“Be a traveller, not a tourist”, so the saying goes.
Tourist? *sees you cringe*. Let’s be honest, these days no one likes being labelled a tourist. Everyone wants to be known as a traveller, even if they can only count on one hand the number of times they’ve been abroad.
But why? What defines a tourist vs traveller? And why did I name my blog after something so supposedly undesirable?
There are plenty of things I absolutely love about being a tourist, which is why I don’t mind calling myself one. The chance to experience being a tourist is a privilege not afforded to all, so it’s something I’ve personally never taken for granted.
However, I’ve never loved looking like a tourist so I always strive to blend in as best as possible wherever I go. As I always like to say, the thing to remember here is: No one likes an annoying tourist.
I’m about to explain why you shouldn’t get caught up with defining yourself as a tourist or traveller, there’s no need to be one or the other. Read on to find out why!
This article forms part of my top strategies for to how to be a responsible a tourist, detailing effective tips towards ethical tourism to benefit visitors and locals alike.
Differences between Tourist vs Traveller
Generally speaking, there are 7 main stereotypical differences between tourist vs traveller:
You see, with many of us splashing our travel adventures all over social media, truth be told I think travellers have become a bit snobby.
There, I said it.
What do these travellers have against staying in a nice hotel? Why is it mandatory to survive for months with only a backpack containing a small selection of clothing? It’s not cool to take photos in front of landmarks anymore unless you use a selfie stick?
Yes, we all value different things. But what’s to say things “travellers” value are automatically better than what “tourists” do?
The reality is: If we’ve travelled out of our hometown we’ve all been a tourist at some point. Being a visitor in a foreign place does that to a person whether we’d like to admit it or not!
I’m not sure why but many things tourists value are considered negative traits. This is why so many travel bloggers use words like “traveller, wanderer, vagabond” and the like. No one wants to be known as a “tourist”. Except me!
Ethical Alternatives to Airbnb for Responsible Tourists
Should You Use Airbnb? Troubling Issues You Didn’t Know
About Me: Your Responsible Travel Expert (With a Mid-Range Budget)
Traveller Stereotypes: What’s an Invisible Tourist? (Part 1)
Downsides to being a “traveller”
If some “tourist” traits are considered negative, why not expose the many downsides to being a “traveller” that people just don’t like to talk about? I’ve explained the disadvantages of other traveller stereotypes here that many of us may mumble under our breath but dare not say out loud when we encounter these people during our travels.
After saying all that (and if I haven’t bored you to death), you might be wondering where I fit here and where you fit, too.
Why we shouldn’t mind calling ourselves a “tourist”
If you’ve found my blog maybe you also value the niceties of being a tourist as mentioned in the table above. If we’re going to all the effort to embark on a trip we want the entire experience to be enjoyable without having to skimp on everything, right?
But we also enjoy combining these touristy traits with personalised, authentic experiences that travellers have while digging deep into the history of the attractions we visit to fully appreciate them. What else sets us apart?
- We appreciate eating in nice restaurants on occasion as well as where locals do to give back to small businesses;
- We pride ourselves on having an organised itinerary yet the flexibility of being our own tour guide and exploring at our own pace (whilst meeting locals along the way);
- We avoid using services such as Airbnb as unregulated homestay accommodation has displaced local residents from their own cities;
- We enjoy participating in cultural experiences to keep traditions alive and learn more about the local way of life;
- We take public transport outside of peak hours where possible to get a genuine taste of local life;
- We don’t mind bringing suitcases so we have enough room for a range of clothing options and hand-crafted souvenirs to support local jobs (and if we’re Australian, chances are we will travel to a destination for a few weeks or more at a time because it takes such a long time to get anywhere in the world!);
- We love visiting the touristy sights (they’re famous for a reason!) as well as wandering off the beaten track to dilute our visitor footprints…
Are you ready to break the mould?
Tourist vs Traveller: Travel doesn’t have to be black or white
Therefore, I’m not your stereotypical tourist but an invisible one. I like to blend in with locals but enjoy the privacy of a hotel. Prefer having an organised itinerary but be my own tour guide. Enjoy eating where locals do and getting to know them. And maybe you do as well!
Summing up the Tourist vs Traveller debate: I don’t see why we are forced into being one or the other. As long as you’re travelling in a respectful way, there really shouldn’t a problem.
Travel doesn’t have to be black or white. There are overlaps, this is why I created my blog with the name I did.
So, let’s challenge these stereotypes and create a NEW way to refer to this hybrid explorer – An Invisible Tourist.
Invisible Tourist definition
Do you agree? What gets on your nerves about travel styles? Let me know in the comments below! If you’re an Invisible Tourist too, come and join our community over on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok. Hope to see you soon!
Until next time,
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The same sort of debate rages between the pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, who travel lightly with a backpack and stays at council-run municipal hostels, and eats a communal meal and who look down upon the pilgrim who has organised accommodation ahead, often in nice little family-run hotels and who has a suitcase which gets portered by courier each day.
Though both will walk 800kms, one feels smug and authentic and tries to belittle the efforts of the suitcase pilgrim, while the other is happy knowing that they are supporting small hotels and restaurants along the way, and have a nice set of clean clothes to change into for an evening at a local bistro or restaurant that needs their money just as much.
I guess, to me, the real definition of a traveller vs a tourist is, ‘Are you feeling smug’? If so, you are a traveller!
Your example is EXACTLY the kind of thing I’m referring to in this article, Melissa! What does it matter in the end? As long as local jobs are being supported and visitors are being respectful, there should be no issue.
The funny thing is, if given the same amount of money and resources most of the people doing the belittling would choose to be the suitcase pilgrim you refer to. To me, the belittling comes across as a type of insecurity of their part, even a little jealousy, to justify why they made their decision.
Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts!
The difference between a traveler and a tourist is simple. The traveler acts like a LoCAL wherever he goes, and learns the basics of the language and respects the culture.
I don’t agree with you in many ways: I am a slow traveler, the first difference is a traveler stays longer in a destination than a tourist.
About staying in hostels, nope. Tourists on a budget stay in hostels. The main reason to use Airbnb is to impulse the regular local economy. It just depends on which one you use. Don’t go for something that would cost more than what a local would pay for a month. Everyone knows that’s rule #1. Maybe your article would have been useful about 20 or 15 years ago.
also I eat in nice places, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try street food or the best authentic places.
And there is no way that you would see me traveling with a backpack,I travel in style and my luggage’s has wheels. It also is very bad for your back in the long term. I mingle and don’t stand out like a backpacker would. I dress like a local.
I have traveled for 15 years non stop now. Speak 9 languages. I’m 35. Being in every destination for AT LeASt 3 months. I’m aware not everyone can do that but travelers embrace being locals at least for the very few days they stay in one place. Thats the difference. That’s my point.
Hi Layla, I appreciate your comments! It sounds like you could also be an invisible tourist, for the most part 😃
Although I respectfully disagree about visitors to a city using Airbnb due to the many issues services like these have caused for local residents. I’m not sure if you’ve read my article about Airbnb problems and ethical alternatives, but they may both give you some food for thought.
I think everyone’s definition of what defines a “tourist” is different, hence why I wrote this article. I hope to raise to awareness to the fact that not everyone specifically fits into “tourist” or “traveller” stereotypes as there are overlaps. These overlaps and grey areas are what make “invisible” tourists. You can still be an invisible tourist when travelling long term (slow travel) or an expat at a destination. That’s the beauty of it 😊
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
I do not totally agree with you, if you go to outside your country to other country that makes you a tourist (you’ve also said that in this article) and the definition of travel is a journey to one point to another, not the activities at the destination and when you start your vacation. Vacation involves traveling but traveling in not a vacation. When a business man travels from one point to another, he is not on his vacation nor a tourist, he is simply traveler, a business traveler to be precise.
A traveler is someone who is making a trip from point A to point B, not someone who is doing holiday activities at the tourism destination, except when he/she travels from main island to an island nearby which involves traveling.
Hi Erik, you’re completely right as well! I definitely agree with you that a business person is more of a traveller than tourist for obvious reasons. The point I was trying to make in this article was there are so many travel bloggers and travel enthusiasts who flat-out refuse to ever call themselves “tourists” as the word has a negative connotation. There is nothing wrong with being a tourist! No one likes an annoying tourist – that’s the difference. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!
Oh my goodness! THANK YOU for putting this in black and white!!!
So glad this is relatable to you too, Amy! I knew there must be more of us out there 🙂 Thanks for commenting and I hope to see you back again!
Alyse, this blog might have opened a lot of eyes and the myth of being a traveller not tourist.
Great post 🙂 🙂
I really like that you emphasize the importance of tourism.
I really hope so Harry, thanks for your kind words!
I absolutely love your blog, Alyse.
I love being able to blend in when traveling. There is nothing wrong with being a tourist, but I find that how you see a country or place shifts when you decide to think and act like a tourist OR think and act like a traveler. I’ve been able to get to know people more on a deeper level with the latter. 🙂 Thank you again for your awesome reads! -Laura
Thanks so much for your compliment, Laura! That’s very true, and why I think it’s important to be a blend of both 🙂
I agree with everything you said! I really hate it how travelers consider themselves better than tourists, and actually I hate the distinction in the first place. Everybody who travels for leisure and getting to know another city/country/region/culture is a tourist by definition. And just like you said, what’s wrong with nice hotels? I’d pay a nice hotel every time if I had the means, and just because I like my privacy I’m not any worse than anyone else who chooses something else. Nor is anyone else worse than me. We travel to learn and become aware of our differences, yet some people cannot get over the fact that not everyone likes to travel the way they do. Ugh!
Thanks so much for your compliment, Tihana! I agree with 100% of what you say, too. Deep down I think many people would prefer to stay in hotels rather than hostels if they were the same cost, despite what they may otherwise say. Everyone travels differently and that’s fine, but it seems these days those with the louder voices are the ones who would prefer to briefly skim over destinations to keep costs down (as well as skipping main “touristy” sights) and to gain some likes on Instagram. That shouldn’t be the main focus of travel, in my opinion!
Finally! An honest article about this tourist vs traveller issue. I’m tired of feeling lame and guilty about doing touristy things in my travels. We do our own things. We shouldn’t feel bad about our choices. The point is we choose to GO.
I’m glad you agree, Alma! I don’t understand why “travellers” try and make others feel bad for doing some touristy things. After all, these attractions are famous for a reason! The only thing people should feel guilty about is going to a well-known attraction, snapping 100 selfies out the front, posting it on social media then leaving without even going inside or knowing the history behind the attraction. This is becoming all too common, unfortunately. I hope you keep travelling and doing things for yourself! Thanks for your comment 🙂
I’ve never understood the point of this debate. Travel the way you want. Why would anyone care what someone else thinks about the way they experience the world?
I agree, Henry. Travel seems to have become a bit competitive these days! Everyone has different values and this is ok. The main thing is that people are travelling and experiencing new things! Thanks for your comment 😊