Is There A Difference Between Being A Traveler Or A Tourist?
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Is There A Difference Between Being A Traveler Or A Tourist?

One or the other?

Is There A Difference Between Being A Traveler Or A Tourist?

I am by no means a travel expert. I am not qualified to write a guide book and I couldn’t guide you around a city based on my intuition of where the highlights will be. If you and I were to travel a city based on my directional skills, we might start looking for a gondola ride in Venice and end up in the Alps, because – well, they’re tall and can be seen from a long way off. But that said, my poor sense of direction doesn’t dampen my desire to travel. Perhaps you have that same desire, too.

They’ve come up with a term for us and the verb with which Instagramers avidly hashtag: wanderlust. Whimsical and free-spirited, with romanticized ideals of stress-free wanderings, the term has gained popularity to the point that now it seems cliché to use it. But while the term may not have a timeless life span, our deep-rooted desire to see the world never quite leaves us. But for me, I’m somewhat particular about how I travel. I’ve grown to form a distinction between two common perceptions, both with very strong connotations.

Am I a tourist, or a traveler?

Is there a difference?


A tourist goes to see things and experience the best of what a place or culture has to offer. A traveler, on the other hand, goes and seeks to understand a place. They look at the daily lives of people and try to put themselves into the shoes of a local. The traveler doesn’t want the sugar-coated, “everything is awesome” façade – they want something real. They want honesty. Masks off. What makes the culture tick, what works, and what doesn’t. A traveler seeks to learn.

Why is it important to make a distinction? Because so many people don’t travel at all, and if they go somewhere new, they only see the posh hotels and information-packed highlight tours. Are these things bad? No; in fact, tourism can be an excellent form of revenue for a country and an efficient tool for learning the history of a place. However, the tourist misses out on so much opportunity for personal growth when they don’t delve into the finer – albeit less marketable – aspects of a culture. Do the people buy groceries from more convenient stores or are local markets the preferred (or only available) way to go? Do the people support their government and the way it is run? Are cars or bikes more popular? What is the local diet like, and what effects does it have on the culture, either health-wise or economically? There are so many questions to ask about a new place, and while they may seem menial or uninteresting, they can be important.

When you immerse yourself in another culture – be it another state, another country, or another continent – it broadens your worldview and your mind. When you open yourself up to new ideas and ways of life, it makes you consider how those things differ from your own home culture. You start to see correlations between what works, and what doesn’t. You apply new habits to your own life that you never would have considered before. Your whole world changes. If not in physical changes in your schedule, than in the way you interact with and view other people. Maybe you become more empathetic – or maybe less. Maybe you decide you want to start a non-profit organization – or maybe you decide many don’t accomplish anything because of too many middlemen and regulations. The expanse of knowledge out there is truly endless.

Everyone should become a traveler at least once in their life. Have you ever encountered a traveler who regretted traveling and learning about other people and places? Now, while there probably are people who regret their travels, incredibly, I for one have never met one. On the contrary, those who travel never seem to get quite enough! The more they see, the more they realize how little they’ve seen. This idea of wanderlust is like a drug – with everything they learn, the realization that there is an ever-broadening amount of wisdom becomes more and more apparent. The closer they get, the further they realize they have to go.

That’s why we all have to become travelers. Why place limits on our understanding? Sure, traveling can be scary. Things can go wrong. Sometimes you have to fly by the seat of your pants and you might have to face your worst fears. But aside from gaining tons of fantastic stories to tell your friends over brunch, you’ll grow.

There are times when it’s OK to be a tourist, but don’t limit yourself to just that. Be a

traveler! Go, ask questions, and seek to understand. Whatever you think you will learn by reading an article or book, or seeing a picture, or listening to a presentation will never compare to first-hand experiences with people and places in their daily lives. It might encourage you, it might horrify you, but above all it will change you.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” (Marcel Proust)

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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