It is time to end the traveler vs tourist debate. The reality is that we all are tourists sometimes and that’s ok!
Why Am I saying this? Because I found today yet another article on a popular media where the author couldn’t manage writing about responsible travel without sneaking in the differentiation between travelers and tourists. Yeah yeah, we all know it, travelers are so much better than tourists because they immerse themselves in the place they visit. What do tourists do? They’re just tourists, they know nothing, the dress like tourists, they act like tourists, they respect nothing, especially not the cultural differences and certainly not the people crossing their paths and they learn nothing. Basically yeah, they’re just ‘tourists’ and based on the uncountable articles you can find which shows how terrible tourists are and how wrong they are, they probably shouldn’t be allowed outside of their own country, or better outside their own home.
Well this needs to end.
Reality check: All travelers are tourists at some point
Yes, a reality check is in need because all travelers have been tourists at some point in their lives. And my guess is that all self proclaimed travelers still ‘behave like tourists’ sometimes or at least are perceived as tourists by others.
Based on the recommendations you can read in those articles, every time you drink a foreign beer instead of the local one, you’re a tourist. Every time you are considering seeing the most popular attraction in the city, you’re a tourist. Every time you choose the comfort of a hotel rather than coach surfing, you’re a tourist. Don’t even think of eating in a chain restaurant, you must try the local food, in the street, otherwise you’re a tourist. And of course, every time you snap a picture, you’re a tourist. Oh God, we’re in trouble!! And the list goes on of course.
That’s so bulls..t!
This differentiation between travelers and tourist is very damaging for so many reasons
First and foremost, it create a gap between people, an unnecessary gap when already too many other ways already exist to divide people from gender, to skin color, age, sexual preferences, size, style…. Do we really need another label? And especially one to describe how we spend our precious time?
There is no right or wrong way to see and experience the World
Also this differentiation, implies that there is a right and a wrong way to see and experience the World. It’s totally judgmental and quite frankly arbitrary.
As you already know, I love visiting castles, churches, temples, museums… learning about the history of the places I visit. I love strolling through cities, nose up, admiring the architecture, I also love hiking and getting lost in pristine nature admiring incredible landscape. And yes, I love road trips as much I love drinking mojitos by the beach! 😉
Some of those interests might be totally uninteresting to you because you’re a rock climber who only goes to countries where there are mountains to climb. Or maybe you are passionate about scuba diving and spend most of your free time under water rather than on land. Maybe you like running, backpacking or cycling or maybe you prefer yoga retreats and meditation. Maybe your passion for antiques has taken you to all sorts of markets and shops around the World…
The point here? It’s ok to be yourself and spend your precious time just the way you want to, not the way other people expect you to.
The ‘How to not be tourist guides’ are full of cliché
I’m sure you’ve read more than one article on how to not be a tourist and be more a traveler. Being a tourist has such a negative connotation that no one wants to be seen as one. But have you given some thoughts to the recommendations in those articles on how to not be a tourist? Here are a few priceless examples and my take on them :
- Take a minute to enjoy the view before taking a picture!! Whoa that is profound and that surely makes all the difference.
- Don’t dress like a tourist?! OK wearing your backpack on your back and not on your belly is probably advisable in most cities. But if you are in India for exemple, don’t think that wearing a sari will make you look less like a tourist. You really just should wear clothes that are confortable and yes, in some countries more coverage is better but don’t be fake.
- Learn a few words in the local language. The included list is usually hello, please, thank you, goodbye… contrary to what those articles are saying, you should know that those few words will not be sufficient to allow you to have meaningful conversations with locals. Learn those words and be polite anyway, that’s always nice.
- Visit the less travelled paths and avoid the highlights i.e. the tourists’ spots. Sure, go to Rome but don’t check out the Coliseum and avoid the Vatican. Go to the US, but stay clear of all the major parks because who cares about seeing the Grand Canyon? If you’re in Paris, make sure to not look at the Eiffel tower, I know it’s hard but you can do it. Of course, you probably should avoid trying to squeeze it all in. By putting too many things on your list, you will end up not really seeing anything. But if you dream of seeing something, don’t worry about the label and go for it!
- Talking about planning, apparently travelers do plan their trips, but not too much! What is too much and not enough? This is a very personal choice so don’t let others dictate what you need to do.
- Hotels are for tourists, couch surfing for travelers? Really? I think, it should really be up to you. You should know, there’s nothing wrong in choosing a nice & safe hotel, especially if you are a solo female traveler. It is a much smarter choice than exposing yourself to unnecessary risks. Yes boutique hotels, B&Bs are probably a better choice than big chain hotels. But if you are able to travel thanks to your miles and have won enough to stay in a 5 stars hotel for free, than go for it and enjoy the view!
- Travel slow, walk, use public transports, rent bikes… Those are probably things tourists do just as much as travelers. Why even discuss? Please note that it is OK to take a cab if it makes you feel safer, especially at night. And the truth is that sometimes it’s cheaper than using public transport! It might not be the greenest option, but you can walk more the next day, especially since cycling in big congested cities is not for everyone.
- Eat local / avoid chain restaurant. With the last one below, this is one of my “favorite” advise! Being a vegan, I can tell you that there is absolutely no way, I will try some of the local food. No heart-attack burger for me in the US, no grilled tarantula or any other insects in Asia, no foie gras in the South West of France, no sausage in Germany (except the veggie ones of course!)… Because I don’t want to eat the local meat specialty, does it make me a tourist? Well so be it! It is really great to try local cuisine of course, but after a few days of eating local food, your stomach might start to complain. Too spicy? Too much fat? If eating in a chain restaurant means eating food that you are used to and that will ease your digestive track by preventing cramps which would otherwise ruin the rest of your trip, then by all means, go for it.
- Respect local cultures and customs. Obviously, this is a good recommendation which is applicable in most cases. But, and there is a huge ‘but’ here which might be controversial, I don’t completely agree. I can’t respect local cultures and traditions which go against my personal set of value. For example, I can’t accept to see children or women been abused, in the name of a religion or else. I can’t watch animals being tortured and killed in the most atrocious ways, in the name of outdated traditions. I can’t be a part to popular attractions involving suffering animals. Don’t assume these things only happen elsewhere, they happen everywhere. How do I do that? By not participating and by giving my money elsewhere… Does it make me a tourist? Than again so be it. Am I a judgmental person? Maybe, but if you’re reading this and you’re thinking it’s ok to abuse children or women or animals, than you’re the one with a problem, not me!
These are just some of the cliché involved in the differentiation between travelers and tourists, you can find so many more online, it’s quite appalling.
Don’t let those cliché ruin your next trip
So just don’t worry about those cliché and don’t let them ruin your next trip by forcing you to do things you don’t want to do. The best trip you can take is the one that suits your need.
If you are overly organized, go ahead and do all the necessary planning and enjoy.
If you just want to relax and drink mojitos on a beach, go for it, sometimes it is what we need. I’m with you!! 😉
Maybe travelers and tourists have different styles, but maybe there are not so different, maybe we are just all humans trying to enjoy life while seeing the World as much as we can. So forget about labels and make the most of it!