Traveler vs Tourist: What is the Difference (and Why I’m Happy to be Both)

Traveler vs Tourist: What is the Difference (and Why I’m Happy to be Both) []

A couple of weeks ago in my Spanish class we were asked whether we thought we were travelers or tourists. Of the five students, I was the only one who even toyed with the notion of being a tourist. I wasn’t really surprised that everyone called themselves a traveler (it seems to be the popular term du jour), but what surprised me was the attitude towards tourists, that it was something to be embarrassed about and avoided at all costs.

This caused me pause.

Since then, I’ve thought a lot about this debate and divide, and have asked some of my most travel-happy friends what their thoughts were. They were all over the map. No one could agree on what a traveler or a tourist was, or whether there was even a difference.

With my focus group out of answers I decided to dive into the topic deeper and see what the rest of the world had to say.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a traveler as “someone who is traveling or who travels often” and “a person who moves around from place to place instead of living in one place for a long time.” A tourist is “a person who travels for pleasure” and “a member of a sports team that is playing a series of official games in a foreign country.”

Well, I think it’s safe to say that the last definition will be completely ignored for this post, and that there really is no difference between the two terms. Both describe someone who is out exploring the world—although, I think it’s interesting that for tourists its explicit that they are traveling for pleasure, as if travelers are touring around because they’re forced into it—oh to be so lucky that you’re forced to travel!

Clearly, going the academic route was not going to help me get to the bottom of this. So, like any good millennial, I turned to the interweb to find out what is a traveler and a tourist.

And it was more of the same.

There really seems to be no consensus – one listicle I read classified tourists as people who use selfie sticks, travel in groups, only walk in a straight line (at least this is what I was able to deduce based on the single sign used), and pack all their electronics with them. Obviously this was just one opinion, and as with most opinion articles on the interweb the comments were gold! People were refuting the claims left, right and centre, but only in terms of traveler—no one was saying, “hey, I’m a tourist and I sleep in a tent and I walk around corners!”

Another article classified travelers as liking cheap local clothing, and disliking tourist attractions and buildings of note, whereas tourists like museums and dislike unheard of food and smelly backpacks. Well, if these were the definitions than I am smack dab nowhere on that list.

It seems that most of the pieces I read relied on antiquated stereotypes to discern between the two groups:

Tourists are people who travel to a new place and then complain it’s not like home. They travel from city to city in a bubble never really experiencing the place they are visiting.

On the other hand, travelers were portrayed as individuals who avoid hotels at all cost, live like locals, and experience beyond the norm.

I think we can all agree that stereotypes are often far from reality. Yes they do exist, but it’s not everyone and definitely not the majority.

So, can we just call a spade a spade? Both travelers and tourists are out there for the same reason—to see and experience new things and enjoy the world around them. Just because they may have different styles and timeframes doesn’t make one superior to the other or all that different from the other.


As with most things, I don’t fall into one category or another, I seem to straddle the line between traveler and tourist, and it’s in this place where I am happiest. I love traveling to new places, trying new foods and exploring new cities. I pack minimally, take public transit and try to avoid using my selfie stick as much as possible, which I guess would put me in the traveler category based on some of the definitions I read.

But, I also love seeing a city’s iconic sites and love doing those oh-so-dorky tourist activities from time to time. I would be remise to visit Brussels and not see Mannekin Pis, or travel to Marrakech and not visit Jardin Marjorelle. Yes, I found both of these iconic site to be a bit underwelming, but had I not seen for myself I might have never known and might have always regretted not going.

And, yes, as faux-pas and anti-traveler as it may be, I sometimes like taking cheesy photos with my selfie stick. I like to look back on them and laugh, and remember fondly that moment in time and travel.

In conclusion, I don’t think there’s a difference and I definitely don’t think that being a traveler is superior to being a tourist, or vice versa. It’s all semantics. What you call yourself doesn’t matter as long as you are enjoying your trip and your journey—no matter how big or small, or what path you’re taking.

Now it’s your turn:

What do you think? Is there a difference between traveler and tourist? If so, which category do you fall in?

Traveler vs Tourist: What is the Difference (and Why I’m Happy to be Both) []


Please Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. All thoughts, feelings and opinions shared on this blog and in this post are my own.


9 thoughts on “Traveler vs Tourist: What is the Difference (and Why I’m Happy to be Both)

  1. LisaLDN says:

    I definitely consider myself both! When traveling to a new place, I’m always going to want to see the main sights and pose for photos – no matter how mainstream or ‘touristy’ that makes me! I also love discovering places, streets and sights off the beaten path – which is usually reserved for travelers.

    Being both is not bad, and we need to stop the ‘tourist-shaming’ in society – haha 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lynne says:

    I like that you said both as I think that many of us are. We can be tourists and go to the touristy places (I mean – they are popular for a reason) yet we can also want to explore more, travel deeper and connect more with the locals and be travelers. Nice post!


  3. Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine says:

    Oh I love this post. You’re so right, everybody seems to be against being called a tourist. Almost like it’s a dirty word and not “real” travel. I think that’s a little bit nutty. Just because I go on a tour that isn’t the most secretive-off-the-beaten-path tour in the world, does that make me a bad “traveler?” I think not!

    I’d really like to talk to somebody who is adamantly against being a “tourist” to see what their definition is!


I love hearing from you. Share your thoughts, feelings and reactions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s