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Is There a Difference Between a Traveler and a Tourist?

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We’ve all heard the term traveler and we’ve all heard the term tourist. Is there a difference? Is one different than the other? Is there a difference between going on vacation and traveling? This seems to be a major debate in the travel world. Some say those who proclaim themselves as travelers vs. tourists are snobby tourists and that they really is no difference.

In my opinion, a traveler is much different than a tourist. A tourist is going someplace to get away from their daily life, they are going for a break, a vacation. They are going to see the major, famous landmarks and then returning home. For a traveler, however, travel is their life. A “vacation” is not the exception from their normal life, it is their life. A traveler seeks to immerge themselves into cultures around the world. They seek to see, feel, hear, taste, and experience all that a culture has to offer to better understand that culture. A traveler is more at home on the road than they are at home.

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My goal is not to define myself as a somehow superior individual because of the extent and depth that I enjoy traveling, experiencing the culture, and immersing myself into that culture. I make no such judgements or thoughts that a tourist is somehow less than a traveler, only that there are two separate definitions. Seeing the major landmarks at a destination is part of that culture and there is something to be cherished about visiting them. I do not assume that a traveler can not visit these sites, but they do so in an attempt to better understand the culture.

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  1. A tourist is visiting a destination for the popular attractions, a traveler seeks to immerge into the culture of the destination they are visiting.
  2. A tourist looks forward to their annual or bi-annual vacations while a traveler is constantly planning their next trip. It is a part of their everyday life.
  3. A tourist wants to see all the main sites, a traveler wants to see these too, but also wants to see the off the beaten path locations.
  4. A tourist stands out from the locals, a tourist attempts to blend in-to dress like a local, to learn the local language, to learn the local culture and social standards.
  5. A tourist tends to travel in a group, while a traveler may often travel solo.  
  6. A tourist may eat at nice, fancy restaurants, while a traveler will eat where the locals do.
  7. A tourist tends to stay in their comfort zone. A traveler pushes to leave their comfort zone.
  8. A tourist seeks to enjoy themselves, a traveler seeks to learn something.
  9. A tourist seeks to take a break from their lives, a traveler’s life revolves around each trip.
  10. A tourist tends to stay in the nice, 3-4 star hotels. A traveler will stay anywhere-a hostel, a motel, camping in the middle or nowhere, hell even sleep in their car.
  11. A tourist takes the trip and then returns to work. A traveler has most likely turned traveling into their work in one form or another.
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Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being a tourist. We all at point in our lives have been a tourist. It is great to get away, to see a destination, to experience the locations that you always hear about, but truly being a traveler represents much more than that. Is one better than the other? No. It is simply a difference in life style.

Do you agree? Is there a difference between being a traveler and a tourist? Feel free to comment below with any thoughts!

4 comments

  1. This was a very interesting post! A lot of people are having questions about this difference!
    I can say, that I am a traveler, but unfortunately to some descriptions, I just can’t agree. But, we also don’t need to be that ”perfect” traveler, right?! And that makes us special and individual! 🙂

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I agree with you, even for myself that are some aspects that I found commonly fell under the description of “traveler” that are not in line with my travel habits either, but like you said, no one is a “perfect” traveler! That makes the ride more enjoyable.

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