196 Countries

Are you a tourist or a traveler?


image from oakville.ca

*This post was inspired by two other stories I wrote about: the negotiation stage of culture shock and  personal travel style. *

Just like people have different travel styles, there are also differences between travelers and tourists – and a lot of debate about what defines each.

I consider a tourist someone who takes short visits to numerous places.

A traveler, one who stays for a length of time that allows them to suffer Culture Shock, overcome it and assimilate nicely in the new world – A Stay-cation versus a Vacation.

A tourist comes home with a lot of nice scenic images and the odd shot of someone doing something they’ve never seen before. Weaving a basket perhaps.

A traveler will come home with those same shots and more, but will have a database of in-depth cultural stories to accompany them. Maybe even a new ’cause’ to support.

A traveler sets their own ideals aside and takes the time to get to know and understand the new culture, not just take pictures and think they do.

I find tourists to be about themselves, somewhat ego-centric and self-driven. Determined to visit as many countries as they can in a year, or a lifetime to fulfill something personal. Perhaps they want to join the Traveler’s Century Club, a means to gloat, and a personal trophy.

Or, people who merely need to take a breather from their hectic reality and are looking for a place to relax.

A traveler’s main focus  is on the other way of life; they want to understand it and share it. To immerse themselves in it.

The bottom line is a tourist wants to see the country.

A traveler wants to be a part of it by learning everything they possibly can and staying as long as they are allowed. They eat, sleep and breath with the people.


Here is an example. *Please understand I mean no ill will by referencing the following blogger, she is very good at what she does and is quite successful in her personal endeavors…it’s just a good example of the differences between someone who seeks adventure first (tourist) or one who seeks culture first (traveler) when trying to decide the next place they will visit.

Lesley Carter (Bucket List Publications) has adventured in over 34 countries.  Adventuring in, or short-term visits to, provides a very different outcome than traveling and living in.

A ‘Bucket List’ is a compilation of things you want to accomplish before you die. It is a personal set of goals and Lesley is accomplishing many which she shares with her readers.

But, her site is about her and her adventures, hence the inundation of personal photos.

Lesley  Carter is a tourist and living the life she chooses (kudos to her) but it wouldn’t be my choice. And, her blog wouldn’t be where I would go to contemplate a new destination.

A tourist comes home with a morsel of culture, but that simply doesn’t compare to the full fledged cultural meal I would seek.

I would be more inclined to check out FastenSeatBelts to learn about cultural nuances, ViewChange where one can discover the grit of a culture and effect change, GoGlobe whose writing gives me a real feel for country and culture, Culture Shock, MyNewGuinea or  my absolute favorite, (but you have to sign up)  AtoZWorldCulture … the list goes on.

For me quality is always better than quantity. I would rather visit less places and immerse myself in the culture than visit more, and learn zilch about the people who make the countries so vibrant – return home with ethnographies not snippets.

There is a huge difference in getting away and getting closer.

Tourists tend to forget or neglect the people. 

Travelers never do.

Tourists share their experiences  when they get home and leave little of themselves in the country they left.

Travelers share while visiting, bring the essence of the people home with them and leave their hearts to their new found friends…

A Tourist is one sided.

A Traveler, an onion and a sponge.

Are you a traveler or a tourist?


image from EinstienDiva


4 thoughts on “Are you a tourist or a traveler?

  1. My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find almost all of your post’s to be precisely what I’m looking for.
    Does one offer guest writers to write content for you?
    I wouldn’t mind creating a post or elaborating on a number of the subjects you write concerning here. Again, awesome website!


  2. In my personal life I have not traveled to a lot of places because my husband and I always saved up vacation time (1 months worth) to go to one place. We even studied the language before going (Italian, French, Spanish). We have only managed to stay in one city at a time for one month, which is still not enough time. I very much value what you are saying about a tourist verses a traveler. I believe being a tourist is not really seeing a place at all. As a former registrar/collections manager of artifacts for museums, I have traveled to places for work, but I can’t tell you much about the places I’ve been to.


    • Paul Theroux, an American Travel writer said, “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” It is one of my favorite quotes, and was actually tweeted by @SlipstreamTours this morning.

      Allyson, I applaud how you and your husband take the time to study before you travel, because that implies you will be a student while you are abroad. Although it seems like there is never enough time, and there truly isn’t unless you can live indefinitely in another country, a month is certainly better than a couple days, or a week or two.

      I’ve found that the first week in a new place is a time to get your bearings. Week two you are just starting to feel comfortable with yourself in a new environment – and then it’s time to go home and you’ve learned nothing about the culture.

      You may have seen some new scenery, but you truly don’t have a clue where you’ve been…as you’ve learned through your travel for work.

      My favorite writers are the ones that stay in countries long enough to feel the hearts of the people.

      So I love the way you travel, and I bet you have some great cultural stories I would love as well…..good on you!


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