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March 20, 2012

The difference between a tourist and a traveller

Imagine you are on holiday. You have been collected from the airport by your holiday rep and transferred to your hotel, where you have been for the last  five days.

You leisurely get up each morning, feast on the breakfast buffet and the head over to the sunbeds you previously reserved by putting your towels on them at the break of dawn. You relax by the poolside, jumping in for a quick dip every so often to cool yourself down from the daytime heat. Every so often you make your way over to the bar, show them your all-inclusive wrist band and get yourself an ice cold beer and a snack. You then sunbath until your entire body is the colour of a lobster and you decide it is time so go and coat yourself in aftersun lotion.

After a nice warm shower you get dressed for the evening and head to the hotel bar for dinner and drinks. You drink a little too much, make friends with random like-minded people and then stumble back to your room in the early hours of the morning. You turn on the air conditioning, have a nice nights sleep and set your alarm ready to get those sunbeds again tomorrow.

Sound familiar?

Many people claim that they love to travel, or that their favourite pastime is travelling, yet when you ask them about it they have been only to a select few tourist focussed destinations, and in reality have barely travelled at all. They see the pool, perhaps the beach and if they are adventurous enough they may have even opted not to go all inclusive and sampled some of the local restaurants!

Take people that go on holiday to Egypt (I use this example as it is one I commonly encounter), more often than not they book an all inclusive holiday, they spend all of their time around the pool or their small area of beach and they spend their evenings drinking the hotel bar dry. They are engulphed in the concept of holiday and the pleasures that they derive from this, not by the destination they are in. After all, they could be anywhere couldnt they?

People boast about how they have visited Egypt, about how they have left Europe and got that infamous stamp in their passport. Yet they have not seen anything apart from the airport and hotel!  Egypt houses some of the greatest tourist sights in the world, yet so many people holidaying in Egypt do not venture out or book an excursion to see these! Your average tourist to Egypt could not tell me the local dishes or even the language!

This is a tourist. A person that is going on a holiday. A person that doesn’t truly know where they have been, they simply know their hotel and perhaps the surrounding areas. A tourist hasn’t been to the local markets, they haven’t tasted the local delicacies, and they haven’t interacted with the local people. They can actually tell you very little about the place they have visited outside of their hotel vicinity.

I recently came across a travel quote that I thought summed this up brilliantly

 “a tourist doesn’t know where they have been, a traveller doesn’t know where they are going”

 A traveller will want to immerse themselves into the destination that they are visiting. They will research it before hand, they will wander the streets to find little hidden gems, they will be intrigued by what the destination has to offer.

A traveller may have a guidebook, a map or a mental picture of the place that they are in, they will not rely on holiday reps or tour guides to show them around. A traveller will not be content with monotomous lazy days around the pool (although I am sure they will like to do this from time to time), they will want to explore, to investigate, to discover.

A traveller will interact with local people, will try local food and will see local sights. They will visit churches, and mosques and schools. They will try to communicate in the local language, even though their ability may not be high, they will try.

A traveller often has a plan, although they rarely stick to it. They are excited by the prospect of new adventures and they never know what tomorrow will bring. They will savour every moment, every taste, every smell, every sound, because they appreciate where they are and what they are doing. That’s a traveller.

Tourists are often niave or narrow minded, they often don’t appreciate where they are or what they are experiencing. You might here them moan about cleanliness or toilet facilities, or heat, or choice of food. A traveller does not do this.

A traveller is more culturally aware, mroe educated about the destination and often more adventurous. A true traveller is one that does not need a package holiday, a planned itinerary or a 50kg luggage allowance. They are happy just to travel.

 So next time your friends claim to be ‘travellers’, you can decide- are they really?

Leave a comment
  1. Adrienne says:

    Great article… I am a traveller, however, I have been known to be a tourist at times (sometimes I just need the break from home and I don’t want to think about it – a week on a Mexican beach is perfect for that!) How come Canada isn’t on your list of “Where next”? 😀

  2. Kim Blagden says:

    I’ve not travelled much but did get to Tunisia with a friend. She wanted the pool & I wanted adventure & culture because I was in a new country. We did go on trains & looked for history. I didn’t realise how good my school French was. I had a day looking for archaeology in Carthage with 2 guys we befriended, she was by the pool. I learned to say hello & thank you in Arabic. I tried new foods & even bartered in a Souk! Tourist? Not I.

  3. finola says:

    Enjoyed the post and loved the quote too. I don’t really know where I’m going at the moment other than on a bus to Paraguay… and on to Bolivia… (to do who knows what) but whilst I wait for the bus I’m going to do very little and hang by the hostel pool (when did hostels get so fancy?!). In terms of what you’ve put together here, today I’ll be a total tourist!

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