Tourist or Traveller : which are you??

Tourist or Traveller : it’s one of those weird distinctions that means the world to one side of the coin, while the other side doesn’t give a toss or even realise there was a distinction in the first place.  Does it really mean so much, or is the key thing that we’re out and about experiencing the world?

I’ve spent my fair share of time abroad lumping around a backpack, wearing undies for the 2nd day in a row inside out, learning some local lingo from a crone on a bus with a goat, and dodging bed bugs in a two bit fleapit in the armpit of Central America.  I’ve also hired a chateau, a chef and a car and spent way too much on champagne (is that even possible??).

Do we have to leave??
Do we have to leave??

So what does that make me? Am I the intrepid traveller who rolls my sleeves up and grabs the world by the cojones, or am I the tourist that just timidly asks it for directions…in English?

It was sitting in a hostel in South America in the middle of nowhere after 4 months on the road that two 18 year old American girls in the Peace Corps posed this very serious and apparently profound question to me.

At first I was unsure how to respond.  “I really don’t care” would have been too dismissive for these solemn youngsters but to buy into their “tourists are so pathetic and experience nothing” attitude also struck me as doing a great disservice to the many people who do actually make an effort to go out to see the world, learning a little something on the way. Even if it is on a tour bus.
Does it really matter how we expand our horizons? Is it more important that you know the best apotheke in Munich for fungal cream, or is telling a compelling story of steins and pork knuckle enough?

Isn’t what really matters the fact that we’re actually there : seeing, doing, interacting, contributing to local economies?  Even the most sheltered of tours will teach you something of where you are.

standover tactics at City Hall!

So what do you think?  Are you a Tourist or are you a Traveller?  Or like me, do you just want time to speed up until your next trip 🙂


  1. In some places I am happy to be a tourist, wandering around goggle eyed over gorgeous things. I’m with you, as long as people are making an effort to get out of their arm chairs and see the wolrld, that is a good thing. I would like to think that they would be trying new food, or doing something they might not do at home, but if they choose not to, so be it. Nobody is missing out but them.


    • I agree! And you never know where things may lead, as you well know. You’re the perfect example – what started as a package holiday that a traveller would scorn turned into a series of experiences every traveller would envy!


  2. Great post, Olivia! I think I am a bit of both, and I’m quite happy with that mix. I also don’t really think it matters. As long as people are experiencing something different to their normal environment, learning and engaging (even if just a little!), then that’s what travelling’s all about!


  3. I’m a *blender inner*……and like to think of it as gaining a glimpse into other people’s life experiences rather than *travel*. I like to see what food they eat. What their supermarkets stock. Their daily habits and their most beautiful scenery. How they behave and how their respective countries have shaped them into what they are and what they do right now. Then I like to go home and appreciate my own surroundings for a while. Until it’s time to pack up that van again and…………blend in some more somewhere else 😉


    • Great take on the theme!! There’s a lot to be said for blending in and allowing the true colours of where you are to come out. Although I must admit I don’t think I’m very good at blending in but I do like to take my time.


  4. I seem to have a growing dislike for the traveller-tourist labels. Your comment/question about expanding horizons is a good one – I don’t think it does matter. Some people turn their nose up at those who only ever see countries from the relative comfort of a bus and group but hey, that’s what they want to do. I agree with the other comments above. And yeah I do want my next trip, however it’s being executed, to be here a whole bunch sooner that it invariably is!


  5. I loved this post–very well stated. I too have been both, starting as a tourist, checking off all the things I was “supposed” to see and do. I’ve morphed into a traveler, intensely interested in learning as much as I can about the people, culture, history. Travel is transformative–it helps you to put things in perspective.


  6. Hmmm…I want an invitation to stay in that chateau! I’d say you are definitely a traveller after all of those adventures. You always make me wistful for my early years when I was footloose and fancy free. Steins and pork knuckle?


    • The chateau really was something else, hopefully not a once-in-a-lifetime experience!! Steins (of beer) and pork knuckle are staple fare in Munich and you can’t go into the Hofbrau Haus without seeing both being consumed by both tourists and travellers alike!


  7. I think the difference between a tourist and traveler is that they experience a place different. The traveler immerses themselves into the foreign culture and doesn’t just do the usual touristy things. Unfortunately sometimes you don’t have enough time to really get to know a place and then end up just being a tourist. I am both…mainly a traveler but sometimes I play tourist on short holidays!!


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