The Difference Between Tourists and Travellers

What is the difference between a tourist and a traveller?

It’s one of those quintessential questions among travellers (or should I say tourists?), popping up like a stubborn weed on forums and blogs. But is there even a difference, or are tourists and travellers one and the same?

Here’s how 21 travel bloggers see it.

Craig Heimburger from TravelVice:

Tourists expect toilet paper — travelers carry their own (with the carton roll removed and pressed flat).

Ant Stone from Trail of Ants:

If you gave a tourist £500, they will visit one place, for one week while trying to emulate the insight of the traveller. If you gave a traveller £500, they will visit five places over five weeks while trying to avoid the habits of a tourist. When they return home, the traveller will say “the tourist blew their money” while the tourist will claim “the traveller blew their time”.

Personally, I think travellers who snub their noses at tourists are short-sighted. I’ve met hundreds of so-called travellers over the past nineteen months who say such things as “I’m not going there, it’s so touristy!” I wait five minutes and then ask them what they’ve done with their day. Museum. Monument. Market. McDonalds. There was me thinking they’d been laying grain out to dry after digging a new rice paddy. For the record, I’m a travelling tourist, or is it a touristy traveller?

Gary Arndt from Everything Everywhere:

There is no difference. It is a distinction used by pretentious people to make themselves feel superior to others. To the locals, no matter how long you’ve been traveling or whatever your mindset is, you are still a tourist. After two years on the road, I’m still a tourist when I show up somewhere new.

A better distinction is between traveling and vacation, which is a distinction between what you are doing, not who you are.

Tourists expect toilet paper — travelers carry their own (with the carton roll removed and pressed flat).

Melanie McMinn from Intrepid 101:

A traveller enters a new place with an open mind and a hunger to experience.

I know when I say this my geek will be showing, but nothing says it better than the Monty Python Tourist Sketch:

What’s the point of going abroad if you’re just another tourist carted around in buses surrounded by sweaty mindless oafs from Kettering and Coventry… complaining about the tea – “Oh they don’t make it properly here, do they, not like at home”… squirting Timothy White’s suncream all over their puffy raw swollen purulent flesh ‘cos they “overdid it on the first day”…

And sending tinted postcards of places they don’t realise they haven’t even visited to “All at number 22, weather wonderful, our room is marked with an ‘X’. Food very greasy but we’ve found a charming little local place hidden away in the back streets…where they serve Watney’s Red Barrel and cheese and onion…”

Pam Mandel from Nerd’s Eye View:

In a semantic dispute, one could argue that a traveler is anyone engaged in the act of travel. I traveled to the post office yesterday, downtown to dine with friends. More semantics: A tourist is anyone who is not a local or, alternatively, one who is in a location to tour, to see the sites. The underpinnings of this question are clear, though, to anyone who reads about travel. My take: This question must die. There’s no difference. None.

Jacquie Ross from Travelling Right, Travelling Light:

Oh, the aura, the romance, the mystique of the ‘traveller’.  It just sounds more adventurous, more gritty, more authentic than the ‘tourist’.  I can scarcely spit out the confession, so painful is the suspicion that my own travels were really more ‘tourist’ than ‘traveller’.  But maybe it’s unavoidable.  As a thirty-something, mid-career ‘tourist’, I had a very strong sense of what I wanted to achieve from my travels and it didn’t include finding – or, for that matter, losing – myself.  With time far more limited than budget, I moved more quickly and – on occasion – more luxuriously than the ‘traveller’, deliberate trade-offs that inevitably (for the ‘traveller’) draw into question the authenticity of my experiences.  And yet, at heart, there can be no difference at all between us.  The thirst to grow through travel compels only some of us to action.  What each of us gains from the adventure is of our own making, and the means – whether as a ‘tourist’ or as a ‘traveller’- mere semantics.  

Aaron Joel Santos from From Swerve of Shore:

The differences may look large and wide and all, but in the end they are as fickle and frail as anything else. The definition-type traveler or tourist does not care to be anything else. But we’re hardly ever as easy to peg down as a dictionary definition. I’ve toured and traveled. I’m guessing you have too. A real experience in an unknown place is a very subjective experience, so who is the traveler to say that the tourist does not experience anything real, or vice-versa? We all want to think of ourselves as travelers, but staying in a cheap dorm with other westerners or drinking on the roof of our hostel does not make us one. It’s being open and accepting of new cultures, of different ways of living. The goal of traveling is to learn about yourself and about the world, and anyone can do that if they try. Even tourists.

The goal of traveling is to learn about yourself and about the world, and anyone can do that if they try. Even tourists.

Shelly Rivoli from Travels with Baby:

A tourist visits a destination and accepts the visit as an end in itself, happy to have seen and conquered the place, then he moves on. A traveler, on the other hand, is a traveler wherever he roams. He sees every destination—even the post office and the corner grocery store in his own hometown—as a point of departure. His world is one of infinite possibilities and endless stories, and it is no wonder that so many great writers have been travelers at heart.

Greg Wesson from Greg Wesson’s Esoteric Globe:

A tourist is the idiot I curse at because they have stopped in the middle of the sidewalk during a busy rush hour RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME to take a picture of some obscure feature on a building that no one who is a local notices or cares about.  A traveller, which is what I am, is someone who gets off the beaten tourist path and to see and experience that which others miss, for example, a unique and architecturally significant feature on a building in the heart of the city.  I always stop and take a picture, even though sometimes the locals curse at me for stopping right in front of them.

Yup, travellers… We are so different than tourists.  I’m also smarter, a better driver and frankly I am more above average than even those kids in Lake Wobegon.

Dave from The Longest Way Home:

I think there is a politically correct difference, and then a difference that both a traveller and tourist will conjure up in their own minds about one another. Much like a ‘backpacker’ or ‘expat may wish to separate themselves from the two classes as well. It is relative to the individual and to a large extent the person looking at them trying to figure it all out. With the PC version out of the way, let me give my own personal view as I travel.

I consider myself a traveller, but am of course looked upon as a tourist when travelling. I class short termers, weekenders, short hop family vacationers who stay in one country and so on; more as tourists than travellers. Backpackers, long-termers and so forth over multi regions; I look more on as travellers. Travellers and tourists: one and the same, albeit depending on who’s looking at who.

Brooke from Brooke vs. the World:

Literally, a tourist is “a person who travels for pleasure”, while a traveler is “a person who changes location”. (WordNet)  Perhaps this means that a tourist is just a person looking for a vacation, while a traveler is a person always looking for new scenery and adventure.  Perhaps this means a tourist is someone taking the safe route, sticking to the city walls and dragging a suitcase, while a traveler is fearlessly trekking mountain paths after downsizing their lives to a single backpack.  Perhaps I should try to further compare and define these two debatable terms, or maybe I should just save us all time by letting you infer what you wish from the two definitions above.  ;)

Tammie Dooley from Solo Road Trip:

There isn’t any. Being a tourist has been spoiled by a few bad apples, while travelers have been over-romanticized. There’s the occasional overbearing, insensitive boars, clutching their entitlements like carry-on luggage. Then there are travelers waxing poetically about the lack of an itinerary, mingling with the locals, eating from street stalls, tipping our noses at those staying in 5 star hotels, riding around in cushy buses, being led around like lambs with meals and breaks mandated.  Two weeks into a four week backpacking trip in China, I wanted to sell my son to be one of them. We travelers are a snobbish lot. I’m also a flyfisherman. I know about snobbery. It’s ugly; I’m guilty. The world deserves to see the world – tourist or traveler. Curiosity should be encouraged.  The experience of sating it is an individual choice. Besides, without tourists to make fun of, we’d founder on our arrogance. 

Lauren O’Farrell from Purl Interrupted:

A tourist is someone who travels to get to a certain place, their destination is their aim. For a tourist the travelling part is a means to an end, a series of connections and seats on transport. The adventure doesn’t start till the ‘getting there’ ends.

A traveller is someone who travels to travel. That twelve hour train journey drinking neat vodka with a giant beard of a Russian man while he tells you stories of his wild youth and slaps you on the back in an almost-painful gesture of fast friendship; the eight thigh-scraping hours you spend on lurching camel back to get to the desert sand dunes and sleep under the stars; the monkey who stole your cheese sandwich while you were waiting for your ‘luxury’ Indian bus to be repaired for the third time. All just as important as where you end up.

Lara Dunston from Cool Travel Guide:
I don’t buy into the ‘tourist vs traveller’ argument. I have too many bad memories of interminable discussions between backpackers when I was travelling around South America a decade ago. I couldn’t understand why my fellow ‘travellers’ weren’t more interested in discussing the place they were in and people they were meeting. As it turned out, it was because many weren’t even bothering to meet locals and weren’t really interested in getting beneath the skin of the places. They spent more time socialising at the hostel than they did out of it and appeared more consumed with the notion of being a ‘traveller’ and idea of ‘travelling’ than the actual reality. While they were all too ready to criticise ‘tourists’, i.e. those who travelled in big tour groups or individuals on arranged packages, from my own observations those ‘tourists’ were seeing more than their hotel room and were getting out and about and talking to locals, albeit local guides on organized excursions. For me the distinctions are superficial. The ‘grand tourists’ after all were the greatest travellers, spending years on the road, often months in a place, learning languages or the local art forms and traditions of different cultures. Yet to be a ‘tourist’ now is seen by those who identify themselves as ‘travellers’ as a negative label – to be a ‘sightseer’, ‘holidaymaker’ or day-tripper, someone who merely ‘passes through’ a place and gets a superficial experience of it – yet I don’t always think that’s true. I’m the last person to recommend an organized tour, but at the same time I don’t see ‘travellers’ as always travelling more authentically or more meaningfully than ‘tourists’. Whatever we want to call ourselves – or others – what’s more important than what we call ourselves is how we travel, how we experience a place and its people, how much we get out of that experience, and how much we give back. I see more value in focusing less on ourselves and our own identities and more on the world and the culture and people around us.

Debby from Tea, Sugar, a Dream:

The tourist might get the basics down, see some sights, take a few pictures, and go home, experiencing only the surface of a country. A traveler goes deeper.

A tourist, via definition, is somewhat similar to a traveler. But the connotation of a traveler, to me, implies a deeper intent than a tourist. Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian t-shirts, and white socks with sandals personifies a tourist. The tourist might get the basics down, see some sights, take a few pictures, and go home, experiencing only the surface of a country. A traveler goes deeper. A traveler explores the culture, the people, the traditions, the food, the lifestyles and inner workings of a country. A traveler gets more involved.

This is not to suggest that being a traveler is better than being a tourist, as there are some amazing sights to be seen, and I’m sure that many tourists appreciate where they are. But being a traveler demonstrates an understanding of this world that we all live in together.

Cate Dowman from Caffeinated Traveller:

The ongoing question and debate. Difficult to define as both share a common love for discovery but both are polar in thinking and style.

From my experience I think the difference has to do with awareness: The tourist is very much aware of who they are, what they are doing and why they are there.They know their role and don’t try to redfine it.

The traveller unfortunately, hasn’t reached that level of awareness yet. Too many people are stuck in this traveller mode.They are busy judging others travel style, but at the same time hanging around backpacker ghettos.Personally I wouldn’t put myself in either category and I’m sure many others wouldn’t as well. I would consider myself a hybrid – a cross between a tourist and a traveller, keeping all the good points. Perhaps we should coin a new word: travelist.

Nora Dunn from The Professional Hobo:

Being travel bloggers, I think we have all considered this dichotomy before. Rolf Potts writes somewhat indignantly about it in his most recent book, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, suggesting that it is a pointless debate. And I can’t say I blame him; as much as people who believe they are “travelers” are staunchly against being “tourists”, the reality is that once we are on foreign ground, we may try to get off the beaten path or blend in, but we ultimately (usually) follow a well-trodden trail at some time. 

To me, the difference between a tourist and a traveler has become more about how long you stay somewhere, get to know the locals, and integrate into the community (if even for a short time), than it is about seeing the sights versus finding a dodgy place that tourists don’t go for the sake of being off the beaten path.

Anja Mutic from Ever the Nomad:

A traveler engages with the destination through interacting with people and respectfully exploring new landscapes. On the journey, a traveler seeks to capture the essence of the place and leaves with a deeper understanding of it. A tourist visits the destination for the pleasure and fun of a holiday. On the trip, a tourist seeks an intermission from everyday life and returns home with snapshots and souvenirs.

Thomas Stanley from America in 100 Days:

Today's travelers are very fortunate to have the wealth of readily available information that they do - from expert tourism books to online reviews and laptops to GPS technology. All of these things, however, offer the easy way through the expedition at hand. Sure, a preplanned itinerary may be tried and true, and you probably won't find many gifts from Dionysus at just any random sandwich shop. But it's making that judgment for yourself that separates the traveler from the tourist. The tourist is just that, in town for a tour and a taste of the local specialty. The traveler is out to blaze a trail, to savor every bite of whatever the waitress brings, and to reflect without anyone else's noise to distract.

Derek Turner from The World by Sea:

Tourist or traveler. At first glance, I thought it was nothing more than playful semantics. Yet as the terms have wrestled through my mind, I am convinced the difference is significant.

A tourist is a person whose motivation for travel is often to escape. Your aim: to find a beachside resort, or country cottage where for a moment in time you can forget about work and day-to-day stress… just relax.  Someone else can cook, clean, and guide you to your daily destinations.

But a traveler is different. When you are a sailor, you are a person who sails. When a painter, a person who paints. The term, whether by passion or profession, defines the individual. A traveler is a person who travels, but it is much more than vacation–it is necessity. When you are a traveler, you are blessed… or cursed with a drive to discover.

Kerrin Rousset from MyKugelhopf:

Tourists are not looking for discovery; they are looking for the already discovered, and want to see it with their own eyes. The traveler, on the other hand, gets a thrill of discovering something on his or her own, knowing that far fewer people have seen it – or perhaps even no one else knows about it. He uses all of his senses in doing so, and makes the experience his own.

What about you? Do you think there’s a difference between “travellers” and “tourists”?

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Discussion »

  • #1Peter Daams

    Wow, what a great bunch of responses! For me, a tourist is simply a subset of travellers. Yes, all tourists ARE in fact travellers. But not all travellers are tourists. Some travellers are business travellers, some are backpackers, some are tourists. Etc, etc.

    Traveller = everyone who travels.

    Tourist = someone who is predisposed to holidays organised by someone else (ie, the travel agent, a tour company, etc..)

    I think what many have in mind when they compare “travellers” to “tourists” is in fact, “independent travellers” vs “tourists”.

    And yes, I do believe there is a difference between those two groups. But I don’t subscribe to the notion that tourists don’t enjoy the journey or don’t rough it.

  • #2Craig

    I have to agree with Gary…when you arrive somewhere, you are a tourist no matter how you travel or how long you travel.

  • #3Eva

    Wow! Thanks, Gary, Pam, Lara and the others who so eloquently argued for “There’s no difference at all!”

    No offense to the rest of you, but I’ve heard this debate turned into an excuse for judgment and snobbery so many times I’ve become convinced there’s nothing more to it. It’s very rare that I get through a discussion of it without feeling like all of my family members and friends (none of whom fall into most folks’ definition of “traveler”) have just been thoroughly insulted and put down. I always have to put a stranglehold on my urge to judge everyone who buys into it, in return.

    Sigh. Rant over.

    ps: For what it’s worth, this was one of the least judge-y and most thoughtful treatments of it I’ve read. But still, I think the discussion needs to die. It’s even more tired than charming villages nestled in snow-capped mountains, y’know?

  • #4Francoise

    Great collection of ideas on the eternal tourist/traveler debate!

    Tourist, traveler, visitor, explorer, they’re all only labels with definitions that can interpreted many different ways which all intersect at some point.

    It’s easy to conjure images of the tourist as being herded like sheep and not taking an active part in shaping their travel experience. It might not be how I would like to experience my journey, but it’s just that, a choice.

    Many travelers “tourist” at some point on their journey. Even the most down-and-out backpacker has gazed at some famous monument or building if only from a distance or casually hung at the back of a tour group to catch what the guide was saying.

  • #5The London Spy

    Gotta love the toilet paper analogy!
    So true + so simple lol

  • #6Alex Berger

    To me it’s a huge tossup and in part heavily dependent on the destination.

    There are without question certain behaviors that both groups share and that cross germinate between the two. I know a lot of people that do the 1-2 week thing and travel to a destination with the sole intention of sitting on a beach doing nothing. They are there to escape as much as they are there to actually experience the destination. Most of these people would be just as happy with their own home, food and bed transposed into the beach side hotel. To me, these are tourists.

    I don’t think that visiting a museum or major locations necessarily makes travelers tourists or vice versa. Visiting major cultural sites is all part of the experience. It’s what you do with the rest of your time. The traveler typically seeks out the culture, unusual experiences and non-whitewashed elements of their destination. They are there to push their understanding of the local environment and people while developing their own experience. The tourist typically is there to fulfill a pre-conceived expectation and gets pleasure out of the stereotypical experience – in fact that’s not only what they expect it’s what they want. We all had to spend time as tourists before we were comfortable enough to begin moving towards a more traveler oriented frame of mind.

    I love what one of the others said about the different ways people would use $500. Though I would add that it’s not so much about the financial side of it, but the ideology behind how that money is put to use. Beyond that, let’s face it – to make the money last you’ve gotta be willing to experience something vastly different than what you may be familiar with back home. For some people avoiding a dirty shower or meal cooked by a street vendor. For the rest of us – that’s the very fiber of the adventure.

  • #7lara dunston

    I’ve got to agree with Eva on all aspects!

    What great responses (yes, yes, I know mine’s among them) but lots of thoughtful and thought-provoking stuff here!

  • #8Gennaro

    It’s semantics. Everyone has the right to arrive at the destination as they wish. Be it chicken bus, air-conditioned private car, or helicopter. Traveler or tourist has the ability to have a authentic experience either way. Either can meet and socialize with locals. Perhaps, it will be different one’s, but it’s still an exploration outside their normal routine at home. Isn’t that the point of travel?

    I would say, however, that there is a difference between a traveler/tourist and a resortist. If we define resortist as one who goes to a secluded resort of another country and never leaves its grounds. Even then, you can argue that they’ll be meeting locals (staff) and other foreigners (guests). Again, an experience only had by leaving home to travel.

  • #9Carrie

    I’m with Gary on this one. Well said! The beauty about travel is how it is experienced. It’s not up to us to label those experiences by calling someone a tourist or a traveler. Being either one is better than sitting at home in your backyard dreaming about how you wished you had the time to travel.

  • #10Michael Esposito

    There are a lot of great comments and insights here!

    In my 30 years of traveling, I have been every category imaginable: foreign student, traveler, tourist, independent researcher, business traveler, worker (I taught for a year at a private school in Bogotá, Colombia), family member (my wife is Colombian and so when I stay with her family it seems to be a different category altogether), and crime victim (I was once held up at knifepoint in the Caribbean). The only thing I haven’t been, thank goodness, is prisoner, though I once was almost taken to jail by the military police for not having my passport with me.

    I can’t, in good conscience, criticize the person that falls into the category of “tourist,” though I do dislike seeing people, especially my fellow Americans, behave badly when they travel overseas. I must confess that I do get frustrated when, after 30 years of trying to hone my Spanish, I sometimes get lumped in the same category as someone who has arrived for the first time and knows no Spanish at all. I have to remind myself that first of all, I have been extremely fortunate to be able to travel often, and second, the person who judges me by appearance doesn’t know me, and often there isn’t time to enter into a discussion (and besides, I shouldn’t try too hard to honk my own horn).

  • #11Bjørn

    The creature in the photo is not a chameleon, it’s an iguana.

    Oh, and I subscribe to the notion that there isn’t really any definable difference between being a tourist and a traveler. Sometimes I go away for 2-3 months, other times it’s just for a long weekend. Sometimes I stay in hostels, other times in a tent or in nice hotels. I’ll always be a traveling tourist in the eyes of those who live wherever I go. Also, in their eyes I can be a nice, thoughtful tourist, or I can be an obnoxious stranger. I try to be more of the first.

  • #12Greg Wesson

    I must admit that my comment in the article was a little cynical… all right, a lot cynical. It is easy, as an independent traveller who has been at if for a while, to dismiss anyone who thinks that independent travel is special as being arrogant. After all, the more we travel the more we realize that we are just travellers, and we can never really fit in.

    However, I read this article and was reminded that there is a different view that the independent traveller takes that separates them from the package tourist. I still don’t think we should look down on the package tourist, for if that is what someone wants from their week off, who are we to say otherwise. But I do think that perhaps I was too quick to dismiss any difference between the package tourist and the independent traveller. As the article points out, there is something to be said for the interaction between you (the traveller) and the locals that the tourist doesn’t get.

    Maybe there is more of a difference between tourist and travellers than I originally allowed.


  • #13Eric

    Bjørn, well spotted:) Changed that.

  • #14RennyBA

    Indeed a very readable and very true post. I really liked the words: travelling is about ‘learn about yourself and about the world‘ and then you have to act a bit humble and with respect to others, their culture, traditions and habits.

  • #15Calfran

    For me “travelers” look at tourists the way PETA looks at meat-eaters. With a healthy dose of contempt. And the locals of the countries visited don’t care about the holistic or materialistic reasons one visits. If being a “traveler” means I adopt a contemptuous attitude towards tourists who are usually middle class hardworking folks back home and don’t have a lot of time or cash to stay for months at a time, then sorry I won’t be part of your group.

    When Rick Steves says “assume you will return” he must be also assuming that we have more cash, more time, no kids to support, no mortgage, no saving for retirement, no harsh realities of life etc. And “travelers” look down on these people for getting the package deal? Get real folks…

  • #16Beijinger

    As for me, I could not tell the difference between the travellers and tourists. So this post is a good defination for me as well as other people who mix the concept.Nice post!

  • #17Ed Whiting

    The difference is I believe purely in the mind of the person and how they see themselves in the travel environment they are in.

    There are people who’s way of life involves permanent nomadic travel and are just following their ancestors – I bet they don’t worry about whether they are seen as travelers or tourists, probably neither.

    Then you get the 20 something person, not long out of collage on their world travels who think themselves as travelers and would be horrified to be thought as a tourist. Some may just see them as student tourists, especially the backpacking hostels :-)

    There is nothing better than seeing someone arriving back from travels from a hot and distant land and days after arriving back in their home country in the depth of winter still wearing the bandanna and khaki shorts still saying they are travelers.

    The label of ‘tourists’ tends to be label more given by others.

  • #18Ara Sarafian

    I think it all boils down to how you define the words. Essentially, travellers are tour sits, and tourists are travelling. But yes, there is a implicit difference.

    In my opinion there the difference is in the motive of travel. I believe people are either “explorers” or “holidayers”.

    Whether some they want to admit it or not, they are both travellers AND tourists, but the main objective of the holidayers is to have a relaxing trip – a voyage where what they see or what they do is not important, as long as they return to their base with their batteries recharged.

    Explorers, on the other hand tend, to search for physical, chemical or emotional experiences which test, challenge, sensitise and overwhelm them. Relaxation may play a part on their journey, but it is certainly not the objective.

    One is not better than the other. Nobody has a right to judge. They are just different. Some people like apples, other people like oranges. It comes down to taste.

    People who are of one “category” may have no desire experience the other side. And that’s okay – as long as they don’t judge people who experience things in a different way.

    I believe that unless you have experienced both methods of travel then you have no real grounds on which to comment. But those who have experienced both, understand there is a difference between the two and often – not always – have made a choice to what suits them better. This doesn’t mean the other option is worse, but just that it’s not right for them – and in no way less rewarding or enriching for the soul of the tourist.

    We all see life through different eyes. If we can find what makes us happy – if we can find a piece which fits the jigsaw of our lives and makes it happy – then it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks. The labels do not matter.

    We are all just people experiencing life in our own, beautiful ways. All of which are good.

    Much peace, love and light to you all.

  • #19Karen Bryan

    I’ve written a post on this topic and even come up with the term touravller as a hybrid term:

  • #20Blog King

    I agree their is no real differance to me, because they are all either new comers or visiters not residing in that particular country.

  • #21Claudia

    Travelers take their time to experience a culture more in depth, other travelers like to enjoy sightseeing and local foods. Others, just like to swim in the ocean and have a great nightlife….Tourists are people who travel to other countries, then the travelling starts…

  • #22chris

    Travellers ride the subway, tourists experience the subway.

  • #23RAdele

    Travellers find themselves, by going to different places, which can be down the street, and coming home changed by the experience. Tourists find other people, in different places and come home unchanged, except for the souvenirs.

  • #24G. Michael Schneider

    A tourist likes to observe a culture; a traveler likes to become part of it.

  • #25Tradewinds

    It seems as though we all have an opinion as to what constitutes a tourist vs. a traveler.

    Generally speaking to most tourists, they are travelers, but to travelers, they are certainly not tourists. Tourists carry with them the stereotypical look and desires when traveling i.e. no self respecting traveler would show up wearing socks and sandals with a camera strapped to their neck and fanny pack at the ready, however, a “tourist” would have no qualms about this.

    I guess what it boils down to is that in defining the two, there truly is no differences according to a dictionary, but when it comes to perception in the travel world, the difference is night and day. Tourists visit the “popular” sites with no concern for the true basis of a culture and travelers tend to immerse themselves in the culture, but that is simply an opinion based on the opinions of the travelers and the tourists, and must be viewed as such. The definition is therefore in the mind of the person making the judgment, period.

  • #26willtravel

    I “traveler” is someone whose too afraid to be called a “tourist” for fear of looking stupid or silly. Embrace the fact that you are lucky enough to travel to new places, and enjoy learning and being a tourist.

    Get over it!!

  • #27Sunny Jean

    Whoa! Is noone informed of a group/class of people that prefer to call themselves travellers (note 2 l’s instead of 1) travelers- travellers- that are descendants of the stereotypical “gypsies” from all over Europe. Many people live a distinct way of life, so different from the settled tradition, some are affluenced, some are dead broke, but the heart of the matter remains, The NEED for travel is so strong, as a calling in life, to experience whatever will fufill, for discovery, meaningful interaction with strangers. a house with wheels, I prefer more than a backpack myself.

    (my answer the the comment, is that a tourist is something like a traveller in training, they may have to get to thier next life to achieve it….)

    for me travelling is a way of life

    may the road rise up to meet you
    may the wind be at your back
    and the sun on your face

  • #28Tim

    I agree with comment # 28 and that “the definition is in the mind of the person making the judgment.” Simply by visiting the location – the so-called tourist is engaging in the culture of that location – as the traveler does. The tourist may not feel safe wondering around as the traveler does due to his lack of experience wondering the globe. It is all how you perceive things. Some find the adventure of exploring the local surroundings exciting – others just want to relax on the beach with a cold drink. As long as you have fun – what’s the difference what they call you?

  • #29sundari

    The difference is in the approach, this doesn’t mean that one is better
    than the other. Generally the traveller approaches the journey with an open heart and with trust, he/she approaches it with the willingness
    to transfrom, to get in touch with his/her soul and with the soul
    of the country that is visiting or better said, experiencing.
    The traveller approaches the journey with all his/her body and not only with the mind. Travellers are not looking for answers but they are looking for new questions.

    ” The man who comes back through the Door in the wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less sel-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance…..” – Aldous Huxley- (The Doors of Percerption)

  • #30AnyTrip

    I agree with Chris (above)…

    Travellers ride the subway, tourists experience the subway.

    The difference is probably more about novelty – tourists seem to do things (sometimes absurd) in a city or country because they are a ‘must-do’ whereas travellers seem to integrate and do things because they’re a part of everyday life.

    Tourists seem to have a checklist, whereas travellers seem to have a purpose or a reason for being, other than ticking a box.

    Just an observation…

  • #31Nancy O.

    In the words of Paul Theroux:

    A tourist doesn’t know where he’s been, and a traveller doesn’t know where he’s going.

  • #32velomancer

    A tourist visits places. Ruins, canyons, cathedrals, cities.

    A traveler is about people, their family, how they live, eat, cook, laugh, sing, love and cry.

  • #33Martha

    Well, I’m an American sitting here in France in a home I’ve owned for 12 years, wishing it would stop raining so I could go out and weed the garden, and worrying about the street market tonight because I know almost all the people who will be selling stuff and I know they need the business, and besides I love seeing our neighbors (none of whom are American, and almost none of whom speak English.)

    And I can honestly say, I don’t feel much like those people who take packaged group bus tours and then say they’ve “done France.”

    On the other hand, when my husband and I went to Ireland last month, even though we set our own schedule and stayed away from places that catered to group tours and learned something about the country beforehand and tried to chat up locals in the pubs, I ended up feeling I’d had a pretty superficial experience of the country. I really felt like a tourist, not a traveler.

    Well at least I’m not going around saying I’ve “done Ireland.” So there is that.

  • #34Victor

    It seems to me I am starting to understand: tourist is the man with money, but traveller – without money. Yes?

  • #35Pol

    I would say that what makes really a traveler is the way of traveling and the destinations. Doesn’t matter the time and the number of countries.

    For example, someone who takes a motorbike, a bycle or using public transportation travels by land from France to Vietnam, crossing south east asia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, etc… can be considered a traveler. This people visit hundreads of unspoilt places because of the route they are doing. They get to meet people who has seen only a few foreigns and really get in touch with the culture.

    Someone who travels by plane to acumulate miles, who goes to Unesco heritage sites and stays in nice guest houses or hotels it’s more a tourist than a traveler, no matter for how long he/she does that.

    That’s my humble opininon :) I’ve been traveling (last year I was 11 months around Asia) sometimes as a tourist sometimes as a traveler, I’m affraid that much more as a tourist.

  • #36Pol

    That sentence express what I think a traveler is: I love to travel, But hate to arrive

  • #37Peter

    Interesting article! From a tourism academic point of view and my take on it, its all down to perception and as travel is subjective experience a person catching a coach surrounded by other may feel they are as much a traveller as a person hiking to remote Borneo. And who are we to say differently? Ive seen both good and bad ‘travellers’ and good and bad ‘tourists’ if we define it by how a person travels.

    Personally I think we should forget the argument Tourist V Traveller as it just reeks of ‘Im better and your not’ and argue are you sustainable (environment, Culture, Economically) when you travel or are you not? Just cause you travel independently off the beaten track doesnt mean you are a better person at travelling.

    One other way I like to look at this topic is to define the term tourist as used by governments to measure people moving whilst traveller is the romantic notion.


  • #38Hans Sipsma

    Hi! I believe I’m the true traveller. Because I don’t have a fixed adress.
    I live on a bus, or a boat,or at a friends house for a bit. I move around all the time, within Australia or abroad. The longest I have stayed in one spot was when I tried to settle down, build my own house. I was there for 4 years.
    Guess what, I felt more like me again when I left in my rusty dusty trusty bus. That was 3 years ago now.
    I lived on my boat for fifteen years from 1988 and as briefly as possible in various countries to earn money to continue travelling. Travel is my life and will remain so until I get too feeble to continue. Being a traveller is a state of mind.
    Check out my blogs; and to see some bits of my way of life… I’m Homeless Hans…Traveller.

  • #39cassie

    now I already know the difference between the two. Nice informations! :) I thought, travelers and tourist are just the same.

  • #40Pat

    As a Peace Corps Volunteer living and working in a rural village I’d like to add the observations of the locals to this discussion. As Gary said to them we’re all visitors. We have no roots in the places we visit (or work), no family, no financial commitments. We pass through, view the sites, soak up local culture, and then, eventually leave. This is painfully clear even to me who has been a part of my community for almost two years.

    What the locals do care about, whether you’re traveling independently or with a tour, is how much respect you show for the culture and mores of the region, how rude you are to the residents and workers, and whether or not you make even a small effort to speak their language. They might gracefully (or grudgingly) forgive the visitor’s mistakes but they greatly appreciate those who make an effort to acknowledge the culture of which they are so proud.

    For all the reasons mentioned above I would like to see the traveller/tourist debate die a quick and painless death. What should instead be on the minds of everyone who leaves home is: Will the people I chance to meet on my travels be glad they met me or sorry? It’s as simple as that.

  • #41steve concord

    Touraveller a concept? They are all concerned with movement, but the purpose which these movements are made should be our main point of debate.

  • #42Vicky

    Can’t believe how upset everyone gets about this. All travellers are tourists for a while – what’s the point in going to a city if you’re not going to look at the pillars that made it what it is today?

  • #43Abhishek Kumar

    As a student of travel and tourism, I have some core concepts of what ARE travelers, I do like to share…

    1st – Traveler is a simply someone who travels.(till now there isn’t any specific defination for this.
    2nd – Tourists are those person which travel from one place to another, stays at that place for more that 24 hours , and also goes there for relaxation, recreation fun etc. That means not for working, from which he/she could get any salary.
    3rd- Excursionist are those persons which are like tourists BUT they stay at that their destination for less than 24 hrs
    4th- Visitors are those persons which are either tourists or excursionist .

    Hoped I helped and finally provide a clear picture to everyone in this discussion :)

  • #44Elisa

    Ha! This is funny because I was thinking about this today, but not in terms of “tourist vs. traveller”, but just in terms of “travelling” in general, and thus found this page. So many people say they love to travel, but I think, as someone sort of mentioned earlier, most people like to “arrive”.

    I went on a large trip last year through 7 countries and there was definitely a mix of being both tourist and traveller, but the key to me was the actual physical travelling. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on buses going through the countryside, dragging my suitcase up hills, taking the subway and trains to outskirts of towns, walking the (literal, not metaphorical) dirt road to the next village on the coastal trail, almost getting trapped in the desert when our road was washed out… these things define my travels more than saying “I saw Big Ben, the Mediterranean, Sangrada Familia etc. etc.” and to me, a true traveller would rather hear about those stories than the other.

    Definitely not one worse than the other by definition!! It’s a mindset. Either one can be done poorly, although admittedly more tourists are obnoxious than travellers I suppose.

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