When I was backpacking years ago, I came across all kinds of travellers. It was like a cast from one of Dr Seuss’ books – there were small ones and tall ones and fun ones and searching for sun ones.
For some, travel was a means of running away, as it was for me, at the start. But as I wandered around with the backpack that weighed more than I did I realised something – I was never going to arrive.
Somewhere on the Indian-Pacific train journey, mid-desert between Perth and Sydney, I realised that the destination wasn’t the point at all, it was the journey that mattered. At that moment I learnt the difference between being a tourist and being a traveller.
What’s the difference? Here’s my handy list. Would love to know if you agree or disagree in the comments below.
1. Packing – travellers carry little and take away lots. Tourists carry lots and take away little. (Unconvinced? Here’s two phrases for you – discount airlines and paying for baggage!)
2. Distance travelled can demonstrate a stark difference in approach. Travellers’ journeys can last a life time. Tourists’ journeys are a 7 day search for a full English.
3. Tourists are all about the people they meet. Travellers are all about the people they are becoming.
4. Tourists’ holidays come to an end, travellers’ journeys never end. In some ways the effect of a place, the experience itself never pales into insignificance.
5. Tourists go to see something or cross off a bucket list, travellers go to be somewhere.
6. Tourists want to see places through their own culturally rose-tinted glasses. They don’t want to be surprised, they want to be entertained or amused. Even if it is to peer at locals living in relative poverty. Tourists want everything translated and laid on. They want ample deck chairs, happy hours at 5pm and a local ‘Nag’s Head’ – even in the heart of Bangkok. Travellers want to be educated about other lives, about themselves, their life and their place in the world.
7. Tourists colonise with their cultural imperialism or their religion. Travellers meld into the crowd and hope to learn something new that may challenge their preconceived notions of life and lifestyle.
8. Travellers learn more from the things that go wrong on their trip than from things that ‘go right’. Tourists sue.
9. Tourists follow maps and guides preferring to discover through someone else’s recommendations, travellers go off piste. Sometimes getting lost is the best way to discover something surprising that challenges you and your view of the world.
10. Tourists often cannot wait to go home and show off their suntan, travellers often never want to leave, or never want to stop travelling.
What would you add? What do you think are the biggest differences between tourists and travellers?