Do You Want to be a Tourist or a Traveler?

Tourist vs. Traveler

Before I get started, I want to make one thing very, very clear: there is nothing wrong with the way anybody travels! The difference between a tourist and a traveler is not that one is better or more authentic than the other, they’re just different! I don’t want a bunch of nasty emails from people who are angry that I’m dissing their lifestyle choices. You do you, boo!

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, this subject is really important to me because I believe it makes me different from a lot of other travel blogs out there. AGAIN – this isn’t to say that I’m any better or any worse than anybody else! I love to see the world from another view (PS. I’m a traveler!), and truly live in another place, another culture, another life.

Airbnb vs. Couchsurfing

Airbnb boasts beautiful balconies (sorry, couldn’t resist the alliteration) and amazing homes everywhere in the world, from right in the middle of the bustling city to kind of away from everything. I mean I’ll be honest – I’ve seen some homes for rent that I would kill to stay in one day. They’re stunning! Ain’t nothing wrong with staying in an awe-inspiring rental! For all the tourists out there, more power to ya!

Couchsurfing, on the other hand, is really as travel-centric as you can get. Sleeping on a local’s couch for free, probably in exchange for some sort of conversation, a drink, or maybe just a clean kitchen? Couchsurfing takes the capitalism right out of the travel industry and brings it back to a simple exchange of perspectives.

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Travel agent vs. Workaway

While on the topic of capitalism in the travel industry, a travel agent is a must-have for tourists. No matter how you travel (for the most part), that flight-transportation-lodging-meal plan combination can be a doozy, and it’s definitely helpful for tourists to have that kind of search engine available to them.

Travelers, however, prefer simplicity and a much more conservative budget. A traveler might go for the hitchhiking or public transportation experiences – both for the low cost and the fact that they can absolutely be an experience for the books. Many travelers also opt-in for programs like Workaway.com, which offers you food and lodging for some agreed-upon length of time (usually for several weeks) in exchange for a few hours of work a day – maybe front desk at a hostel, or maybe learning how to operate the local vineyard. Are you starting to get the difference between a tourist and a traveler yet?

Taking time off work vs. working abroad

To be fair, this difference isn’t really as black and white as the rest, but in some cases it does exist. There are tons of travelers out there who work a full time job, and only get to travel during their vacation days. But, for the sake of really augmenting the difference between a tourist and a traveler, let’s pretend this part really is mutually exclusive.
A tourist will usually keep their traveling down to the couple weeks they have off work. They take that one chance, once a year, to really go hard in their traveling and just splurge on hotels and fancy meals. I know, sounds wonderful, right? I’d love to just splurge for a couple weeks for the sake of vacationing!

Travelers, however, tend to have a much more solid commitment to travel. They’re the ones with the inspiring blogs saying “this is how I quit my job to travel the world!”. Travelers do that because, well, if you identify as a traveler, you can’t really get away with not ever traveling, can you? That being said, a traveler tends to put everything into traveling – like I did, when I lived abroad and, from a traveler’s standpoint, it totally changed my life. Because, as a traveler, that’s what I search for.

$50 luggage fees vs. $150 backpack

“What? I thought tourists spend more money on traveling!”

Yeah, they generally do. But think about it: who usually needs to really invest in luggage? This is a huge difference between a tourist and a traveler. If a tourist is only traveling a couple times a year and staying in hotels and safe spaces, why do they need a backpack? Everybody’s got luggage. Can’t take it with you on the plane? Welp, this is the one time of year where you splurge!

Travelers, on the other hand, need to invest in a good backpack. Remember their budget? A traveler can’t be bothered with losing $50 every time they travel just because they don’t have the right equipment. A traveler is more likely to be staying in shabbier lodging than a tourist, as well, meaning their backpack needs to know how to take a punch. A traveler’s accessories are all about durability!

Getting away vs. arriving

Now this perspective shift is a major difference between a tourist and a traveler. Remember how I mentioned a tourist will usually just go traveling during their vacation time? They’re getting away from their lives! Travel is an escape from reality, their responsibilities, and their stressors.

Travelers, on the other hand, live to travel. When they go abroad, they’re arriving at a new phase of life, not leaving their own real life until further notice. You know the cliché “something-something-don’t live a life you need an escape from?” Many travelers, like myself, hold that idea very close to heart. We dream too much about seeing the world and learning about other people and cultures to waste our lives away in front of a computer. Travelers need to go out there and see the world!

Taking a mental break vs. expanding your horizons

Now, I believe this is the hugest difference between a tourist and a traveler. When a tourist travels, it’s to relax by the pool with a mimosa. No phone, no computer, nothing. A tourist travels to get a mental break.

A traveler, however, goes all in when they travel. A traveler approaches locals, and stumbles their way through the language until it’s not longer an issue. If a traveler is really committed, they’ll prepare for months beforehand, reading up on do’s and don’ts and getting to know locals and the language on Verbling (which I passionately explain in depth here). While a traveler enjoys a mimosa by the pool just as much as the tourist, travel is how they learn and open their minds.

Comments

  1. Great post!! A few things…. Backpackers 100% have to check their backpacks nine times out of ten because they are big. If they are any larger than a mid size duffle bag, and many are, they must be checked! Also, totally love the work away tip!

    • I love the idea of Workaway, too! I’ve tried to use it a couple times but it’s never worked out for me, unfortunately. I’ve always been very stubborn about making sure I only have a carry on, so I’ve always been fine! I just make sure I’m aware of the specific airline’s requirements and try my best not to overpack.

  2. Lordddd I’m tired of this debate on travel blogs. I’ve been traveling my whole life and blogging for about four years now. I think there is merit to some tourist stuff. Like- I’m not going to Paris for the first time and skipping the Eiffel Tower… I’m just not. There’s a reason some things are famous. Or the suitcase… if i’m investing in a trip I’m going to want to look good in my photos. That means a reasonable amount of effort and space in my pack or suitcase depending on where I’m going. I just got married in Ecuador. I spent half the trip backpacking and half the trip lugging a giant suitcase with my wedding gown in it. I’d do it again 100% of the time. I think the argument that one form of travel is better than another just frankly isn’t true. I’ve done high end luxury resorts… I’ve also backpacked. Reducing travel to an either this or that argument is what makes travel terrifying to new comers and first timers. The person that has never left their small town in the US or UK or Canada or where ever is probably not going to jump head first into a 6 month backpacking trip for their first time out of the country. Sure… some will…but most won’t. I believe that our job as travel media professionals is to encourage folks to take that next step in their travel journey. Maybe what feels right for them is a Disney Cruise… maybe it’s hiking to Everest’s Basecamp… maybe it’s a solo tour of Iran. That’s not for us to judge. I appreciate this post though because it starts a healthy discourse for readers… bloggers… and travel professionals. So – hats off to you for that.

    • I’m glad we agree. Nothing good comes of saying that the way I do things is better than the way you do things for so and so reason. It’s silly! Travel because you love it, not because somebody told you you’re wrong for staying in a hotel!

      Also, congratulations! I bet it was an amazing wedding 🙂

  3. I can relate to so much in this article. No one really talks about the fact that travelling can really take its toll. When you’re up all night on your plane trying to learn the language of where you’re travelling to or you can’t sleep because your budget-hotel’s walls are too thin…but it’s all worth it in the end!

  4. I can totally relate! My backpack is small enough to take on board every flight I’ve been on! Woohoo!! I definitely opt for hostels rather than the airbnbs or couchsurfing.

  5. Yes I get somewhat tired of chatting with ‘travellers’ in hostels playing this kind of travel one-upmanship game. As if the more hardship you endure the more it counts. It still counts the same, whether you fly or hitchhike or whether you travel with a huge bag or a tiny rucksack. You can do whatever is right for you.
    I’ve never managed to get anything together on workaway either; I like the concept but nothing seems to work out for me.

    • Yep! I tend to want to just pat those people on the shoulder and yes “yes, dear, you’re a better traveler because you stayed in cheaper lodging”. If the travel community is expected to respect the cultures and people that we come across, we need to respect each other!

  6. Very well written and I hope you don’t get nasty emails! I’m a true traveler at heart and can relate to traveling in the mindset getting a mental break, I used to travel quite a bit when I was younger, never able to fully commit as a single mom to the lifestyle but when I did go on adventures, however long they were and there were many it more to cleanse the mind, find solitude, meet new people and so on. Most trips where designed around anything less than sitting around and more geared toward challenging my self and pushing myself for something greater. I have to say, now I’m more of a tourist, I don’t actually work, well I do several hours a day on new blog, and I am an expat in a new country but all the same I can say I am a tourist and I’m ok with that. We travel on average 8 times a year except this past year making it 12 🙂 I can see the real difference that you refer to between the two and I respect both travelers and tourist. to be honest I secretly live vicareoulsy through the true travels who do things I know I most likely never will, well I shouldn’t say never because you never know 🙂

    • Thank you! While my passion is learning about new cultures and seeing new places, I can’t honestly say I don’t get jealous of luxurious hotel rooms and first-class flights. One day I’ll definitely experience it for myself, but while I’m traveling on a budget I’m content with following other bloggers 🙂

  7. I am a total mix of both! We couchsurfed and stayed in some fancy hotels as well. Sometimes we backpack, other times we check in 4 bags. We visit the most cliche attractions as well as discover the hidden gems. If we are happy how the trip went, then we did it right. Everybody should travel in the way which makes them happy in that particular moment. Great post!

  8. Great article, if not a bit controversial (though I am sure that is the point). I agree with all of it, I have been travelling full time for seven years and it does annoy me a bit when people compare my style of travel (backpacking, hostels, overnight buses etc etc) to hotel style travel. They are totally different. I look forward to the day where I will have a vacation, their is no judgement on what is wrong or right, but they are totally different. People never understand how I afford to travel long term but it’s because they compare it to the costs of holidaying, which is vastly different. Good post.

    • I’m glad you like it! There are definitely pros and cons to both types of travel, one of them being travelers generally get to travel longer because they don’t spend nearly as much money.

  9. Great post Jamie. I wish i had the guts to leave my job and work in a different country. Sadly I don’t. Looks like I’m still a tourist then. I hope to be a traveler someday.

    • All in good time 🙂 There’s nothing wrong with being a more extravagant tourist – in fact, there are a lot of things I’m missing by only choosing more discounted experiences!

  10. Love this! There is totally a difference between be a tourist and a traveler, especially your point about making your life work around travel instead of making room in your life for travel. I struggle to explain this to people all the time!

  11. I can say I’m a bit of both – especially the moment you decide to settle down and have a family! Back when I was still working in the office, I take advantage of every chance I can get away for a trip somewhere. It’s not easy for some people, like when you don’t carry a “privileged” passport to be a nomad somewhere without a working contract or permit. But anyway, it’s true.. we all need to respect each other’s travel style in one way or another 🙂

  12. People have different travel style and especially reasons for travelling. That is why it is important to find the right people to travel with. And the right backback! I’ve been thinking about buying a real backpacking-adventure-sized backpack. Up until now I relied on a smaller backpack that managed to accommodate my 3 to 6 days trips and a suitcase for everything else.

  13. Loved your frank approach and fresh perspective. I agree that there is a difference between travelers and tourists and the difference is in the attitude and the approach to travel.

  14. Quite a few of us fall in between. Neither tourist nor traveler but like you said, each to their own and for me as long as we enjoy what we have set out for…goals accomplished!

  15. Totally agree, workaway and sites like helpx let you immerse yourself in the local culture, much more than just a fleeting visit for a few days. It’s difficult though because don’t want to pressurise some people into taking the real traveller route… I guess some people just like annoyingly huge suitcases on wheels 🙂

  16. I’m a traveller and I have a full time job too at home. Yes I go on a trip using my annual leave credits. But I’m the kind who talk and befriend locals too and try to learn the language. I also use my big backpack when I travel but I dont have the luxury of time to spend longer time on the road. Im not hating this post but I think this traveller vs. tourist thing comparison is not good at all.

  17. Hi Jamie,

    I love doing both. Although, we are all technically tourists unless we have citizenship in a country 😉

    But definitely feel ya! I do the long term bit in most spots, staying for 1 to 6 months to fully experience the place. But here in NYC, 2 weeks is enough. Tourist. All the way. Anything longer in the Concrete Jungle would likely drive me mad because I need to be amid nature for most of the year to feel super energized. And when I live in a completely urban setting I miss nature so much after a few weeks.

    Thanks much 🙂

    Ryan

    • Well if you want to get technical, you’re right!

      I don’t personally think it matters how long you stay as much as how you spend your time. You can be a 2 week traveler – as long as you’re staying with locals and not some ritzy hotel!

  18. I don’t know what I am. I’m in the U.S., and I haven’t left the country. We hop in the car and drive for two weeks. I live in Missouri, and I’m currently in Gettysburg. We’ve been exploring the battlefield trails for the past couple of days. Tomorrow we’re heading four hours away to Virginia Beach. I know some people say what I’m doing is not traveling, but I’m exploring places I’ve never been and diving into the history. Everywhere I’ve been changes me a little. So, I agree! Do you what makes you happy and feeds your soul.

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