick, I probably over pack on just about every trip I’ve ever taken, I’ve taken photos that some may consider cheesy. Does that make me any less of a traveler? Of course not. I’ve still lived abroad in four different countries where my native language was not spoken. I’ve been sicker than I would ever care to be in a foreign country while living in a stranger’s house. But I also cherish the passport stamps that I’ve collected over the years, I love learning new words in different languages. And yes, my Facebook cover photo is of a destination I’ve visited.
There is no traveler versus tourist to me. If you are brave enough to step outside of your comfort zone, you are a traveler, pure and simple.