The Traveler vs. Tourist Debate and Why I Don’t Give a Crap

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“I am not a tourist.”

This is the tagline for a tour company's latest campaign, where they are trying to inspire people to begin traveling differently.

Now, I’m all for inspiring people to travel. I’m also all for trying to convince people to travel outside of their comfort zones in order to experience places more deeply. It’s good to get “off the beaten path” sometimes.

But I have to be honest – I kind of take issue with the whole “I am not a tourist” campaign.

Kapiti Island

The traveler vs. tourist debate is certainly not a new one. For years, travelers and tourists have been defined and delineated, being separated from one another and placed at two ends of an invisible travel spectrum.

Tourists are the ones who wear fanny packs and Aloha shirts. They’re the ones piling out of big buses to strike stupid poses in front of all the tourist sites. They are the ones eating at McDonalds because they’re afraid of “weird” food. They are the close-minded ones worthy of ridicule.

Travelers are the ones who tote backpacks and only 3 pairs of underwear around the world. They use local transportation and thrive on living in hostel dorm rooms. They eat at street stalls and interact with locals as much as possible. They are the adventurous ones worthy of envy.

At least, these are the definitions we’ve been presented with – that tourists are “bad” and travelers are “good.”

But you know what? Those definitions are a bunch of crap. They’re nothing more than narrow stereotypes, and it bothers me when they are pitted against one another, as if one is more desirable than the other. When a big tour company tells people to “take travel back from the socks-and-sandals tourist crowd,” it makes it sound as though the evil tourists are ruing travel for everybody.

Which isn't true, of course.

Forbidden City
Would you skip this just because it's “touristy”?

I don’t care how you travel. I don’t judge where you go. I don’t label the “tourists” and the “travelers,” because, at the end of the day, those are stupid labels anyway. Not all “tourists” are buffoons, and not all “travelers” are saints. People are people, regardless of their travel style. I'm just glad they're traveling at all.

And yet, we are still confronted with the tourist vs. traveler debate time and time again.

My main question is: why does it have to be one or the other? Can’t a tourist also be a traveler, and vice versa?

What would you call a person who books a spot on a guided tour, but who spends their free time chatting with locals and getting lost in new cities? What would you call a person who backpacks around Europe, but only stays in places with Western amenities? Is one of these people “better” than the other? Of course not.

The truth is, there are some travel styles that just do not fit into either the “tourist” or “traveler” category. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I am proudly a little bit of both.

If I stuck my nose up at “touristy” things, I would have never…

…climbed the Great Wall of China…

Great Wall

…visited the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

…watched a sunset on Waikiki Beach…

Waikiki Sunset

…cruised through Milford Sound…

Milford Sound

…or climbed to the top of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

St. Peter's Basilica

Some of these “touristy” experiences have been some of my favorites. I have great memories from all around the world of being a tourist, taking lots of photos, and just enjoying the sites that everyone comes to see.

At the same time, if I refused to be a “traveler,” I would have never…

…went hiking on a glacier…

Franz Josef Glacier

…road tripped across the United States…

Road Trip

…climbed sea cliffs in New Zealand


…seen one of the world’s rarest birds up close…


…or traveled solo.


These, too, are some of my favorite travel experiences. And I never would have had any of them if I’d been too afraid to leave the guided tour behind.

But, looking back on all of the amazing travel experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have, it becomes clear to me that it’s not about being a “traveler” as opposed to a “tourist.” It’s more about taking advantage of opportunities and doing the things that appeal to me.

I don’t travel for anybody else, so why should I let somebody else tell me “the right way” to travel?

Because here’s a not-so-secret secret: there is no “right way.” There's no “wrong way,” either. There’s only the way that works best for you. And sure, maybe your style is different than the next person’s, but that doesn’t make it okay to apply those “tourist” and “traveler” labels.

Screw those labels. And screw the people who use them in a derogatory way.

I’m going to keep traveling the way I want to travel, no matter what you call me. And I hope you'll do the same.

READ NEXT: Am I a Lame Traveler?

What do you think of these labels? Do you have to be one or the other? How do you feel about the “I am not a tourist” campaign?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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185 Comments on “The Traveler vs. Tourist Debate and Why I Don’t Give a Crap

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  1. For me, the goal is to not be an “obnoxious tourist” or “jaded traveler.” I don’t want to be the guy that eats at McDonalds, but I also don’t want to be too cool for the Eiffel Tower.

      You sound exactly like me! And I think you summed up what I was trying to say in this whole post in 2 sentences. Lol. Nicely put!

      Absolutely agree with you two – I feel that when travelers claim they aren’t “tourists” they are referring to the obnoxious minority who have no respect for the countries they are visiting. Then again, some travelers are just as bad in their own way – so self-righteous, as if they are saving the world by traveling.

      There is no correct way to travel, just as there’s no correct flavor of ice-cream.

        Well said, Roy! I agree that some “travelers” can be just as bad as the “tourists” they look down their noses at.

    Those must-see tourist attractions earned their popularity for a reason. I for one, am not going to skip it because it’s a ‘tourist’ attraction. Now tourist traps that serve bad food near those attractions, that’s another story.

      Agreed, Gerard. The “big” tourist attractions may indeed be kitschy and crowded, but they’re that way for good reason, and I certainly wouldn’t skip any of them! Sometimes, I really like just being a tourist and seeing the sights when I’m visited a new place.

    Wow, I had no idea about G Adventures latest slogan. I’m totally with you. I think it’s crap. I’m a total tourist and unapologetic about it. I take the “must-take” photos, I eat at restaurants with menus translated into different languages and I avoid hostels like the plague. But that doesn’t make me disrespectful. There’s a difference there.

    I’m a traveler too, and I think, at the end of the day, everyone is a little bit of both. Tourist experiences are some of the best.

      I’m so glad I’m not alone on this! Though I feel like all of you who are commenting are putting it much better than me! Lol. I’m like you, though — I enjoy doing all the must-do touristy things and documenting it in photos and on video. Like you said, those experiences are some of the best!

      And I agree that those people who really love to travel are a little bit of both.

    OMG THANK YOU… I FU**ING HATE THAT CAMPAIGN… and because of it stopped following them. I even tweeted to them about it a while back and they ignored me. I think it is stupid and pathetic… I mean really for any “TOURING” company to write that is kinda stupid. I mean really “YOU’RE NOT A TOURIST So why travel like one?”.

    To me and I have argued this topic with other “backpackers” in the end we are ALL TOURIST… we are visiting new places and touring them… no matter how we do it, solo or in a group we are TOURIST. If we visit a must see attraction or go off the beaten path we are still touring so um yes we are still TOURSIT. I’ve been wanting to write about this on my blog… but I have made a promise to keep the blogging and travel world out of it for now while I am on the road. I want it to be a diary of my travels & experiences. As for being a tourist or traveler I would say I am a tourist… cus who cares there is nothing wrong with that. In the end we are experience a different place, culture and seeing new things.

      Haha, have I told you lately that I love you, Jaime?? I’m glad you agree with me on this!

    Ditto to what Deej said. I agree that narrow stereotypes are largely BS, but at the same time, most stereotypes become stereotypes for a reason. That said, there are definitely plenty of “tourists” who are absolutely lovely people once you get to know them, and there are plenty of “travelers” who are snotty asshats.

      “Snotty asshats”… love it! And you’re so right, of course. I totally agree that stereotypes are definitely borne out of some degree of truth. But I think these stereotypes have gotten out of hand in the way that they’re used to sort of put people down.

    Hehe well you know how I feel about it. Kind of dumb. I’m a tourist ALL THE TIME – it’s ok… it’s fun!

      I do indeed know how you feel about it! 🙂 And I agree — being a tourist sometimes is definitely fun!

    I love this post! I think the most important part of traveling is keeping an open mind. If you won’t do something because its too “touristy” you are only cheating yourself.

      Thanks Elizabeth! And I agree that you’re often missing out by skipping something just because the “tourists go there.”

    I agree–everybody needs to take a deep breath and walk their own walk.

    What’s wrong with eating at McDonalds? My husband and I like to eat where the locals eat, but there are times when you just want a quick meal in McDonalds. Plus it seems to taste better in another country.

    In all seriousness you travel for yourself. Do whatever makes you happy, no matter how touristy it seems. The rest are just haterzzzz. =)

      Haha, you know what? I’m totally guilty of eating at McDonalds abroad too, Sheila! But seriously… how could I go to a place like China and NOT check out what they have on their dollar menu?? 😉

        Plus they have free wifi! I eat more McDonalds when I’m travelling than anything else (and their banana bread in Oz is amazing too!)

        I totally agree. An American friend who came to India was so amused at our ‘Mc Spicy’ burgers she had to take pics of the poster.
        I was shocked to see the McDonalds in Cairo had no vegetarian food. Esp since we have like at least 10 veg options here.
        You learn abt different cultures in McD 😀

          Haha, that’s very true! You really can learn a bit about different cultures just by checking out their McDonalds’.

    A fantastic post about a highly controversial issue amongst backpackers, travellers, tourists, holidaymakers (or whatever people like to call themselves). As somebody else pointed out we are all essentially tourists when we visit a well-known attraction, it doesn’t matter if you got there by local transport, tour bus or private jet. I don’t understand why people get so upset about it – just travel your way and let others do the same!

      I don’t know why it has to be such a big issue, either! People should just travel how they want to travel, and leave everybody else alone.

      Thanks for reading!

    I agree. If we are visiting a country we are all tourists. Locals don’t distinguish between tourists and travellers. I think a mix of touristy attractions and more unusual or “local” experiences is the way to go, but really it’s up to everyone to just do what they want (as long as they aren’t being obnoxious or disrespectful of local culture).

      Regardless of what you call yourself, being obnoxious or disrespectful is NEVER okay. But I totally agree that locals don’t distinguish between tourists and travelers — to them we are all the same. Now, if only we could see ourselves that way!

    First off, touristy things wouldn’t be touristy if there wasn’t a reason to see them! It’s all about doing what you’re comfortable with and enjoy–there’s a way to travel for everyone, even if that way to travel is a bit more touristy!

      Exactly my opinion, Christine. The millions of people who visit the “top” spots every year can’t all be wrong, right?

    I believe that all tourists are travelers and all travelers are tourists. I don’t see a difference between the two and can’t stand it when people think that one is better than the other.

    Some of our favourite adventures have been at hugely popular tourist attractions like Machu Picchu and Petra… we don’t like crowds or tourist traps, but that’s the price we all have to pay to experience some of our world’s top attractions (supply and demand!).

      I don’t really see the need to differentiate between the two either, Cam. Like you said, I think most people are a mixture of both anyway!

    Fantastic post, Amanda. We totally agree with you – we’re all tourists in the end, no matter in which way we’re traveling, as part of an organized trip or backpacking. We certainly see ourselves as tourists and we would never even think about skipping a sight because it’s touristy.

      Thanks, Dani! I’m with you — I’d never consider skipping a site just because someone else might classify it as being “too touristy.” Sometimes, those end up being my favorite places!

    Sometimes I am tourist, sometimes – traveler, but who cares how somebody calls you?

      I think we definitely shouldn’t care! But, unfortunately, plenty of people do.

    Totally agree! I am neither a tourist nor a traveller but a little bit of both and more! I love to see and get my picture at all the tourist hot spots and yet I want to see more, to hear more to touch more. I like to experience the authentic experience but every now and again indulge in some Western home comforts – and why not?
    Great blog – I can sense your anger!

      Thanks Fiona, glad you enjoyed this post! It’s not anger so much as annoyance. I mean, we’re ALL traveling, no matter what labels are given to us. So shouldn’t we all be getting along and supporting each other?

    Such a well written post, it’s refreshing for a traveller/tourist to not care whether they are a tourist/traveller! I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of sneering at ‘tourists’, but I really am not one to judge, as my personal formula of travelling/touring is, as you say, a mix of both. I’ve eaten McDonald’s once or twice whilst abroad. I’ve also tried some amazing local cuisine (sushi for breakfast, anyone?!). I’ve booked on bus tours, and I’ve taken public transport. I’ve stayed in hostels, used Air BnB, slept in a car on a mountain and booked lovely hotels. And I’ve loved it all. So…I’m with you…who cares?! Thanks for opening the floor to such a great topic!!

      Thank YOU, Elle, for adding to the great discussion. I really try my hardest not to judge others when I travel (unless, of course, they are being really obnoxious or disrespectful) because I know everyone travels differently, and no one shouldnever be made to feel badly about their travel choices!

    Hey Amanda,

    First off all, thank you for your passion for travel. Believe me, G Adventures couldn’t agree with you more.

    For us, it’s not about calling ourselves “travelers” in order to feel superior over less-informed “tourists”. As you’ve mentioned, we’ve all been tourists on plenty of occasions. After all, hitting a resort really doesn’t allow you to absorb the local culture. It’s about hanging out in the sun and tipping a few back. The difference, however, is a state of mind. It’s about recognizing that not being a ‘stereotypical tourist’ entails an attempt to absorb the culture a bit more. That’s what’s really at the hear of the ‘You’ll Never Forget It’ campaign. It’s meant to encourage people to look beyond the sites and monuments of a place—in hopes of revealing the more enduring beauty in the lives in the cultures and people that are local to the areas.

    No doubt that our tours still include famous sites that “tourists” would visit (as your responses highlight, for good reason), and they also include unforgettable experiences that only a “traveller” would uncover.

    In the recent past, people who may have only ever seen a country from behind a resort wall (or as you said, piling out of a big bus and snapping a few shots and then piling back on) have experienced trepidation when looking beyond those limits. There is a fear of the unknown that keeps them from truly knowing a place. Our goal is to show these people that they too can experience those things that were typically reserved for only the most avid backpackers. They too can see the world through new eyes.

    We are all travellers in this life, and we all travel for different reasons. In our experience, we find that the most unforgettable experiences are never part of an itinerary, they happen if you let them. With ‘You’ll Never Forget It’, our hope is that we open that conversation. That tourists and travellers take the time to interact with local people, try a traditional restaurant, and as you said “get off the beaten path” from time to time.

    If we can get more travellers doing this, we can support more local economies, open more minds and hearts to the beauty of our differences, and generally make the world a better place.

    Thank you for your heartfelt response. If you’re interested, we would welcome a chance for a member of our Brand Team to have a one-on-one conversation with you for a deeper look at the design and goals for the campaign. If so, please call our office at 1 888 800 4100 and ask for me.


      Hey Neil, thanks so much for your response. I really appreciate it, and I hope you understand that this is in no way an attack on G Adventures or anything like that. I actually think what you guys do is great, and that your tours probably are some of the least “touristy” ones out there. I also appreciate that you focus on supporting local economies, because that’s so important in making tourism sustainable all around the world.

      However, the whole “I am not a tourist” mantra still does rub me the wrong way. I understand that you’re not rallying against tourists or anything like that. But by having dialogue about how “I do not get competitive about shuffleboard,” etc., it almost does come off with an air of superiority. I understand the message, but I guess I’m just not a fan of how it’s being presented.

      But thank you so much for weighing in on this post and adding to the conversation!

    Without tourists alot of travellers wouldn’t have jobs. I work in a ski town, up the hill, and without the tourists coming in and spending their dollar I wouldn’t have a job in a town I love.

      Very true, Mike! Without the “tourists,” a lot of people and places would suffer.

    You have it exactly right. Most people staying in a hostel, in room with10 people would take a room of there own if it’s the same price. Travel is about seeing the world however you can. If you get tired of hostels and need to stay someplace nice then go for it. On my trip around the works I used everything from a tent to a 5 star hotel. Sometimes a few days of luxury can help you recover and get you ready for more hostels and camping. It’s all about the magical moments and not trying to feel more significant or better than everyone else. Justin

      Trip around the world I mean. Stupid iPhone spell checker.

      Well it’s great that you just traveled the way you wanted to, Justin. That’s definitely the way to do it! And I agree that sometimes a day or two of luxury is just what the doctor ordered.

    I ‘ve been thinking about this a lot lately and, like you, get so annoyed when there appears to be a pretentious element to travel. I think that, despite people choosing different styles of travel, we are all tourists – whether it’s climbing the Eiffel tower or trekking solo through the Amazon Rainforest naked on a pogo stick (okay, that’s a random and slightly weird idea which I haven’t done by the way :-)) I love visiting the ‘touristy’ attractions, but always like to look out for something unique and different as well. I think there seems to be a bit of an aversion to the ‘tourist’ label. It can often be associated with unadventurous travel, following the trodden trail, blah blah. People should just do what they want, without there being any labels.

      Yes, the “tourist” label is often associated with travel devoid of any novelty. And there are definitely people who don’t want a lot of novelty when they travel. But I don’t see why we’re supposed to “look down” on them. It’s not like you can force someone to want to be more adventurous…

      Also, I had to laugh out loud at the “trekking solo through the Amazon Rainforest naked on a pogo stick.” Haha! I wonder who’s going to try it now.

    Love all the comments you have gotten regarding this post. I am glad to see that most of us feel the same way:-). We all travel differently, we all have our quarks and really, that is what makes us all unique! If we were just one or the other, how boring would that be?

    Great post, as always:-)

      Thanks, Rebecca! I’m really glad to see the great discussion that’s going on here. THIS is why I love travel blogging. 🙂

    Oh thank you for addressing this! I really don’t like labels and this one especially. Is it really necessary to separate the two and call someone names? Of course we all travel for different reasons and in different ways but we all are looking for the same things – experiences. Of course I have done all the touristy things and wouldn’t have done it any other way but I do enjoy getting “off the beaten path” to explore the city or area more. You bet I have eaten at McDonalds while traveling but I much prefer to experience local food and I do have my limits to the ‘strange’ food I will eat!

      Well said, Debbie! You’re so right that we’re all looking for experiences — no matter what they are. And, at the end of the day, I don’t see how I could judge anyone for that!

    I like your message. I consider myself a traveler and a tourist. I mean, I can’t imagine NOT going to see things like the Great Wall and the Eiffel Tower. Shouldn’t a traveler see the tourist sights, too?

      I certainly think so! I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

    I have to disagree with the extreme definitions of tourist and traveler. I tend to lean more towards traveler and admit I am a bit disappointed with those who just do more of the tourist things. It’s not that there isn’t anything wrong with McDonald’s, tour groups, or touristy places. The real problem I have is the mindset of people. That’s how I define the difference between the two. I don’t just stay in hostels or pack three pair of underwear (although I do like cheap places to stay and only carry a backpack). I tend to fall in between in the definition of the two with a strong lean towards the traveler.

    However, the key is the mindset. A traveler is one who wants to explore the world and see whatever it is he or she wants to see while understanding that people are different. It’s OK to see touristy places and take a tour bus as long as you understand it’s not about always catering to you and your tastes and making everything you do feel like it is back home. As long as people understand that, you can travel however you want. It’s those that talk too loud, talk down about other cultures, and complain about everything when it’s not like it is back home that embarrass me.

      Thanks for making these great points, Jeremy! I know those “definitions” are extreme, but I wrote them that way because I feel like sometimes that’s the way this debate turns out — with two extreme ends of a spectrum. I do agree that the mindset is key, and that those who consider themselves “travelers” are usually less demanding and critical of destinations and cultures than their less-adventurous counterparts. But there are plenty of whiny, elitist “travelers,” too!

    Great post that gets to the real point of travelling how YOU want to travel. Nobody is bor na tourist or traveller….everyone has their own interests and passions.

    My sister loves Europe for it’s museums, cafes and galleries…the most popular, ‘touristy’ things…but she will travel solo and stay in odd, unique places, take local buses…so then is she a traveller or a tourist? Neither.

    Myself, I like wildlife and nature…I’ve gone camping in remote Sri Lanka and been shot at in Cambodia, but taken group tours to the Serengeti and Galapagos. So what am I a tourist or traveller? Neither.

    Sometimes I want to eat McDonalds in another country and sometimes I want to eat fried insects. Sometimes I want to hang out with locals and sometimes I want some quiet time alone.

    So I totally agree, there are places that are popular for good reason, even if you have to become part of the crowd to see them. Travel when, where and how you want…

    As for G Adventures, they’re a solid tour company. I worked for them for almost 8 years. If you read between the lines of what Neil said, they goofed up with the way they presented this campaign. They try to be edgy and different from other tour companies, sometimes it works well…sometimes it doesn’t.

      You’ve taken a lot of the words right out of my mouth, Red! I agree that many people (most, even) don’t fit into one definition or the other. There’s a LOT of crossover, and it’s because everybody travels differently. I’m a “tourist” a lot of the time, but I also like to be able to tell stories of the locals and take photos of things that are perhaps further off the beaten path. So how would you define me? And does that definition really even matter? I don’t think so.

      I know that G Adventures is a really great tour company, and I really support what they do — I just don’t support the message they’re sending out with this new campaign. And, clearly, I’m not alone…

    My view is that anyone who travels is a “traveller”.

    Tourists are a subset of that, namely travellers that are prone to going on tours.

    Other categories of travellers are “family travellers”, “backpackers”, “business travellers”. Unfortunately the “backpackers” have claimed the word “traveller” as if all the other ones don’t exist.

    And if you bought into all the things a traveller has to be to be considered a “traveller”, well, no-one would actually be able to achieve it.

    So yeah, the whole debate is crap. 🙂

    Totally agree with you. It pisses me off that this distinction still goes on. People have no right to judge others for how they choose to travel, as long as they are respectful of the people and culture in which they are travelling. Travel should ideally break down barriers, not create new ones. And for G Adventures to stir up this old crappy debate is pure madness.

      I love that you said “Travel should ideally break down barriers, not create new ones.” I could not have said it better myself.

      And, to be fair, I don’t necessarily think that G Adventures intended to stir up this debate with their campaign. But I think perhaps they did anyway! They got me thinking about it, at least…

    Great article and subject. Most people would comsider me a traveler. I am very independent, a solo traveler, backpacker, I eat “weird” food, and the only thing better than a Hostel is tent!

    But that doesn’t mean I’m going to pass on well known attractions. If I have a chance to get a pic of myself in front of a well known attratction, hey, I’m giving my camera to the dude wearing sandals and socks to take that picture. Did I pass on Ziplining above the Monteverde Cloud Forest just because I had to ride in a bus with people wearing bright flowery shirts? Hell no. As a matter of fact I stood out among them and they struck up conversations with me.

    Just go be yourself and forget how other people travel, you’re ruining your own experience. That’s one reason we travel, To get away from all the bullshit back in the rat race.

      Thanks, Kevin! It’s good that you don’t see yourself as “above” those people in flowery shirts and socks and sandals. 🙂 Because they’re travelers, too! Just a different sort.

    Great post. I don’t care what people call me – I love ‘adventure travel’ and doing ‘touristy stuff’ too. I don’t know many people who actually fit in those categories, like so many stereotypes. Everyone’s different and everyone’s type of travel has worth.

      I completely agree — every type of travel has worth, no matter what category someone does or doesn’t fit into.

    THANK YOU!!! I’m sure I’m going to end up repeating other people’s comments, but I’m so glad you wrote this. Everyone needs to travel in a way that’s most comfortable to them. Whether that’s a guided tour for every step of the way, completely independent, or somewhere in between, it’s about seeing the world. It’s not about being a snob and putting yourself into the “cool” crowd like high school or something. And it’s very odd for a big travel company to try to convince people to take their tours by saying they shouldn’t be tourists.

      Thank YOU, Ali! It seems like everyone is in agreement on the fact that people should travel in whatever way works best for them.

      And yes, I suppose it is a bit odd that a tour company’s new slogan is “I am not a tourist”…

    Don’t you find it fascinating how a “TOUR” company claims that they are for people who aren’t “TOURists”?
    Where do you think the word is derived?

    Sandals and socks or not, I don’t think there’s anything MORE touristy than taking organized tours.

    I’d be lying to deny that I myself have been on several tours (even with the aforementioned company) – taking me to places otherwise difficult to get to (ie Antarctica or the Galapagos Islands) – but I think the ad campaign is a bit ludicrous.. trying to encourage some people to travel, and not others. Everyone should travel.

    ironically enough, here’s the Mac Dictionary Definition of Tourist (fyi G Adventures swears by using macs):
    tourist |ˈto͝orist|
    1 a person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure

    Guess they’re trying to say it won’t be pleasurable to travel with them? 😉

      I should add to, that last comment was intended to be sarcastic – of course that’s not the message, but I firmly believe the campaign is quite counter-productive.

      I am fond of the product that G Adventures offers, to the point that I offered 6 years of service with them. 🙂 I think that Tours are an excellent way for people to experience the world, especially if they are uncomfortable with doing it alone, or if it’s to a place you can’t get to by yourself.

      I just feel that it’s really a shame that they’ve decided to slam some people’s choices, or comforts, in how they choose to travel. The world is for everyone – the point of offering travel is that you should be able to appeal to everyone as well.

        I completely understood where you were coming from, Ian. And I think it’s great that you’ve used and worked with G Adventures before. Like I said, I’m all for people taking tours. But yeah, “counter-productive” seems like a good phrase to use here. I think their intentions are good, but their presentation is perhaps a bit off the mark.

      I’ve been on plenty of tours, too. There’s nothing wrong with tours. But I agree that everyone should be encouraged to travel — and encouraged to travel in whatever way they want to without any sort of judgment.

    Interesting comments. However, I can’t help but feel that the original post misses the point somewhat. As someone mentioned above, quite obviously there are stereotypes at play here. The word “tourist” here has had a negative connotation in literature and movies forever. It’s certainly not new.

    I believe that, whatever label is applied, the goal of travel is to engage with a destination through interacting with people and respectfully exploring new landscapes. The loud, stereotypical boorish tourist doesn’t do that. Doing “touristy” things doesn’t make one a tourist. Maybe a better distinction is between traveling and vacation, which is a distinction between what you are doing, not who you are.

      Very good points, Brett, and I thank you very much for posting them. There are definitely stereotypes at play here, and I agree that the “boorish tourist” stereotype is probably the one this campaign is referring to. Traveling vs. vacationing is perhaps a bit more interesting. Though you’d still have people saying one is “better” than the other, I’m sure, when, really, the fact that people are traveling at all should be the important part.

    Great blog post! I write on adventure travel and have found myself in the same position. From my perspective, it’s all about how you travel. I don’t mean backpacking / bus / bike . More that, there are many ways to get the same place.

    There is also a ‘best of both worlds’ solution whereby you can look at tourist destinations from a fresh perspective.

    (Your Great Wall of China example is a great one: You can always try Dan Dong, overlooking North Korea, rather than the obvious tourist sections.)

    If you can approach travel with an aim to better understand the world and its peoples through visiting more places, you’ll be learning and fostering a connectivity between cultures – and not just collecting images and trophies.

    Happily following your adventures, I’m on Twitter @advensportshol and @travelsportcopy

      I absolutely approach travel from a “best of both worlds” perspective. I like doing the “touristy” things sometimes, and other times I try to experience things from a slightly different perspective. Ideally, the people reading my blog should be your average travelers — meaning many of them are probably “tourists”! So I feel like there’s definitely a need to do everything at a destination, no matter what “type” of person usually does them.

    For me it comes down to attitude. Someone is a Tourist when they just want to ‘see’ and not ‘experience’ the local culture or sites. A Traveler can do the same things a tourist does, but with a deeper understanding/appreciation of it.

    Tourists are usually behind a resort wall or only eating at the big touristy restaurants. It’s a stereotype, but often a correct one. Especially Americans, who we’ve found have been the more timid travelers.

    We are a family of 4 (with a 3 & 1 yr old) that slow travel. For us that means staying in a home base for 6 months at a time. We’ve been in Belize for 1 month now and still occasionally get the ‘tourist treatment’, namely the tour and necklace hawkers wanting our business. But the longer we’re here, the more local we get.

    It doesn’t matter why someone travels. Sometimes getting away, being behind a resort wall where you don’t have to think is exactly what you need. We’ve done plenty of that when we lived in Costa Rica, just to get away from everything Costa Rican! Were we tourists then? Not really, we were just Relaxers.

      I think you make a good point in saying that it’s all about attitude. I think that does have a lot to do with it. Though, to say that a tourist never wants to experience a new culture (but only wants to “see” it) is probably not true in all cases.

    Excellent post, totally agree. The Oxford English dictionary defines a tourist as “a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure” which is exactly how I imagine a traveller would define himself or herself. There is of course, as pointed out above, very little difference between the two, only in the stereotypes created. I however, went ‘travelling’ but to the locals of China, Malawi or Peru I was, quite simply, just a tourist. Whether traveller, backpacker, flashpacker or tourist, when you’re abroad everyone is viewed the same.

      Excellent point. When you travel – regardless of which stereotype you may or may not fit into – chances are the locals are going to see you as a tourist anyway.

    Brilliant post, you captured my feelings exactly. Those who look down at “tourists” sound so elitist. There’s no reason to label people either tourist or traveler, when probably 98% of people who travel fit both descriptions to some degree.

    Love this article! I’ve never really thought about the differences of the two…and when you get right down to it those stereotyped labels only fit a narrow range of travelers. I just returned from an extended stay in Japan and I certainly did my fair share of “tourist” things…along with thousands of Japanese nationals who wanted to visit and take pride in their own cultural heritage sites. While I have plenty of “off the beaten path” stories about places I ate at and little stops that made Japan amazing for me, my trip their certainly would have been lacking had I not visited a whole host of “tourist” stops throughout the country. If you wanna know a little more about my travels there check out the “Denverite Abroad” section of my blog at Thanks!

      I think your case is a great example of actually fitting into BOTH definitions — both traveler and tourist — to really get the most out of your time abroad. I definitely think that’s the way to go!

    Great post! Down with labels! As much as I say I don’t care what others think, I found myself looking over my shoulder and feeling a bit ashamed of popping into the occasional McDonald’s while traveling this year, even if sometimes it was just for free WiFi. (And fries. I love their fries.) It shouldn’t be this way… and this post is a great start at tearing down the stereotypes of good vs. bad travelers. Go you!

      Thanks, Angie! Unfortunately, the stereotypes are so ingrained that it’s easy to fall into them and start looking over your shoulder before going into a McDonalds, or second-guessing a decision to visit a certain site because of it being labeled a “tourist trap.” I myself have often felt self-conscious being the only one taking photos in certain places — but you know what? I do it anyway. 😉

    Great post. I think the tourist and traveler debate is one of the silliest travel blogging debates out there (almost as silly as the travel blogger vs travel writer debate). After all a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, right?

      Oh, I think the travel blogger vs. travel writer debate is much sillier. I won’t go anywhere near that one! 😉

    Yup – completely agree with you. Separating people into categories may be human nature but it’s a very annoying (and sometimes even dangerous) trait.

      Definitely agree that it’s annoying, and certainly can be dangerous (I mean, just about every case of genocide in the world can be an example, albeit a very extreme one).

    I think that the point you are trying to make is a good one, you can’t group all tourists-travelers into two categories. It is more like a bell curve with the two extremes but the majority lies somewhere in the middle, or are a combination of both.

    I for one don’t fit into either of your categories. I travel by bicycle. I see more ‘real culture’ than both the backpackers and tourists but I also go and see the big tourist draws like Macchu Picchu or Chichen Itza. I know they will be over run with tourists but if I’m there I must go. It is something which cannot be missed. On the other hand the freedom of the bicycle allows me to stay over night in the dusty high mountain villages that the bus’s zoom through and are places the travelers don’t even go. These are the special places for me. When I’m the only foreigner there.

    So you backpackers can have your buses and hostels, and you tourists can have your rental cars and resorts, and I’ll stick with my bicycle for a truly unique experience.

      I like your bell curve idea, and I think you’re probably exactly right!

      Also, it’s great to hear you do your own thing when traveling. I’m sure it’s more rewarding that way.

    Great write-up. Wondering how people would define us … I would say homeless even though we apartments 🙂

      Well, as long as your travel style works for you, who cares how people define you! 😉

    It’s particularly annoying when people boast about “going local” just because they’ve eaten some exotic icky delicacy or have ridden on an overloaded truck in a third-world country. Whether we’re “tourists” or “travelers,” the reality is we are all outsiders and should at least behave with a degree of humility and respect towards the communities we are visiting. That might be a more worthwhile gauge of how well we travel rather than classifying people into stupid labels. Great post!

      I could not agree with you more, Kristine! I hate the people who brag about how they travel, suggesting than it’s “the best” way to do it. It may be the best for them, but it certainly isn’t the best for everybody!

    Oh man I love being both. There are times I just want to do the campiest crap there is known to man and other times I do feel like taking the off the beaten path choices. I really don’t think there is anything wrong with either or.

      I’m the same way, Erica. Sometimes the “campiest crap” winds up being the most fun!

    I hate labels, because no one ever fits a label completely. I do think there is a difference though between being a tourist and visiting touristy spots (the latter I am more than happy to do!). Having said that, there are some things that drive me insanely mad about travelers as well, one of them being when a traveler brags about how many countries they’ve been to or when they become jaded with traveling.

      I wonder if there’s anyone out there who actually *likes* labels. Lol. But you make some great points, Andi! I really dislike the “travelers” who brag, too.

    I couldn’t agree more. I don’t even know if I am a traveler that does touristy things or a tourist that does traveler things… I think both can be fun and I don’t see why you’d have to decide to be or do one thing or the other. Seems silly. Some touristy things are just too much fun to miss out on: climbing on a cathedral to get a great view, posing for a silly picture that you can later laugh about …

      I agree that you shouldn’t have to “pick” one or the other. As you said, that just seems silly!

    This is so dead on! It makes me angry when people who have had the opportunity to travel a lot project an elitist attitude onto others, an attitude that can discourage others from trying travel for fear of not being able to “do it right”.

      That makes me really mad, too! We can’t all travel the same way. In fact, I wouldn’t WANT everyone to travel the same way. That would be so boring!

    I agree it really doesn’t matter how you travel and people can be far to closed minded in this debate 🙂

      Luckily, most of the people who have commented on this post seem to be plenty open-minded about it, which is really encouraging!

    Tourist or traveler, I guess we’re both. We like the less busy areas when we travel, the small towns and villages but we also want to see the Eiffel tower or the Statue of Liberty up close.
    Neither is right or wrong but in the middle of high season, a less touristy area is definitely more enjoyable, for us.

      I can definitely understand that. I’m not a fan of big tourist crowds, either. Though I’ll certainly put up with them anyway to visit the “must-see” sights!

    Great post. If nothing else, people who trot out the tired old “tourist vs. traveler” argument are lacking in originality. To quote Rolf Potts:

    “The tourist/traveler distinction has largely degenerated into a cliquish sort of fashion dichotomy: Instead of seeking the challenges that mindful travel requires, we can simply point to a few stereotypical ‘tourists’, make some jokes at their expense, and consider ourselves ‘travelers’ by default.”

    – Rolf Potts, VAGABONDING,

      GREAT quote. I think “cliquish” is perfect to use in this instance.

    I was looking for the Rolf Potts quote, but couldn’t find it, so I was glad to see someone else had! Paul Theroux also has similar thoughts at the end of one of his books, which I also can’t lay my hands on right now. I perked up when I saw your title because I had this conversation only yesterday with my son. Since we live on an island which relies on tourism we can’t sniff at it. It’s the bread and butter, but, honestly, if all the tourists who came here wanted to do something “meaningful” or hike/climb/sail or whatever, then we would be over-run, so I am happy that some folk come and spend their money, but also happy they stay on the beach. Besides which, I am a bit stressed out right now, and could quite imagine a vacation where I lie on a beach and do nothing! So then I would be a tourist elsewhere! Our conversation came about because we recalled it was exactly two years since my son arrived in St Lucia having crossed the Atlantic (traveller) but once there he said he was really happy to “do the tour” (tourist). To everything there is a season including the manner in which one needs to travel.

      Fantastic points, Linda. And I do think it’s important to remember that, without the “tourists,” many places would not be able to sustain their main economic enterprises! Many places around the world rely heavily on tourism, so, like you said, you really can’t “sniff at it.”

      “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux

    […] thing you’ve done:First I really hate the traveler vs tourist debate (there’s a great post here that sums up my feelings on it). I’ve gone to Times Square in New York, the Tower of London […]

    I think a lot of travellers think they are more superior than others for all sorts of reasons – but then again those people will always find a reason to feel superior. It’s best to just live your life the way that makes you happy and which doesn’t harm anyone else.

      Agreed, Jade! And I think you’re right that those sorts of people would find a reason to feel superior, even if the tourist/traveler debate disappeared.

    Great post Amanda! you know write about this topic a lot and whole heartedly agree with you. I’m so sick of superior attitudes. There is so much I could say in the way some of G adventures choices reflect this elitist attitude lately, but what is the point.

    Who cares how people choose to travel. It’s their money, their time, let them do whatever makes them happy. And while we always encourage getting off the beaten track, we also encourage going to see these famous places on the trail. They are famous for a reason.

    And hell- MacDonalds is great for free toilets and wi-fi- where would we be without it? 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words, Caz! I definitely know how you feel about this issue, and I’m glad that so many others out there feel the same way!

    Interesting post Amanda. I agree with you that we don’t need distinctions. It’s great to just enjoy your travels in a manner that suits you best.

    I haven’t heard of that campaign but it truly sucks. I enjoy doing both, from getting excited about seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa and staying in nice hotels (part of my inter railing honeymoon) to going to remote villages in northern Sierra Leone which I did in February this year.
    I guess the campign is created by travel snobs, exactly how you described, 3 pairs of underwear. I met some if these ‘up their own arse hippy’ types when travelling in South Africa in 1999. I was asked how I was travelling to which I replied The Bas Bus and thru immediately turned their noses up at me. Tossers.
    Enjoyed the piece, I am currently blogging about past and future travel plans , my latest blog is entitled ‘How Travelling Changes You’

      I wouldn’t go so far as to call the folks at G Adventures travel snobs. I think they truly do want to convince people to travel. I just don’t think they’ve gone about it in the right way with this campaign.

    No, fair enough. People should be encouraged to travel, more thought needed with campaigns like that.

    Preach it, sistah! I wrote a similar post once about how “I’m not a backpacker and I don’t like solo travel.” Any travel you do–any travel at all–automatically expands your mind. Who gives a shit about how you do it?

      Exactly! Travel is travel, no matter what your style is, and all of it can be worthwhile, educational, and even life-changing!

    Great post Amanda, I completely agree. It shouldn’t matter which way you choose to experience the world, whether you want to discover for yourself or be shown, just feel bloody lucky you’re able to do such a thing in the first place! Life is too short and the world too big a place to be fussing over that.

      I couldn’t agree with you more, Charley! And I agree that realizing how lucky we are to be able to travel is very important!

    The traveler v. tourist debate is one worth having. But it’s not about where you go. It’s about how you behave and how you treat others. This is a prime example of the tourist at his worst:

      Wow… that example is horrible! Going on a “human safari” is not something a traveler OR tourist does — it’s something a very ignorant, reprehensible person does.

    Lots of comments on this post! I just ran across a not entirely irrelevant quote:

    “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” – G. K. Chesterton

      Interesting quote! There certainly are enough of them that cover this topic, eh?

      Rob , are you saying travellers have absolutely no expectations what to see when they decided to go to another country? are you saying tourists would not see anything more than what they plan to see. if so, it is ridiculous. cos G. K. Chesterton comments and ideas are really pretentious.

    Here’s some words in a video. I don’t know if you follow Sonia Gil at all. I like her videos while acknowledging that there’s something about them I don’t like.

    Nonetheless, in this one she has some good words in the traveler/tourist contrast. If you’re really impatient, skip forward to about the 30-second mark…

      Thanks! And yes, I do follow Sonia a bit, and totally agree with you on her videos…

    To me I dont care whether you’re a tourist or a traveller, I more care about if you travel sustainably or not. I want to see tourists/travellers consider their impact on the environment, the people around them (both host and guests) as well as how they choose to spend their money. Everyone can have the holiday they want and be the type of “tourist/traveller” they want to be and still make positive sustainable travel choices. Another factor from the social science perspective, “tourist” is the government/UN term to analyze and categorize the movement of all people, whilst traveler is the romantic notion of wandering and travelling. All of it completely subjective though 🙂

    Great post!

      I definitely agree with you on the sustainable travel point — it’s a big topic of interest for me, too, and I’m going to be doing quite a bit this year to try to focus on it a bit more.

      The tourist/traveler debate though certainly is subjective, though, as you pointed out!

    […] I really hate the traveler vs tourist debate (there’s a great post here that sums up my feelings on it). I’ve gone to Times Square in New York, the Tower of London […]

    I just had the precise traveler/tourist experience I think of when this question arises. I’m in göreme, turkey right now and walked 1.5km to the open air museum this morning. I was a little late, arriving an hour after they opened, and everything there was to see was inundated with bus loads of Japanese tourists. They would monopolize rooms (cave churches in this case), ignore the “no photo” signs and instructions, and ignored the fact that other people not in their group were trying to see. They ignored polite “excuse me” requests, but did look up when I spoke. When I raised my voice and aggressively said “MOVE!” they hopped out of the way quickly, so it’s clear they understood.

    The experience was properly summarized by an Australian guy who was there, after they left.. “annoying little bastards, aren’t they?”

    So I’d say that tourists are the mobile annoyances you time your day to annoy, and travelers are the people you chat with, and with whom you occasionally exchange contact info.

      Oh the Japanese tour group… doesn’t it suck sometimes how people live up to stereotypes?

        Indeed. The good thing is that as soon as you want to do something that can’t involve a tour bus they are not around. In fact they are never in town either. They tour from hotel to site to hotel and never see anything that isn’t prearranged. So they are mostly not in the way. Except on occasion when they are the stereotypical PITA.

    Great post. As the founder of I thought about this a lot but still think its a great brand and one we are proud to stick with even if some people would maybe get the wrong idea about our site. Living in Asia I dont think that the term has the same connotations as it does perhaps in the United States. A lot of the great tourist attractions are great for a reason.

      My philosophy is to not really care what other people think – I actually like being a “tourist” in a new city!

    Great article, I really think you have a great point. It’s a balance between being adventurous but missing out on big things either.

      Exactly! In the end, I don’t care what people think and just do/see what I want!

    For me the definition is really quite simple. Anyone who travels for any reason at all, be it to see the sites, holiday, business, family reunion or whatever is a traveller.

    A tourist is a person who goes somewhere away from home for a holiday/see the sites regardless of the style transportation or accomodation.

    A tourist is a subset of travellers.

    Really nice photos. I didn’t know that there was a distinction between a tourist and a traveler. I always assumed that they were the same thing. I suppose there is a stigma attached to the word tourist, but we’re not all like the Griswold family.

      It just depends who you ask, really, when it comes to how much of a distinction someone makes between “traveler” and “tourist.” I personally don’t care!

    Give me a break, acting like you are above the debate is just as bad as being in the debate. It is quite obvious that you are the type of tourist that goes places just so you can tell people you have been there, otherwise you wouldn’t have felt the need to catalog all these places you have been to in your article. There is nothing wrong with being a tourist or a traveler but there is a difference.

      You’re entitled to your opinion, of course. But no, I’m not the type of person to go to places just so I can brag about them…

      Wow. Someone got up on the wrong side of his bed this morning.

      @John: A little bit of browsing the site would make it clear that its dangerous author is *first* a traveler, and then someone who’s kind enough to share her experiences.

      I, for one am glad she does. I do a lot of travel myself, am occasionally a tourist and always envy her ability to document the interesting places she’s been. We have both been to some of the same places and it’s fascinating to see them through someone else’s eyes.

      Perhaps, if you actually believe that there’s a difference between a traveler and a tourist you might contribute positively to the discussion by sharing your views.

      Attacking and criticizing someone for raising the issue and expressing her opinion accomplishes nothing positive.

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m pretty sure the distinction was invented by some smug backpacker, a group I once belonged to (not the smug part).

    I’ve always found it ironic how the travellers insist that they’re seeing the “real” [insert country name here], while guzzling Budweisers and watching Die Hard, as Bob Marley plays in the background. Meanwhile, the loathsome tourists are in their hotel lobby watching a traditional dance performance.

      Well, whoever invented the distinctions, they definitely WERE invented at some point!

        Yep, and it’s a shame that people need labels and cubbyholes for things like this. Humans love to explore, and there’s a whole spectrum of ways in which people travel.

        Actually, it seems someone drew an imaginary line between suitcases and backpacks to determine which little box to put people in.

        Anyway, I still laugh at the term backpacker, because for me it means heading out into the bush in the White Mountains for a week!

    I agree with you. People screwing their noise up at being called a tourist reminds me of that book “Stuff White People Like” i.e., people thinking they have unique tastes and interests that are better than other people’s tastes and interests, when their tastes and interests aren’t very unique at all!

      People who think they’re better than other people for any reason at all bother me!

    […] listen to anyone who tells you that they know the “right” way to travel. There is no “right way.” There’s only the way that works for YOU. Whether you’re a budget backpacker or a luxury […]

    I think it all comes down to interpretation. I must admit, I tend to leave a ‘Tourist Trap’ fairly quickly after visiting one and then trying to lose myself down surrounding streets to see where takes me – and this has provided the best travel experiences for me!

      Yup, as with many things in life, it all comes down to how you interpret it for yourself. Sounds like your method works pretty well for you though!

    […] whole traveler/tourist debate is a load of elitist baloney (Amanda at A Dangerous Business has a great post on this), I would say that I’m a fan of cultural […]

    […] of all I dislike the traveler vs tourist debate (there’s a great post here that sums up my feelings on it). I’ve gone to Times Square in New York, the Tower of London […]

    Thank you…I no longer have to be in the closet about visiting Disneyland in Hong Kong… And you know what… I got Mickey’s signature too….so what!

      Hahaha, absolutely nothing wrong with that! When you’re traveling, you should do whatever it is that YOU want to do, no matter how touristy it is.

    For me the “teeming masses” of tourists in certain places, are just as colourful and exotic as the locals in others 😉 And of course I always tell the locals that I am “a tourist”! I arrive on a tourist visa for christ’s sake.

    OH, you’ve echoed MY sentiments exactly!!! I too take issue with the whole tourist vs. traveler issue! I even had some dude yell across the street at me (very negatively I might add), while I was walking in Little Italy in San Francisco with my souvenir bags and my camera around my neck – “Tourist!”. I ignored him at the time, but in hindsight I have some things to say to this rude dude! “Tourism” is a multi-million dollar industry, and San Fran is one of the most “touristy” spots in the nation! I AM a tourist and I don’t mind that at all! Not even a little embarrassed about it! He can come to my beautiful home in Kentucky and “tour” it all he wants to and I would welcome him with HIS camera and “tourist” stuff! Who says one is better than the other?? And WHY?? Like you say, who cares HOW you travel, JUST TRAVEL!!!!
    PS: Loved seeing your pics! You’ve seen so many u

      I always think it’s hilarious when people say they aren’t tourists. If you are visiting a place that you don’t live in with the purpose of seeing sights, trying new food, and meeting people, then you ARE a tourist. Period! And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Like you said, tourism is a huge industry!!

    Amanda, I agree with everything you say. Today,I completed some ” are you a traveller or a tourist?” quiz. The questions were shallow and just black or white , no grey areas. The impression these quizzes give me was if you plan your holidays in advance,if you sightsee,if you like beach and pool then you are a tourist , and if you don’t plans the things in advance you are a traveller. Every country has its own unique experience. I have been to Greenland and Svalbard . It is almost impossible to visit these places without planing. You cant do that “off the beaten track thing” in Svalbard cos you are not even allowed to leave the town without a gun which you need a licence for cos of polar bears.

    Apparently, travellers talk to local people ,i wonder how many travellers remember the names of the locals they talk to once they return to their home country.

    I am a tourist and proud of it 🙂

      I’m with you – a tourist and not ashamed of it!

    […] whole traveler/tourist debate is a load of elitist baloney (Amanda at A Dangerous Business has a great post on this), I would say that I’m a fan of cultural […]

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