The Differences Between Being A Traveller And A Tourist

When trying to distinguish between whether someone is a traveller or a tourist, things are rarely black and white. It is certainly not as easy as lumbering anyone who stays in a four-star hotel as a tourist, whilst insisting that travellers will happily spend every night in a hostel or a hammock.

So how can you tell the difference between a traveller and a tourist? Are there actually any key points that clearly distinguish one from the other? Or can most people be described as a fusion of both? There are several points of difference that one can make, but ultimately, it is the individual’s attitude towards their travels that makes the difference.

Clue 1 - Quantity vs Quality

One way of differentiating between the two is to consider how someone explores a new city that they have just arrived in. Typically, a tourist will hop aboard the most convenient public transport system and rush around to visit as many of the most popular tourist attractions as possible, taking selfies outside them all.

A traveller will try to spend more quality time exploring a city, still visiting the main tourist destinations, but also digging a little deeper to discover what life is like as a local. They’ll still visit the big museums, temples and town halls, but will also seek out more unusual attractions that aren’t listed in the main guidebooks. They’ll hop on and off the subways, trams and buses, but won’t be averse to jumping on a bike or exploring on foot. They may visit a couple of the city’s most famed bars and restaurants, but they will also lurk down backstreets and in diverse residential neighbourhoods, seeking out the favourite haunts of the locals.

Clue 2 - Short vs Long

Another tell-tale sign of a tourist is to look at how long they are travelling for. The Oxford English Dictionary describes a traveller as someone who ‘is travelling or who often travels’, suggesting that they are a person that travels frequently or for long periods of time. A tourist is listed as someone who is ‘visiting a place for pleasure’, and is more likely to be someone who is on a holiday for a week or two.

As travellers are usually away for longer periods of time, they are likely to travel lighter, with less luggage that a tourist. A tourist may have a large suitcase, or simply a small hand-luggage sized bag, and will probably have bought enough clothing to wear something different every day of their trip. If someone is travelling for a longer period of time, it would be incredibly inconvenient to carry around this amount of belongings, and they will usually travel much lighter, washing the small amount of clothes that they have with them as they go.

Naming someone as a tourist can have negative annotations, conjuring up the image of a sunburned and obnoxious person holding a large map and paying no attention to cultural customs. Likewise, dubbing someone to be a traveller assumes that they only stay in hostels, rarely wash and are attempting to ‘find themselves’. These stereotypes relate only to a small proportion of travellers and tourists, when in reality, the lines between the two are thin.

Clue 3 - Tour Guide vs Exploring

If it is all down to attitudes, how can you approach exploring a new place with more of a traveller mentality than a tourist approach? To put it simply, do your research. Don’t just rely on guidebooks and tour guides, spend time trawling the internet to discover the hidden gems that are waiting to be explored. Speak to local people once you have reached your destination to ask for their tips, search hashtags for the area that you are staying in on Instagram, read lots of travel blogs.

Take a more explorative approach to visiting the tourist attractions, attempting to discover little known facts about the places that you are visiting and discovering places for yourself, rather than trailing behind a tour group. It’s absolutely fine to take photographs of the places that you encounter, just don’t bring along your selfie stick. Avoid the tourist-trap stalls selling gimmicky merchandise, and seek out small boutiques where you can buy mementos of your trip from the locals.

We Can All Be A Tourist And A Traveller - Without Fear

Remember that it is OK to be a little bit of a tourist and a little bit of a traveller. You can explore off the beaten track as much as you like, but if you chose to retreat to the soft cotton sheets of a boutique hotel at night, then so be it. Likewise, you can chose to visit a city for a few short days with a full sized suitcase, but feel welcome to stay in an Airbnb in a residential neighbourhood and rent a bike for the duration of your trip in order to discover hidden side streets.

Travelling is about what you make of it, and labels cannot define your experiences.

Emma Lavelle is a UK based writer and photographer and has her own blog Field and Nest.