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Traveler vs Tourist: Why Does It Matter?

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What’s the difference between a tourist and a traveler? To many, the answer is similar, but not the same. While a tourist is a traveler, a traveler isn’t necessarily a tourist.

Over the years, the word tourist has developed kind of a negative stigma. An image of a confused man sporting a fanny pack, flowered shirt and oversized camera around their neck immediately comes to mind. This is someone who just wants to snap photos of the big-name sites, without really getting to know the culture. It’s a person who visits a place without really getting to know it, simply skimming the surface without going deeper.

However, is this necessarily a bad thing? To many “travelers,” visiting a new destination is about immersing yourself in a population, exploring unique landscapes and tasting exotic foods; however, if someone wants to travel in a different fashion, is that a big deal? Travel is about being open-minded, so shouldn’t we be accepting of other people who don’t explore in the same fashion we do?

It’s as if an adventure traveler judged a luxury traveler just for being different. Travel should be about experiencing a place the way you want to. That’s the beauty of it, it’s selfishly wonderful. It’s about indulging your interests and curiosities, whether that means taking part in a cultural festival in China and trying guinea pig in Ecuador, or eating at a McDonald’s in Italy and doing silly poses in front of statues.

I would also like to point out that many times, it’s the “open-minded travelers” making these distinctions. I’d be surprised if the “tourists” were insulting themselves. If travelers are supposed to be so accepting of everyone, why does there need to be such a differentiation between those who go local, and those who simply want to snap photos of a new place?

Many people may not realize it, but they fall into both categories. Are you going to say travelers don’t take myriad photos of touristy sites like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York? I’d bet a few jumping shots get into their camera roll, as well. And I’m sure there have been a few “tourists” who’ve tried some kind of adventurous food, or befriended a local in a dive bar. Instead of defining each other, let’s enlighten and inspire each other to travel and experience new things, no matter the method.

What’s your opinion on tourists vs travelers?

Jessie Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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