Are you a Traveller or a Tourist?

Ready for our tour in Cusco
Waiting to be picked up for our jungle tour.

While on the road we meet all kinds of people – beggars and backpackers, hotel owners and hippies, policemen and politicians, travellers and tourists. Sometimes it is not until you meet the people you know the most that you gain a perspective on what you are doing – and why.

The last few weeks has seen my lovely sister join us to travel through Peru for 3 weeks, taking in Cusco, Macchu Pichu, Lake Titikaka and now Arequipa. We travel at the proverbial snail’s pace, so having her here brought us somewhat in line with what average tourists speed is.

The question I find myself asking is whether there is a difference to being a traveller and a tourist. If so, which is the more appealing? Which suits you as a person?

 Travellers                                                                                       Tourists

       Likes                           Dislikes                               Likes                              Dislikes

People Tourist Attractions Impressive Hotels Bugs
Trading Stories Buildings of note Gift Shops Beggars
Local Food Cable TV Organised Tours Unheard of food
Cheap Local Clothes Organised Tours English Speakers Carrying things
Speaking Local Lingo Constantly Moving Taking Photos Wasting time
Hot Showers & Wi-Fi Ignorant Tourists Museums Smelly Backpackers


Ok, so this list is not extensive and is my simple opinion. And it might seem a little facetious and contradictory. But the observation I have made over the last three weeks is that there is a vast difference between the demanding, expectant tourist and the traveller who almost enjoys the way things break down.

Time is the biggest physical difference

Tourists, of course, are more governed by time. For me a traveller has a minimum of 3 months somewhere or at least a month per country to be visited. This contrasts strongly with the tourist who has a maximum of 3 weeks to cram in as much as possible.

This has an obvious and fundamental affect on what you do with your time.

A tourist feels the need to get as much sightseeing in as possible. The idea is that to visit a country and experience it, one must visit buildings, museums and historic sites. Taking photographs of yourself in these locations allows you to return to your country and show that you were there.

Machu Picchu Trek
We were here!

Clips of you on a boat, at a castle, beside a ruin or under a big local fig tree become your narrative for what a country was like. Your limited time dictates that you must see, see, see and spend, spend, spend. Take home mementos and regale with impressive landscape and beach shots.

How does this contrast with the time a traveller spends?

A lifestyle traveller on the other hand, does not need to rush. There are no sites that “need” to be seen in a hurry. There is a vague list of places to visit, but the essence of the experience is the journey and how you get there. Talking to a taxi man about his local football team on the way from a bus terminal, is as rewarding as watching a sunset over the Taj Mahal.

Moments of interaction, fun and spontaneity are what give the traveller satisfaction. Being with local people and telling them your story is what excites you.

The traveller sheds their first world inhibitions and becomes a formless sponge, taking in the world around and accepting it for what it is – imperfect, incredible and immensely different.

The Appeal of Being a Tourist

Being a tourist is great if you want a simplified ABC version of the globe. You enjoy having what you want, when you want it and there is a level of intransigence about your personality. You like your life in your own country and are pretty sure that it is the best way to live.

You enjoy getting glimpses of other cultures (pictures of buildings and people etc) and trying a local dish is worth doing once or twice a year on your holidays/vacation.

You know that your money supports cultures when you visit them, and you are not afraid to demand value for that money you spend. You bring your expectations to other worlds and are sure that people should live up to them, not the other way round.

Being a tourist appeals if you are time poor and cash or credit rich.

The Appeal of Lifestyle Travel

Being a traveller is great if you want to immerse yourself in other cultures. While you have been brought up in an interesting country (or two), you are open to learning from people who technologically seem more primitive, yet when you delve deeper, appear more secure and happy.

The appeal of being a traveller is that you can soak up the mundane and day to day of other worlds, without the need to rush from site to site or tour to tour.

You know that all modern economies rely on cash flow to support cultures, be them 1st, 2nd or otherwise. Treating people with the same respect everywhere is paramount to you understanding this system. Your expectations are limited to expecting an experience, and being present to enjoying it.

Being a traveller appeals if you make yourself time rich and cash or credit rich too.

Figure it out for yourself

Being a traveller I notice the immense difference between me, the local and in turn the tourist. I take on a role of ambassador for my family, my country and my own self. I cringe when I see the angry or impudent tourist who expects first world service. I cringe when I see the barriers people erect in order to protect themselves from the unknown.

Fear of the unknown is a common tourists’ qualm. For a traveller it is the unknown that we actively seek.

While we all appear to be foreigners to the locals, sometimes I feel just as foreign to some of the tourists I meet.

How do you see yourself?

Am I completely of the mark, or would you agree?

John Leonard
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14 thoughts on “Are you a Traveller or a Tourist?”

  1. Hey Johnny, I’d say you’re pretty accurate :-)…must say I’m a bit of both – like you, I cringe and scowl when ‘tourists’ expect too much or speak unkindly to locals, demanding this and that – some should just stay at home! I enjoy immersing myself in the day-to-day life of where I am and learning about the culture first hand, interacting with locals and eating their food – love it! BUT I also love the shops and if I know I have limited time somewhere, will do all I can to see the ‘must see’ places :). Unfortunately I haven’t (as yet) had the opportunity to be on the road in different countries for extended periods and therefore taking my time – so I’m a cross breed traveller/tourist and LOVE every minute of it (well most of the time – lol)…great article by-the-way 🙂

    • Well, when the time comes and you do get the chance to travel extensively, we will see how you fare in the tourist v traveller battle. It is a constant “problem” for us, balancing normality against visiting new exciting places. But it is a complete first world problem and one I would gladly have!

  2. I love to visit N number of places as tourist. I visited all India bcoz I am from India. after that I started my small business here I am providing only honeymoon packages. I am not interested to do business or anything. I looking one of company who will pay me for traveling, if there is bike riding I love.

  3. Great post! I hate when I see obvious tourists who think they’re better than the locals or try to tell locals they should act more “American” (we see this all the time in Costa Rica).

    Sometimes I want to go on vacation to purely relax, other times I want to visit a new place to experience the culture. Although I will say that once I step foot in Europe I am taking shots of me in front of all the famous landmarks! I can’t wait to go to Europe!

    • I overheard people complaining that the signs in Colombia were not in English. And I met one guy who got punched in the face on his scooter in Thailand after he gave a local the finger. He said “Thai people are so violent!”. I think people don’t realise what they are like until they leave the comforts of home. I love to take in the big sights and I love to slow travel and just be “normal” in another country. I guess you can’t be a tourist for too long, once you have a few months at a stretch you do change!

  4. These differences don’t make someone bad and someone good person. Everyone has his unique demand and enjoy different from others things. For example, I like hitchhiking, camping, backpacking and so on, however, my wife doesn’t. She enjoy laying on the beach, swimming in the pool, shopping. That’s why sometimes we have separate holidays and sometimes I’m forced to join her.

  5. Agree! I’m both things, but mostly a traveler. I just love traveling so much than whenever I get the chance to go somewhere for only 4 days I take it, and that way I become a tourist, but being a traveler is simply the BEST THING EVER.


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