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?

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