“We are not tourists, we are travelers… I hate seeing tourists moving as a pact with their umbrellas on a sunny day… hostels are dirty and scary… I hate standing beside a smelly backpacker.” These are just some comments I heard from my past trips. Obviously, some are coming from those people who are labeling themselves as ‘travelers’ while other are from the people labeled by the travelers as ‘tourists’.
I don’t know what’s the deal with these labels but where I am seating at, its seems that a lot of people want to be tagged as a traveler as this sounds more serious…while being a tourist seems to be like a joke…Well, I definitely want to be called as a traveler.
Reading blogs a lot are saying that the best way to travel is staying away from tourist spots and getting lost. From this statement alone, it is clear already that the term ‘tourist’ is something not to take seriously. As someone who loves traveling, I was never conscious of such branding until during one of my backpacking trip in Copenhagen. I was in a walking tour with 2 new friends I met from our hostel and when I was taking some photos of the ‘Little Mermaid’ I heard them talking to one another saying—“oh he is a tourist”, when apparently this person (while we were not looking—but obviously I was), took a selfie of himself with the little mermaid. Hearing that, I kinda felt offended and told myself that I am not a tourist, I AM A TRAVELER—then I realized that I became part of this Traveler vs Tourist debate.
I kept thinking about this and thought of creating a comparison based on the basic things that we all do when we travel.
A traveler packs very light (just a backpack) while a tourist packs heavy (sometimes a full luggage with hand carry).
This is one of my problems. I always tell myself, I will pack light and just bring the basic 3 shirts, 2 pants kind of wardrobe but whenever I finished packing, I always feel that I overpacked—but if I take out one shirt, I felt that after a few days I don’t have anything to wear. By the end of every trip, I used only 30% of what I brought and still ended up buying new clothes which I wore for the rest of the trip — so am I a traveler or a tourist?
TOURS AND ITINERARIES
A traveler doesn’t go to famous landmarks but explores the hidden gems of the city while a tourist goes to every landmarks, museums and tick a list of sites visited (most of the time on a travel agency tours).
One of my best experiences during traveling is discovering hidden gems faraway from the crowd. I remember walking around Venice and trying to get out of the crowded path (which is not hard to do—they have terrible maps) and found myself in the beautiful and peaceful side of the city with open canals, doves along the pavement without anyone bothering them and at times, a gondola passing by.
On a recent trip in Norway as well, climbing the Lyderhorn Mountain in Bergen was one of the highlights of my trip. Amongst the 7 mountains of Bergen, 90% of the hikers are locals, while most tourists go to the usual Mount Ulriken and Mount Floyen.
Having said this, As a first time traveler in Venice, as much as I want to explore the unexplored parts of the city, I still made sure to walk around San Marco Square, ride a gondola and cross the Rialto Bridge. I think I will never forgive myself If I didn’t climb the Eiffel Tower even though I spent hours in line, same with riding a big bus tour around Barcelona….so am I a traveler or a tourist?
A traveler hates cellphone selfies but using a go pro (to take a selfie) is epic..and also taking shot of one’s feet on the sand is apparently acceptable while a tourist aims for cliche shots like pushing the tower of pisa or pinching the top of a pyramid shot (aside for the very obvious selfie in every corner).
I love photographs! I am not a professional photographer but a lot of people (I have really good friends) are telling me that my photographs are good and I have an eye for good snaps. Whenever I move, I always have my camera with me (well not a DSLR but a compact one—maybe the reason for this is because I don’t want to be obvious and be labeled as a tourist haha). If I find something interesting , 80% of the time I will take a photograph. This is mostly because, aside from keeping the memories, I run a travel blog and it can be a candidate for a feature story in the future…just to clarify this!
On a trip in Germany, my German friend commented, “oh Kenneth, you are a typical Asian tourist”…he was pertaining (to the fact) that I took a lot of photos. I hated that comment (the ‘traveler’ in me wanted to walkout). At one point, I realized that he might be right. From my perspective, I am an artistic photographer compared to the typical tourists who take selfies all the time (which I also judge). However for some people, holding my camera and taking snaps of a mountain, a sunset, an open field and a landmark is a bit too much…Then again, do I still take time to lower down my lens and enjoy the view with my naked eye and enjoy the moment—–YES YES and YES!!! …so am I a traveler or a tourist?
A Traveler loves to try local food while a tourist demands for a more familiar set of menu.
As you can see from my previous blogs, almost 50% of my posts are about food. I love food. One of my favorite travel itineraries is to try local and native food aside from bugs (which I tried in Bangkok). I remember getting a simple Italian breakfast in Florence when a fellow on the other table was asking the waiter for an American Breakfast (I immediately judged him as a traveler). Having said this, in Barcelona and in Stockholm, my very first meal was a McDonald’s cheese burger and in Sri Lanka (although I love Sri Lankan food) I was excited to see a steak and pasta as part of the buffet….so am I a traveler or a tourist?
A traveler is better off living in a shared hostel dorm to extend his budget for a longer stay while a tourist prefers spending on a luxury hotel for a shorter stay.
While a lot of my friends in Dubai will never stay in a hostel, I am in love with everything about hostels. The vibe, the people, the experience. I think the best way to meet people and to learn things while you travel is by staying in hostel lounge. The cheap price comes with a bit of a sacrifice though. I remember sharing a 10 bed dorm in Copenhagen with all our stuff on the floor. There’s no argument that our room was indeed not clean, but we don’t care (haha!). At around 2 am while you are sound asleep you will hear people coming in and out of your room (surely if you are looking for comfort, this is not a place for you).
On the other hand, In Phuket, I stayed in a villa suite. Alone! It was one of the most luxurious rooms that I have ever stayed while traveling. It even includes my very own outdoor Jacuzzi and a room service with personal massage therapist—talk about luxury. With all the luxuries and comfort, I missed out meeting other travelers and trying street food as part of my trip, so I told myself, the next time I will go back to Thailand, I will book a hostel ….so am I a traveler or a tourist?
Saying all of these, It is clear that labeling yourself is a total bollocks. For sure deep inside us we are a little bit of both. We travel to experience and collect memories. Taking both paths we are still doing all of these. With an offended heart after that trip in Copenhagen, I mentioned this to my Norwegian friends who both backpacked around the globe for 5 months. They laughed at this analogy and said, “these labels are senseless. As long as you enjoyed your trip you should not care of what other people are saying”. OH YEAH! My point exactly. So whether you feel like you are a traveler or a tourist, the most important thing is you should make the most out of every trip. How to achieve that? Only you can answer that! Travel on! ^^1