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Traveler versus Tourist

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.

I lived with a host family while in Spain but still did plenty of “touristy” things

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.

Me doing what I love the most-traveling (@ Place de la Concorde in Paris)

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Rebecca
    April 10, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    I 100% agree, its the most frustrating discussion when you travel.

    • Reply
      Julie Tulba
      April 13, 2014 at 1:14 am

      Thankfully in my immediate circle I don’t have any of the pompous types who strongly adhere to the whole traveler versus tourist mentality 😉

  • Reply
    Renuka
    April 11, 2014 at 4:46 am

    Love this article! I agree to this completely – “If you are brave enough to step outside of your comfort zone, you are a traveler.” Even I have written quite a lot about how to be a traveler and not a tourist on my blog, but I don’t look down upon people who choose to be tourists. I just stress on saying that you experience the place deeply only when you are not worried about ticking off tourist sites. Like in my case, I am a happy mix of a tourist and a traveler – I don’t shy away from visiting popular tourist sites just because I’d be labeled a tourist. I really don’t care. I travel because I am curious to see the world. On the other hand, I don’t mind skipping tourist sites as long as I am able to extract the essence of a place. I certainly feel travel is not about judging somebody’s style of traveling. It’s plainly about doing your own thing.

    • Reply
      Julie Tulba
      April 13, 2014 at 1:15 am

      Thanks for much for commenting Renuka! And you perfectly stated it with your words “I travel because I am curious to see the world.”

      And yes, travel to me has always and will always be entirely subjective. There is no “right” way of traveling.

  • Reply
    Mark Rich
    April 11, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Very nice tips about Traveler versus Tourist . Thanks for sharing

  • Reply
    Lance Longwell
    April 12, 2014 at 4:03 am

    I absolutely HATE this discussion. My mantra is: there’s no one right way to travel. I’m sick of people saying ‘you’re only a traveler if you do xyz.’ Enough already. There’s no difference between a traveler and a tourist. Thanks for your great post.

    • Reply
      Julie Tulba
      April 13, 2014 at 1:19 am

      I could not agree more Lance! Everyone’s taste, style, interests are always going to be different. To ridicule people for doing something that interests them is just wrong, unfair, and very immature I feel.

  • Reply
    When there are "too" many tourists - The Red Headed Traveler
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