Aaah…the endless traveller vs tourist debate…it still goes on…and on…and on….and on…
Since I delved into the world of travel blogging, I have come across countless articles on the differences between what makes a traveller and a tourist. A traveller being someone who wears a backpack and spends months at a time “immersing” themselves in new cultures and mixing with the locals. Whereas a tourist is described as someone who sticks out like a sore thumb with their fanny packs and bags of souvenirs while on a guided tour of the main attractions.
Quite frankly (in my opinion) it’s a load of condescending crap that is full of stupid cliches and implies one way of travelling is better or inferior to the other.
Let me give you an example…
I’m sat in a bar in Ho Chi Minh, drinking a beer while casually reading my Kindle. A young guy pulls up a chair and asks “what are you reading?” To which I reply “I’m just flicking through a guide book trying to find something fun to do. I’m only here for a few days before my visa runs out so want to make sure I make the most of the time I have left in Vietnam.”
He rolled his eyes and threw me that kind of smirk (you know the kind – the kind you just wanna wipe right off their smug little face).
Confused by his reaction, I gave him a questioning look, and without a second thought he spouts out “Sorry…but I just don’t understand your kind of travelling…”
My kind??? I’m thinking to myself “oh here we go” – I knew it was only a matter of time that I would cross paths with an elitist “traveller” who has been there, done that and probably way better than me. I like to call them “travel bores” (but you can read more on that in my tongue-in-cheek article on how not to become one).
Not in the mood for his false sense of superiority, I spat: “and what KIND of traveller do you see me as then? “ I was interested to hear seeing as this guy had known me for literally two seconds.
Boldly he replies: “You know the kind that live by their guide books…don’t go off the beaten track and try to really IMMERSE themselves in a place. They just want to tick off all the main sights and move on to the next place. I don’t see how you can truly get a feel for a place that way.”
WOW. I stared at him in complete disbelief. I don’t know if I was more shocked by his sheer arrogance or by how quick he was to judge me. There I was just minding my own business and within a matter of minutes I’d had my “way of travelling” completely shot down. Me merely referring to a guide book for some inspiration on where to go as a solo traveller with limited time, suddenly meant I must be that “kind of traveller” – one of those terrible “tourist” types.
I continued to give him a glare (the kind that was basically telling him to piss the hell off) but completely oblivious he whittled on…
“Seriously, ditch the book. Don’t be a tourist…you should go check out blah blah blah and try this blah blah blah…that’s so much more authentic and blah blah blah…blah blah….blah blah….” (well at least those are what the words out of his mouth sounded like to me – I lost interest the moment you rolled your eyes at me Mr Know It All!)
I may have been more open to his advice had he not started off the conversation by trying to belittle me. Instead I grabbed my Kindle, made my excuses and left. In hindsight maybe I should have challenged him further (instead of ranting about it here), but it’s the kind of travel snobbery I just can’t entertain.
If he had actually taken the time to get to know me, then he may have been surprised to learn that yes I like to research the places I am visiting, yes I like to see some of the tourist spots (they’re popular for a reason by the way…) but equally I am also a firm believer that people should travel out of their comfort zones to uncover “off-the-beaten-track” places or experience somewhere on a deeper level.
But the point is, why should we be told to travel one way or the other?
I’ve backpacked on a budget and I’ve gone on 5* all-inclusive holidays. I’ve lived in a developing country for five months and I’ve ventured to Europe for a luxury weekend city break. I’ve spent hours getting lost discovering secluded pockets of paradise and I’ve gone on guided tours around the main attractions. I’ve joined the hoards of tourists using selfie sticks in front of famous landmarks, and I’ve just sat peacefully in remote locations enjoying the beautiful views. I’ve eaten in a Michelin star restaurant and I’ve sat down and had a home-cooked meal with a Vietnamese family in their home.
So what type of traveller does that make me?
The way I see it is that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to travel. Surely everyone’s journey is their own and however they choose to travel is up to them. Surely the fact that we all share a desire to go out there and see this world is all that truly matters? Why does it need to be a competition?
There are so many different ways of travel available to us now, in my eyes it’s about seizing the opportunities that are available to us. And more importantly, it’s about how we choose to utilise those experiences and learn from them. As long as we are travelling in a responsible way, who are we to travel-shame others?
And in truth…aren’t we all tourists?
As soon as we set foot in a country that is not our own, we are essentially a tourist. If we are going to define one another here, lets refer to the good old English dictionary:
Tourist: “a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure”
So I hate to break it to you Mr Know It All but you are indeed by “definition” a T.O.U.R.I.S.T. And if you truly believe that local guy you had dinner with at the top of a mountain in some off-the-grid location thinks you’re not one, then think again…
Perhaps next time I come across one of those pretentious backpackers I think I will simply walk away heckling behind me “hey when you have something more interesting to say, you’ll find me over there with my guide book and selfie stick doing silly poses in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, just like all the other tourists. And after that you might find me in a hidden hole-in-the-wall café somewhere enjoying some top secret local delicacies…but good look finding me!”
Because I really couldn’t care for this stupid debate. I really couldn’t care if you’re a so-called “traveller” or a “tourist”. I am going to carry on travelling my way and I hope that you will do too.
What do you think to the whole “traveller” vs “tourist” debate? Does it really matter?