I’m a frequent user of Pinterest – I love sourcing travel images and stumbling across new and interesting things – and I’ve recently come across these slightly condescending (but increasingly popular) quotes:
I understand the sentiment behind these quotes – to travel and immerse yourself in a new place rather than just see it and take photos standing in front of monuments – but I think it’s a bit unfair to imply that “travellers” are more cultured, interested, and motivated than tourists.
Have you ever seen a tourist power-walking (complete with backpack and 2 litre water bottle) in the midday heat to find the tiny authentic cafe they read about in an obscure travel guide? They certainly do go “strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience”. Fact.
I don’t know about you, but I started off my travels as a tourist. A confused, back-pack-wearing, map-wielding tourist who had seen amazing things in books and movies and now set out to find them in real life abroad. My first three trips to Europe were as a tourist – twice with my family, and once with my brother on a Contiki tour.
I did touristy things, got ripped off at touristy restaurants, and went “sight-seeing”. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to revisit several of my favourite places, and I feel that this is how I became more of a traveller and less of a tourist. Having done “the tourist thing” before, I was free to explore and experience daily life without having a check-list of must-see sights in my pocket. It also helps having connections in different places, so you can have the local experience and discover things that don’t appear in your usual tourist guides.
However, I am aware that for many tourists, their trip abroad may be their only one to that particular place, hence the focus on frantic sight-seeing and “touristy experiences”. I may get irritated at huge tour groups and noisy tour guides, but then I remember that I was once in that exact position, and that now I have the option and inclination to leave the tourist areas and go on my own adventures.
And so, I tend to get annoyed at quotes that claim that travellers are “better” than tourists. Just because you choose to backpack through Peru eating guinea pigs and learning the language doesn’t make you more cultured than someone who spends a week-long package tour in Paris sightseeing.
Wanderlust isn’t reserved for those who prefer to travel off the beaten track – every traveller has to start somewhere!
So: don’t be a travel snob, be a wanderluster, whether traveller or tourist 🙂