EDITORIAL - Traveller or Tourist: an Identity Crisis?
The internet is full of articles about the difference between “travellers” and “tourists”. It seems acceptable to call a tourist a traveller, but travellers feel insulted when called tourists. Both terms are actually very similar, as they refer to someone who has gone to visit another country. So why is it more desirable to be considered a traveller?
Experienced travellers describe themselves as people who live in the present, with a whole different outlook on life that enables them to enjoy life to the full. They travel light, avoiding the main tourist attractions by taking routes off the beaten track and living in the place they’ve chosen to visit. They immerse themselves in the local cultures and traditions. Using translation books they converse with local people. They shop in markets and street stalls, bargaining with storekeepers and eating at street restaurants. Travellers spend time getting to know and understand the places they visit.
Tourists do not interact as intensely with local people because they usually stay in hotels and do not get to meet local residents. They share very little about themselves, preferring to speak in their own language. They visit and photograph as many of the main tourist attractions as possible, often as part of a large group of people with a tour guide.
Oddly enough, cameras are not mentioned as a necessary accessory for travellers, yet tourists have been belittled for using expensive, top quality photographic equipment. Surely anyone who travels will pack a camera to capture their memories? Does it matter whether they use the latest digital camera or the one on their cell phone?
Compartmentalising people into specific groups implies a hierarchy about how we travel; if you don’t fit a certain set of “rules” when you travel, you become the dreaded “tourist” – almost a social pariah! Many of the articles are actually polarising both styles of travel, and frankly this is arrogance on the part of the writer. Travellers are no less tourists than tourists are travellers. The common denominator is that we all enjoy travel, albeit in different ways.
Time is the major factor when it comes to being a traveller or a tourist. Travellers have the time to explore their chosen destination at leisure, so their experience is long term with reservations made when necessary. Becoming part of the local culture is important. Tourists have a shorter period in which to take in a country’s major attractions. Reservations are made for everything well in advance. Tourists usually carry more luggage than travellers because they don’t have the time to waste searching local shops for things they might need.
One travel blogger I follow states: “I’ve been both a traveller and a tourist over the years. But I’ve always distinguished between the two thus: a tourist has more money than time and a traveller has more time than money”.
Travelling is about making memories, enriching life through experiences. Travel is also a personal experience; we all have our own reasons for wanting to visit a specific destination. Every single one of us is both traveller and tourist, whether we decide to take a year off to visit the different countries in South America or spend a week with family living in Cape Town. The memories made on both trips will be cherished for a lifetime.
The tourist visiting Victoria Falls is looking for the same experience as the traveller; both want to see one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Does it honestly matter how both choose to travel and spend their time in a wonderful place?
While there is no right way to travel, there is one basic rule we should all observe: respect the local culture of your destination. Your journey is your experience, so do what makes you happy and enjoy yourself.