The “Traveller vs. Tourist” Debate

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Kia Marie Hunt
Student of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Birmingham. Travel writer with a passion for culture, illustration, and learning new languages. If I'm not blogging about my latest travel adventures (or art-journaling), you'll find me eating, walking in the park, or re-watching La La Land!

Recently, it seems inevitable that I can’t scroll Facebook or Instagram without seeing a photo like this:

Now I know that this ‘Tourist vs. Traveller’ debate has been going on for ages, but I’m getting a bit sick of it now, so it’s time to put my two pennies worth in.

First of all, I have to say that I find both the whole concept of being able to split everyone into these two categories, and the idea that one category is far superior to the other, just completely ridiculous. But let’s take a look at what some other sources have to say on the matter. (If I’m going to make a rant, it might as well be a well-informed rant.)

In my research I came across this article from WikiHow, which claims to have the perfect instructions on how to become the almighty ‘traveller’ and how to avoid being the dreaded ‘tourist.’ Don’t worry, you don’t have to read it, I will give you the main idea; You have to forget about the ‘must-sees’, you’re not allowed to squeeze all of the highlights into a short space of time, and you should just stick to doing whatever the locals do.

But why should you forget about the ‘must-sees’? Don’t amazing things like the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal, Easter Island, the Great wall of China, etc, etc, count as ‘must-sees’!? It seems so sad to me to miss out on those just for the sake of ‘being a traveller.’ As for not being allowed to squeeze in as much as you can.. forget that! I say; you go and make the most of every second! If you are okay with making your visits a little shorter for the sake of seeing more, go for it, your trip is your trip and your schedule is completely up to you. (If you’re tight on time, you take advice from “Travel Man: 48 Hours in…” with Richard Ayoade, one of my absolute faves.) Now, I understand that getting to know locals is a great way to get to experience a culture and make good friendships, but I don’t agree that you should only do what locals do. Sometimes people that have been living in a certain place for too long start to take it for granted, and they don’t ever visit a lot of great places that deserve to be appreciated, so you could miss out by only going where they go!

The next source I found was this feature on an ‘amazing’ set of posters, that declares; “There are some traits that show if you are more of a traveller or a tourist. And here are these posters by Holidify distinguishing between the two.”  These posters range from rather silly:

Oh right …so unless you’re all alone you’re most definitely a tourist then. And seeing as travellers cant come in groups and taking selfies are obviously forbidden, they will never ever be able to have photos of them actually in the location, strictly landscape photos only! (Well, they do look better captioned with pretentious travel quotes I suppose…)

To downright stupid:

These photos match my favourite quote from the first article, which is this broad and sweeping statement; “Act spontaneously. Plans are for tourists.” Ridiculous!

To me this is just promoting irresponsible travelling. Whats wrong with a bit of advanced preparation?  We can’t all just randomly pack a bag and jet off somewhere, and I just can’t see whats so inferior about having a plan! It can also be dangerous to not organize transport, as a young female I can’t just hop into a random passerby’s car, if that labels me a ‘tourist’ then so be it!

My conclusion is: DO WHATEVER YOU DAMN WELL PLEASE.

  • If you want to go off the beaten track, get to know the unknown, explore a foreign culture by speaking to locals and living as they would, go for it!
  • If you want to visit every ‘gimmicky’ tourist attraction, by a t-shirt and a magnet and a flag and wave them around happily as you enjoy your open-top bus tour of the city, go for it!
  • If, like me, sometimes you enjoy a bit of both, go for it!

You don’t have to fit into a certain category, and you don’t have to care what people think.

HOWEVER, and this is a big however…Please, please, please, for the sake of humanity, avoid being any of these types of tourist:

  1. The tourist that refuses to wear a shirt in the most inappropriate of places. (Yes, we get it, it’s hotter here than it is back home! But if we are in a supermarket or, god forbid, a restaurant, I can guarantee that no one wants to see your sunburn and your beer/buffet belly. Seriously, put it away!)
  2. The disrespectful tourist. (You are in somebody else’s home, no matter where you go you should be respectful of cultures and customs, even if you don’t understand them.)
  3. The ‘DON’T YOU SPEAK ENGLISH!?‘ tourist. (You chose to go somewhere that doesn’t speak your language, so you’ll just have to deal with it if you can’t find an English speaker… shouting won’t make you any more understandable!)
  4. The snobby, superior, spiritual tourist. (Aptly described by Will McKenzie in the Inbetweeners 2: “Playing the guitar badly, wearing beads, talking about ‘one love’ and pretending you are friends with Central American villagers – who, by the way, despise you – before heading back to your parents five-bedroomed house in Surrey, doesn’t make you a spiritual person, it makes you a bell-end.”)

(For more articles by Kia about her travels (or ‘tourist activities’) visit her blog, www.AspiretoAmble.com)

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Kia Marie Hunt

Kia Marie Hunt

Student of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Birmingham. Travel writer with a passion for culture, illustration, and learning new languages. If I’m not blogging about my latest travel adventures (or art-journaling), you’ll find me eating, walking in the park, or re-watching La La Land!

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