What’s the difference between a tourist and a traveler?
Is everyone who travels a traveler? In today’s culture traveling has become a certain sign of status. People who travel are considered interesting and well-rounded. As a society, we identify taking planes to faraway locations, the more remote the better, with success. Along with the boom in the travel industry, there came a distinction between a traveler and a tourist. Commercial tourism, as opposed to ‘authentic travel’, became looked down upon, as passive and shallow. But is it still possible to get a genuine experience?
Why does nobody want to be a tourist?
A tourist by a dictionary definition is simply a person who travels for pleasure. However, the popular stereotype portrays tourists as mindless and wrongly motivated. A tourist lacks the adventurousness of a real traveler. Tourists form loud, annoying groups that can be easily spotted anywhere. They stand out, looking lost and confused, with their phones pointed at everything. When we travel, we want to appear natural and feel like we fit in. Many people consider being recognized as a tourist embarrassing and go to great lengths to avoid the basic tourist attractions, and try to blend in with the locals.
What makes a traveler
It seems like the title of a traveler has to be somehow earned. From the beginning of human history, travel meant effort, adventure, and risk. Today, all-inclusive packages are easy to get and at a fairly low price you can be transported to a resort, where all of your needs will be taken care of – all you have to do is get on a plane. This type of holiday is strictly focused on relaxation and not on learning about new cultures or getting out of the comfort zone.
Travelers prefer to take matters into their own hands and create a curated experience they want. A traveler takes time to stop and admire the view before taking a couple of pictures for his personal collection. They are also not afraid to put in some extra effort and go off the beaten path to experience something extraordinary.
Traveling isn’t the same anymore
The pandemic changed the face of travel, and without travel being possible for a while, we all had to take a step back and reevaluate what travel means to us. Some people had to resign from traveling completely, for others the pandemic created unexpected travel opportunities. During the pandemic, big-scale tourism came to a halt in many countries, and some major tourist attractions could be experienced without the usual crowds. For some people, going away on trips and changing the scenery is an important part of their well-being, and without it, they grow restless and dissatisfied.
There are no right or wrong reasons for traveling. Everyone has different means to spend and expectations to fulfill. Just as the words ‘tourist’ and ‘traveler’ can be used interchangeably, you don’t have to commit to being one or the other. You can divide your trip between visiting all of the must-sees, taking selfies with the monuments, and stepping into the unknown, and integrating with the community. Considering how you define yourself while traveling, will help you make decisions that feel authentic to you.
How do you 100% focus on your journey?
The effect of social media on travel culture is easily visible. We are increasingly hindered by social media while enjoying our travels. Everyone wants to create an illusion of a perfect life and travel is an important part of it. In a constant effort for self-promotion, we desperately try to capture the moment, instead of living it. It is worth putting your phone away and wandering around without looking for the next photo opportunity.
Not everyone gets to experience traveling and even being ‘just’ a tourist is a privilege that should not be taken for granted. More important than the labels is the attitude you bring with you to another country. Ignorance, lack of respect, and interest in the local culture are what we should worry about more instead of being considered ‘basic’.
What ‘authentic’ means to you
When people speak of an authentic experience, they usually mean one resembling the lifestyle of the local population. The problem with that is, that there is no one common way of living to be pinpointed and reproduced. Despite some cultural similarities, people’s existence varies greatly, even between people living in the same city or region. The ‘authentic’ travel ideas are a result of simplification and romanization of certain cultures, and often represent only westernized, marketable ideas about them.
On the other hand, there is a reason why some of the world’s corners get so much attention – they are important landmarks, with historical and cultural importance, and people are naturally drawn to see them with their own eyes. Avoiding these places not only makes you miss out but also hurts the country you are visiting. Touristy sights generate jobs and directly pay into the well-being of the country and its inhabitants. If you travel through a country, paying for tickets to see something, can be a way of giving back. In fact, by participating in popular cultural experiences you help keep traditions alive and get closer to the local way of life.
With the state of the world today, perhaps instead of wondering if we travel authentically, we should care more about if we are doing it ethically and sustainably. The amount of people traveling is causing a huge amount of distress to the natural world. While more and more resources get distributed into the hands of tourists – the local population and the land they live off suffer. And while tourism does generate jobs and brings income into the economy, it also drives prices up making it hard for locals to survive in their own towns that are overflown with visitors.
There is nothing predominantly wrong with being a tourist, and there is no point in establishing any hierarchy between a tourist and a traveler. Insisting on the traveler’s superiority gives hints of snobbery and goes against a good travel mindset, which pillars should be open-mindedness and lack of judgment. In the end, all travelers have been tourists at some point, and embracing that helps you stay true to yourself., which is the real key to an authentic experience.