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Tracing the Nature of a Traveler and of a Tourist!

tourist vs. traveler A selfie on a tourist attraction! That must be a Tourist ... But is this really the case?
Patric Ganz
  • On March 1, 2014

“Walking is a virtue, tourism is a deadly sin.”

(Bruce Chatwin, in: What Am I Doing Here?)


bruce chatwin, portrait

Bruce Chatwin, A Portait by Segnale Orario

Although I mainly support the above mentioned and very pointed remark of Chatwin, to really substantiate his claim it is vital to adequately define the attributes that constitute a person as tourist or as non-tourist. Since there`s a lenghty discussion about the ambivalent relationship between travelers and tourists, I feel induced to write down my own thoughts about it. I try to disclose the differing intrinsic nature of a traveler and a tourist with the help of a made up interview with two stereotype interviewees. The outcome of the interview is summarized thereafter.


Interview with a Traveler and a Tourist

Traveling_Pat (TP): Why are you two here?

Traveler: Other travelers told me about that place. So I thought why not give it a try … Here I am …

Tourist: I`ve read about that place years ago. And then, three months ago, I came across an article in a travel magazine featuring this country and this place. So I`ve booked it …


TP: Why did you start your trip?

From Tourist to Traveler, photo by chris hoare

From Tourist to Traveler, Photo by Chris Hoare

Traveler: I wanted to get to know this area of the world. I wanted to get a new perspective on the world and on myself. I want to share my time with cool people at a place that is unknown to all the people I meet.

Tourist: I always had weekness for the orient. Well, and then I checked some holiday offers in the net, and I found this perfect travel package! I told my boss I need two weeks of holiday in April, and yes …


TP: How long are your holidays this time?

Tourist: I have two and half weeks, great, isn`t it?

Traveler: Holidays? This ain`t holidays for me. By definition, holidays are an extended period of leisure and recreation, especially one spent away from home or in travelling, or something like that. I am not here on the road due to recreation reasons. Maybe leisure, a bit. My money lasts for at least three months more, then I will see what I am going to do …


TP: What`s the goal of the time you spend here? What are your expectations?

Tourist: First, I wanted to see the sights here by myself. Pictures at home are just not like being here, in real terms. And second, I just wanted to escape the daily grind at home for some days. Ah, to really relax … that`s necessary from time to time, isn`t it?

Traveler: I don`t have that many expectations of that paricular place. I rather have expectations from this trip as a whole! Finally, my whole trip should be a mosaic of great and less great experiences from all around the world. I hope I meet lots of great people with whom I can share tons of memorable experiences. Maybe I even find my inner me …


TP: How much does your stay here cost?

Tourist: The flights were costly, but life here is so cheap, my gosh! How can people manage with such little money. To have a budget is worthless here! Amazing! Unfortunately I booked quite a few things from home, so all in all; a little bit more than if I was at home. Since my holidays are paid, fair enough …

Traveler: Well, for every day I do something special, I plan a day with almost no expenses. Like that I manage to keep to my limited budget. Almost every evening I go for a beer. That`s my personal everyday luxury, moneywise.


TP: What`s the hard part of your stay?

Tourist: The trip to the destination. It`s a real pain. But once you`ve left the plane or the bus, once you`ve arrived, it`s worth it. I look at the beach or at the sight … I always wanted to visit them … and then I think, yes, it`s worth it!

Traveler: When you get to know a new place, it`s sometimes hard to connect to yet unknown people, locals and other travelers. And then, when you have established new bonds, it`s already time to say good bye again. That`s hard sometimes.


TP: What kind of visa did you apply for?

Tourist: A tourist visa.

Traveler: Tourist visa.


Tourist vs Traveler a guy on borobudur

A selfie on a tourist attraction. That must be a tourist! … But is this really the case?


Nailing down the Nature of a Traveler and of a Tourist

Deceiving External Similarities

Although most nations (as far as I know) only have one visa category to describe both a traveler and a tourist, there is substantial differences between the nature of those two types.

Obviously, their activities are sometimes similar which leads to this collective term `tourist`, but the motivation and the reason for the activity as well as the states in which people are when performing the activity often differ fundamentally. Travelers do touristy stuff and tourists do `traveler-y` stuff. But that doesn`t mean that they are the same. A mistake often made, unfortunately!

Backpacks are a regular attribute of travelers. Not rarely, however, also of tourists. While rolling suitcases can be mainly attributed to tourists and business(wo)men, drawing conclusions from a backpack is ambiguous: Therefore backpackers are not travelers by definition. A mistake often made, unfortunately – again!


Logic of Efficiency

Tourism as an industry is dedicated to tourists and holidaymakers. And tourists as well as tourism stick to the principle of efficiency. Two aspects have to be distinguished. First, Tourists try to make the best use of there holidays. Since you have a limited amount of time during the year for leisure purposes, you try to see as many places and sights as possible or you try to relax as efficient as possible. Second, holidays were ones designed because of efficiency reasons. Holidays are necessary to remain highly productive over time. So it is also very efficient for your company to provide you with holidays.

The tourist industry is the provider of the manifold and complex setting in which tourists can make efficient use of their time. And of course, the members of the industry themselves try to be efficient in what they do.

Travelers abdicate this logic of efficiency. Waiting a week for a visa in a town poor in sights – what to do? Leave out a worldclass dive or a wonder of the world due to the tight budget – what to do? Sick for a week because of that `tasty` street food – what to do? These inefficiencies are an integral part of deal and the trip of a traveler.


Open Outcome

Travelers have an open outcome. I try to explain this by means of different research designs; One group of research studies are designed to gain new knowledge, their outcome has to be open. The other group of research studies are designed to verify already existing knowledge, their outcome either affirms or negate a (beforehand) elaborated assumption.

To substantiate the statement above, I quote Dan Kieran (see The Idle Traveler – The Art of Slow Travel):

“For whatever reason, we want to have our views and opinions confirmed when we travel like this [like tourists]. The tourists want a picture of the buses in London, the red phone box and the Buckingham Palace to prove that they`ve been there. Often it`s enough to take a picture and go on, satisfied. In fact, we didn`t get beyond our preconceived opinions.” (Own translation from German to English)

So I would argue that travelers pursue a travel design that is markedly different from the one of a tourist.


Travel as a Conscious Experience

When we face familiar situations, our subconciousness is in charge. When we leave that comfort zone, our conciousness resumes. If you travel as individual traveler, maybe even alone, you have to handle a lot of new situations by yourself. You are observant, alert, your awareness is increased and your consciousness is activated to handle those situations. That might be the reason why traveling like this is so exciting and fascinating. You can even boost your awareness on purpose by traveling in a way less familiar and safe (see Don`t Travel Safely). If you travel as individual traveler, you might even “find yourself”, because when you are in a setting, a culture, a country you don`t know, you inevitably develop a stronger bond to yourself. (Content of this paragraph mainly by Dan Kieran, The Idle Traveller)


tourist vs traveler guy on borobudur

Two cameras, a beige vest, huge belly. That guy is a Tourist! … But is it like really like that?


Rating the Nature of a Traveler and of a Tourist?

Tourist vs. Traveler

Stereotypes are fun. Infographic by Tasha Singer

The quotation “Walking is a virtue, tourism is a deadly sin” by Bruce Chatwin clearly condemns tourism utterly. I personally wouldn`t go that far. However, I insist on acknowledging the difference between a tourist and a traveler as important. The intrinsic nature of a traveler and of a tourist differ greatly in quality as I have shown above.

Only from the appearance, it is often not possible to identify a traveler right away. That would be boring anyway! You have to talk to people to find out the essence of someone`s travel. You might need only three minutes and you`ll know. Once you`ve found out, go get to know the person as a whole, or leave it at that. Whether I dig deeper or not, depends largely on my mood, on urgency and on the time period I haven`t been socializing.

People ask me sometimes, why this “traveling thing” appeals to me that much, especially since they cannot imagine it to be that rewarding. The reasons for this rejection or these concerns, I think, are based on the mixup of the different “characters”, of a tourist and of a traveler!

If you travel long-term in a tourist stylish way, that would be a pain in the neck, sooner or later!

That is far away from being an idle traveler. And far away of how I (try to) travel. And that is why I still love to travel and still consider it as one of the most rewarding activity, not to say way of living.

A final remark: This website is and will always be mainly about traveling and travelers, not tourism nor tourists.


What are your Experiences with Travelers and Tourists? Do you Support my Differentiation between these two Terms? I look Forward to your Feedbacks and your Inputs …


Travel greetings


Patric Ganz, alias Traveling Pat

Traveler or Tourist. A difference not to neglect! Thanks for liking this article!


Disagreeing Bloggers:

– BootsnAll in: Travel Math: 7 Equations for the Indie Traveler

– Carolina Eaton in: Why I Hate The Traveler vs. Tourist Argument

– Anna Tillmann in (German): Dumme Touristen und wahre Reisende

– Jess in: Traveller vs. Tourist

Agreeing Bloggers:

– Justin Francis in: Tourist vs. Traveler

– Doris Neubauer in (German): Reisender oder Tourist: Warum Dabeisein eben NICHT alles ist

– Amanda Kendle in: 4 Ways To Be A Traveler, Not A Tourist


  1. Most people who regard themselves as travellers rely on infrastructure that was built for or because of tourists.

    • I partly agree, although I rarely use (mass-)tourism infrastructure!

      But the main goal of this article was to disclose the intrinsic elements of the different nature of a tourist and of a traveler. And those elements differ considerably.

      Therefore I think that oversimplified answers to the topic at hand fail to satisfy me.

      Greets Traveling Pat

  2. Jose Romanian

    I’ve met you guys 🙂 have a good luck!!! you are doing a very nice trip 🙂 I’ want to hear more about you!!!!! I love you!!

    • Jose! Rumania is Great! We might meet again next year on an other continent:-) greets pat

  3. mary jewell

    Greetings Patric and Tanja. Travelers are walking books, waiting to be read. Travelers mix (like tea) with the locals, interacting, doing, listening. Travelers make mistakes/blunders that become steppingstones to lead to something/someone much greater. Travelers become vulnerable at times and realize their need for a stranger’s help or kindness, and sometimes results in a friendship for a lifetime. Travelers live in the moment (the present), experiencing all of it. And travelers find themselves processing the whole spectrum of their experiences long after the ‘trip’ is passed. A traveler’s trip is never finished because all of this gets digested into who we become.

    • Mary,

      Great Words by a far traveled lady!
      I couldn`t say it in more poetic ways!
      Thanks for your contribution.

      Traveling Pat

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