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A Tourist or A Traveler

Comfort vs. Adventure

Thanks to the low-cost airlines, especially in Europe and Asia but also because of the availability of various promotions, an increasing number of people have enjoyed international trips in the last 20 years.

Nowadays, however, it is very trendy for most people to call themselves travelers and to avoid the word tourist like fire. The travelers consider the tourists to be mere consumers, whereas the tourists sometimes downgrade the travelers as poor backpackers.

I think that it is hard to find a strong dividing line between tourists and travelers and most of us are both. You may be more of a traveler when you tour South America and more of a tourist on a family Mediterranean cruise trip. Yet, if we have to make some distinction between tourists and travelers, I would say that the tourists usually look for comfort and try to visit the top tourist destinations, whereas the travelers are much more adventurous. Let's look at some factors that demonstrate these differences.



The travelers are usually less picky about clothes. They buy cheaper clothes and sometimes even try to look like locals. They often do not even take their cameras or at least they are very discreet with photography. The tourists dress in bright colors, they have big cameras and you immediately know that they are not local, they are tourists.



Travelers are often carefree and even careless and oblivious about potential dangers. They are ready to go to Venezuela, Afghanistan, North Korea or Somalia. The travelers are not interested so much in politics and even claim that all the negative coverage of such risky countries is just exaggerated. So, it is not surprising that the real adventurous travelers are a minority focused on the unbeaten path of alternative destinations. While the tourists prefer the most popular destinations, including Paris, Venice, New York and if they hear something negative about a destination, e.g. mass protests in Barcelona, they are very likely to cancel their flights and travel plans to that place. They would never consider North Korea, Eritrea or Afghanistan as potential travel destinations.


Time and Trip Planning

The travelers are capable of spending more than a month in a single country, visiting remote places and villages. They also prefer to organize their trip by themselves and very often, they just improvise by searching accommodation on the spot, etc.

The tourists often have a complete plan with everything booked. They use the services of travel agencies, they may travel in an organized group and prefer to see a lot in a short period of time. Instead of 1 month in Austria, they would rather see Vienna for a couple of days, Salzburg for a day and then move on to Munich or Prague.


Culture and Language

The travelers try to learn some local phrases and are genuinely interested in the local traditions, history, customs, culture, food, etc. They observe everything and try to merge with the local environment.

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The tourists are not very interested in the local language, culture and food, e.g. U.S. tourists expect to eat burgers or hotdogs even in France or Greece, Italian tourists order a pizza in Thailand. In fact, some all-inclusive tourists are not even sure in which country their resort was. They just remember that Punta Cana, Varadero, Acapulco or Crete had really cool beaches and tons of food and drinks.


Attitude/Reasons for Traveling

The travelers want to know more about the world out there, they travel for the adventure and getting lost or sleeping on the floor of a medieval monastery in Slovakia is part of the fun.

The tourists want comfort and amenities in 4 and 5-star hotels or cruise ships. A selfie in front of Mona Lisa in the Louvre is enough to show off that you have visited the museum. Traveling for them means a certain status and prestige. That's why they would rather post a photo from a beach on the French riviera or the Maldives than from a beach in Albania or Ukraine.



The travelers count on memories, local products, gifts from local people and other items that connect them to a particular place, whereas the tourists prefer the standard mass souvenirs and trinkets or very expensive local souvenirs that could play the role of trophies in their houses.



The travelers travel light, without too much stuff. They often need just their backpack with a few t-shirts, a phone, a book and some toiletries. The tourists take at least one big suitcase per person full of clothes, 5 pairs of shoes and a lot of stuff that they may never even unpack.


Aren't we all in-between?

I personally feel that it is too pretentious to call myself a traveler who always looks for the unbeaten path and lives in spartan conditions on a shoestring. I would rather define myself as a curious tourist. My clothes do not look so touristy and especially in Europe, I can easily keep a low profile among the locals. Yet, I can't travel without my big camera that always identifies me as a tourist. I definitely follow the news and I try to avoid countries at war but I sometimes visit more dangerous countries and not so glamorous and popular destinations only because I am curious about certain aspects of these places. I like to organize my trips myself, like a traveler, without the help of travel agencies but I also enjoy cruises that can help me to see many places within a couple of weeks. I prefer to be 1 day in Helsinki, 1 in Tallinn and 1 in the Åland Islands than to spend a week or a month just in Helsinki. Yet, I am very interested in the culture, language, history, food and customs of all the countries I have visited or want to visit. I always try to learn as well at least a few local words and phrases. I avoid taking selfies, travel with my backpack but I buy both authentic local souvenirs and typical fridge magnets and trinkets. I guess many people feel like me. The current crisis will definitely push us to visit many local sites and some countries that are not necessarily the Travel channel top picks but have one major advantage - they allow international tourism!

I will appreciate your comments!

© 2021 Chris Kostov

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