“I’m a traveler not a tourist.” “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”

Internet is flooded with such quotes.

So what’s the matter with this “traveler vs. tourist argument’? Tourists are often known as “boring”, “inconsiderate”, “bad”, “uninformed”, “traveling in the group” and travelers are “cool”, “adventurous”, “respectful”, “open minded” and in one word- “better”.

These are stereotypes and many times this division is caused by snobbish behavior and thinking “I am better than you are. And my way of traveling is better than yours”. Sometimes just the way you dress or destinations you pick will make you look like a tourist or a traveler. That’s more than enough to show that this division is based on stereotypes.

Let’s see first what the word tourist means. The official definition describes tourist as someone who travels abroad for at least twenty-four hours. And for sociologists these both groups are perceived as tourists. But the word ‘tourist’ usually had a negative connotation since its introduction.

no tourists allowed

Travelers are known as the ones who travel to less-known and alternative places, but what they don’t seem to understand is that with that they actually pave the road for tourists and tourism industry. This is closely related to something which in tourism is called as “the stages of development of touristic regions”.

In the first phase the place will be visited by individual guests who would fit the earlier description of a “traveler”, while the local population will see this as a chance for its development and that will eventually lead to the emergence of entrepreneurship. This phase is then replaced by “the mass tourism phase” where tourists pop in. New accommodation facilities, restaurants and bars are being opened which are adapted to the habits of the visitors. As you can see travelers will always pave the road for tourists, so this division is unfounded.

So why are travelers so bothered by tourists? In the past tourism was reserved only for the upper class and those who were traveling had a special status. Maybe travelers are bothered by tourists because they make them feel less special? But travel is no longer reserved for the upper class. Today everybody travels and the unknown almost doesn’t exist. Nowadays people travel to some of the unfriendliest places on Earth such as the Antarctic.

For example backpackers often travel to undeveloped areas and contribute economically but that’s not always the case. Many times they act as exploiters of local resources and they tend to socialize more with other backpackers than with the locals. Also there are many countries which are against this type of travel, like Bhutan where you won’t find a backpacking culture.

Then there are those type of tourists who walk around carrying their cameras and look a bit annoying, but they also do their best to learn the local customs and culture and they behave more cautiously to the local population which again shows us that this dichotomy is unfounded.

Everything is pretty individual and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you call yourself a tourist or a traveler. What’s important is the way you travel. If you improve the world we live in, if you treat the local culture with respect, if you learn new things while you travel and make contacts with the locals then it doesn’t matter if you are a traveler or a tourist. What is more important is our behavior and the traces we leave behind.