Traveller vs. Tourist – Should we just get over it?

Much like sporting teams, political views, Team Beyonce or Team Kim K, the world is divided up into many different sides. There is a constant competition between people on their beliefs, opinions and actions. Whether its a friendly banter over whose footy team is better or whether its a full on, serious debate about which political party is best to run the country, it seems like we are constantly battling each other over whose opinion is right. Having a serious lust for travel, I am one for spending copious amounts of time searching the Internet for inspiration, new places to visit, where to stay, what to do and so on. What I have noticed in my search is all out war in the travel industry over what type of person you are – a traveller or a tourist.

A tourist by definition means a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure. A traveller is defined as a person who is travelling or who often travels. From a dictionary’s point of view, these two types of people are pretty much the same. However as I delved further into the debate, I learnt there’s much more to the dictionary definition and I was having to take a look at my past trips and decide which side of the fence I belong to.

Type in ‘traveller vs tourist’ into Google and watch your computer be inundated with articles discussing this argument. It seems there is a lot of people who feel the need to brand themselves either a tourist or a traveller to feel like they are a part of something. Similar to a sporting team scenario, one side is looked down upon by the other and deemed ‘not worthy’ to be put in the same category. In this case, the traveller side believes they are superior to the tourist folk and take it upon themselves to gloat about reasons why.

However, how does a ‘traveller’ reach ‘traveller’ status? Surely a first timer abroad could not class themselves as a traveller. At one point they would have to be a tourist. Not only because they are fresh to the art of experiencing new cultures and new countries, but if they weren’t being a tourist and enjoying all the so-called tourist attractions, how would they know what they are missing out on? Personally I love playing tourist, give me the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben any day. Seeing these ‘tourist attractions’ are what makes them so special. Sure, they are packed with people, usually a rip-off and a revenue raiser for the city but its these famous landmarks that make seeing the world worthwhile. Its the whole ‘I’ve seen that in person’ feeling, like seeing a celebrity firsthand. Its dorky to get excited, but at the end of the day you just want to brag about it.

Don’t get me wrong, just because I enjoy seeing the touristy things doesn’t mean I won’t immerse myself in the culture of a new place. I love being shown a city from a locals point of view and spend a lot of time researching places both before and after I’ve been there. Some of my most favourite travel experiences have been way off the tourist radar, deep in the jungle. Literally. During a trip to Borneo we stayed in a small village by the Kalimantan River. At the age of 18, it was the biggest culture shock for me, seeing first hand how people in this part of the world live. They lived basically but prosperously and they were some of the kindest people I have ever encountered.

So I guess the real question to the traveller vs. tourist debate is does it really matter? At the end of the day both sides are out there seeing the world, whether it be from the safety of the tourist attractions or immersed deep in a country’s culture. Travel is supposed to be about experiencing the our great big Earth and discovering new things, not about playing high school stereotypes. I think we should spend less time labelling each other based on our travel preferences and spend more time encouraging each other and sharing experiences.


From the girl who says ‘bloody tourists’ too often, yet is so proud of her photo holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.


J. x


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