The stark differences between travelers and tourists: Which One are You?

Hey guys,

It occurred to me how many different ways people like to travel, but for the purpose of this article I’m categorizing them within two main categories:

Travelers and tourists.

Both travelers and tourists love visiting foreign countries, however, their approach to traveling widely differs and there are distinct qualities that separate the two.

Every traveler is a tourist, but not every tourist is a traveler.

See if you identify closer with one of the two as you read!

Travel Itinerary

A tourist visits a country for a week or two on vacation.
A traveler visits a country for an extended period of time.

Tourists book their vacation a year or two in advance to get away from the everyday hustle. They want a holiday escape to unwind, relax, and take time off from their responsibilities.

Travelers go to a country on an expedition of sorts where the purpose is to learn something about the world. They want to stay for as long as possible or until they achieve what they originally set out to do.

Packing, luggage & belongings

A tourist packs 2-3 suitcases.
A traveler packs just what he needs.

Tourists ALWAYS overpack. They think they need way more than they actually do. Instead of packing for 1-2 weeks, they pack a few months supply of clothes, accessories, and personal items. They end up only using a fraction of what they packed.

Travelers understand the less the better. They know overpacking means excess weight that becomes a hassle to bring around everywhere. Less stuff means less worry and more attention towards the trip itself.

Lodging & Accommodation

A tourist stays in resorts and hotels.
A traveler hostel-hops, couch-surfs , and sets up camp.

Tourists value comfort, convenience, and cost. Most of them want a private, up-scale, fully accommodated room with professional service a phone call away. They want a king-sized bed, a main lobby with a rec centre, swimming pool and a downstairs restaurant & bar. The price needs be fair and reflect high value for the amount payed.

Travelers value experience, immersion, and cost. They want to be surrounded by like-minded people who share their stories and insight. Many of them lean towards hostels since they’re economic and provide a central hub for other travelers with similar objectives. If a local invites a traveler to stay with them for a few nights, the opportunity for immersion far out weighs the comfort and convienence of a standard hotel/hostel room.

To-do list

A tourist joins tour groups and purchases sight-seeing packages from travel agencies.
A traveler meets people who show him around and give recommendations for free.

Tourists rigorously plan and schedule their 7-14 day vacation. They want every hour of every day to be something to do and somewhere to go. Travel agencies mark their calenders and suggest everything from where to eat, to places you should and should not go.

Travelers don’t want a pre-decided plan. They act spontaneously and instinctively. Most of the time they meet friendly locals who want to show them around their city. Instead of adhering to a rigid plan, they have a general idea of what they want to do and where they want to go for the day.

Where to go and what to see

A tourist wants to see the main attractions.
A traveler wants to see through the locals’ eyes.

If you’ve ever been to a popular major city like Paris, or Rome I’m sure you’ve seen the groups of tourists with selfie-sticks taking photos in front of the historical monuments.

Tourists want to see historical significance as long as they’re able to share it with their friends and family on social media.

Travelers and tourists alike want to visit world famous monuments, buildings, and museums, but the only difference is a traveler tends to see the main attractions as a “tourist trap.” Travelers want to experience Paris and Rome as a local does, not as the tourism industry advertises.

Language learning

A tourist doesn’t spend time learning a new language.
A traveler finds it important to communicate with the locals.

A tourist at most remembers a few words from foreign language class. Maybe they use important words and phrases like, “please, thank you, & where is the bathroom?” Beyond that, the places they go are most likely accustomed to English-speaking tourists so there’s no need (or want) to actually learn the local language.

Travelers, on the other hand, make a genuine effort to speak and learn the language of the country they’re visiting. They want to talk with a native speaker who doesn’t speak English as a second language. A travelers goal is to be able to order food, ask for directions, make small talk, and immerse themselves as much as possible in the culture.

Comfort and Novelty

A tourist acts within their comfort zone.
A traveler seeks to explore the unknown.

To a certain extent, when a tourist visits a foreign country it is acting outside of their comfort zone. For the most part, however, a tourist adheres to the pre-planned itinerary and doesn’t sway too off schedule. Tourists tend to stick with what’s familiar and not too far off from their cultural norm.

When a traveler visits a foreign country, he/she wants to experience something other. A lot of times they’re on personal quests of self discovery, meaning, and existential order. Travelers seek adventure and discovery. They want to experience all the ups and downs that comes with venturing outside of their comfort zone.

Blending in and Standing out

A tourist always walks looking up, down & around.
A traveler walks with direciton.

A tourist stands out.
A traveler blends in.

You can spot a tourist right away. They stand out like neon colors. The tourist starter pack includes a camera, oversized backpack, souvenir shirt, selfie stick, and a local map.

Travelers try to blend in as much as possible. They want to look and act like the local population to not draw unnecessary attention.

Bonus*
A tourist walks into an Italian cafe and makes sure to order Italian coffee and Italian cookies
A traveler walks into an Italian cafe and orders coffee and cookies.


So, which one are you, traveler or tourist? Comment below & and Share with your friends!

Read my other posts!

6 Principles For Life and Travel

If you love traveling and your enthusiasm for foreign cultures prompts you to buy a one-way ticket, chances are you follow a certain set of unspoken rules that I call: The Avid Traveler’s Code of Conduct

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