What’s the Diff: Tourist vs Traveler????????????

Dictionary definitions are almost the same but in reality there is a huge difference between a tourist and a traveler: their mindset; their goal and purpose for the trip.

A tourist is someone who is interested in seeing a place. A traveler is someone who wants to understand a place.

A tourist visits all the “places to see” and checks them off a list, “Yup, saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. It is soooooooooooooooo small!”A traveler visits fewer places but spends more time. At the Louvre, for example, instead of running to see the Mona Lisa, the traveler takes one of the themed tours offered that fits an interest, coming away from the museum with a deeper appreciation of the effort of the organization to collect and share these works of art.

A tourist is someone who walks into a travel agent and is impressed that by signing up for a week-long tour of Europe, he will be able to visit 5 countries! He spends a lot of time in a bus, sees the interiors of a lot of churches and it truly becomes a boring blur, but never admitted.

A traveler who has a week visits one or at most two cities in order to better explore and understand the history and experience life there.


A tourist spends about $50 buying one or two current guidebooks and reads through them, marking things to do. He prides himself on being able to “self-tour.” When he gets to where he is going, he reads the 3 or 4 sentences about that place and considers that enough information.

The traveler reads the guidebooks to determine which few places he can explore in depth and then searches for a local guide who can provide a lot more knowledge about the place being visited, spending several hours exploring that one section of the city. The traveler comes with curiosity and asks lots of questions.

A tourist buys some local bakery items. A traveler takes a cooking class to learn how to make a local specialty. 

The tourist purchases items from the shops near the places on the list and doesn’t care that the item purchased is not from the place visited. All that matters is that the name of the city is stamped on the item for people at home to see.

The traveler searches out the local market that the residents of that city frequent and purchases a small item that appeals to his interest. Or, if he collects mugs, he finds a potter’s studio and purchases an original piece.

And finally, the tourist eats dinner at a restaurant mentioned in the guidebook. He then orders something recognizable; something he eats at home.

The traveler asks his guide for recommendations where the locals eat. He chooses a menu item that is a local specialty, even if he has never eaten it before.

It’s a whole different experience. Which way do YOU travel?

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9 Responses to What’s the Diff: Tourist vs Traveler????????????

  1. Dubrovniklady says:

    Great post! Wonder why so many tourists believe they are travelers.

  2. Because they have chosen to travel…..There are many many more tourists than travelers and you know what, they still gain something from the experience. There is no ONE right way to travel. The point of this post was not to scold people but to help educate that there is more than one way to go see and do….and perhaps people who never slowed down to really experience an area will give that a try sometime, especially if they are the kind of person who says they never had a vacation they enjoyed.

  3. finola says:

    On my journey I’ve met plenty of people who call themselves travellers but are whizzing around ticking things off… just like a tourist… But! – really, part of me thinks does it actually matter?! Are we not all a bit touristy? – Is calling oneself a traveller not just a little pretentious? Surely, if we’re all expanding our horizons, however different the variations, that’s at least something?

  4. Finola, you are right, of course…and actually we will always stand out no matter how “in depth” we try to make a short visit. MY pet peeve is how some people say they can “do” a city in a few hours and also seeing how photos of a place you know are captioned only by the city name, not by what the thing that was photographed IS…makes me wonder if the tourist understood what they were seeing.

  5. Gunta says:

    I’ll have to think about this one a bit….. 😉

  6. I started off as a tourist but over the years became a traveller. It just took me a while to realize the difference and what it was I really wanted to get out of my trip! I’m at the point now in my evolution as a citizen of the world that I can keep going back to places I’ve visited multiple times, visit a different part of it, and not go anywhere near any of the ‘sights’. The sights can open the door to a place but it’s up to the individual to push the door wide open and go past them to the really good stuff.

    A very thought provoking post that gives us all the opportunity to reflect on our own traveling ‘style’

  7. And there are more than just that. My daughter and son-in-law just returned from 2.5 years in New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia. The way they traveled was another level of immersion.

  8. And there are more levels also. MY daughter and son-in-law immersion in New Zealand and Australia gave them insights only because they were in places over one month.

  9. Yes, the ‘temporary local’ style of extended traveling is a whole other level

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