Is There a Difference Between a Traveler and a Tourist?

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.

Photo by Alfonso Escalante on

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.

Photo by on
  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.
Photo by Cliford Mervil on

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!

Published by navigationjunk

Hello! My name is Melissa (or Missy). I'm a nurse by day, but my true passion is travel. I'm a part time traveler, travel blogger, and photographer. Travel blogging allows me to share my experiences and knowledge with you as well as allows me to share in your experiences and learn from you.

4 thoughts on “Is There a Difference Between a Traveler and a Tourist?

  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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