We’re All Travelers Here

Warning: this post is ranty…

Last week I wrote a post about how much I love the online travel community. And I really do, but every once in awhile (actually it seems to be happening quite frequently lately) I come across a certain kind of blog post that really rubs me the wrong way.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: alex-s

These blog posts fall into the “traveler versus tourist” category, and tend to promote the idea that there is a certain type of travel that is more authentic and serious than what everyone else is doing. It’s not just bloggers who are guilty either; you can see in almost any hostel around the world.

My problem with this attitude is that it turns the act of travel, which is awesome and fun, into a pissing contest. Travel is NOT a lifestyle competition. It’s not a battle for who has the lightest backpack, or visits the most obscure places. It’s not about what you should or should not do; it’s about meeting interesting people and doing interesting things and seeing the world, because you want to.
This made up distinction between “real travelers” and the masses really annoys me. I know that there are a lot of readers of this blog who maybe haven’t traveled that much yet, haven’t backpacked solo through South America or given up their day jobs to travel full time. And that’s OKAY. You shouldn’t feel like you have to do any of those things (unless you want to). Yes, I rant and rave about the benefits of traveling in your twenties, because I think it’s an ideal time to get yourself out there. I do think travel is important. But I also don’t think there’s any one way to go about it.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Trishhhh

The thing about travel is that it can take awhile to feel comfortable out on the road. I’d much rather you do whatever works to get you out there then stay home thinking about what might have been. Feel more comfortable taking a tour? Do

it. Learn the ropes; maybe next time you’ll feel more prepared to backpack. Telling people they are somehow traveling “wrong” just shuts them down at the start.

So is there a difference between travelers and tourists? Maybe. Not really. Who cares? If you’re visiting a tourist attraction, guess what you are a tourist. If you are someone who is eager and willing to get out and see the world, then you are a traveler. You are all both (and if you’re wearing a backpack, then that makes you a backpacker too).

The thing is that all of these words are just LABELS. They don’t define us unless we let them. You can work a 9-5 job and still be a traveler. You can Contiki it and still be a traveler if your mind is in the right place. You can have never even left this country and still consider yourself a traveler.

Travel is about a desire to see the world and learn how it works. In which case the only difference I’m concerned about is the one between those who follow their passions and the ones who sit home wishing they had.

84 thoughts on “We’re All Travelers Here”

  1. I totally agree with Steph! Im south african and also a traveller/tourist/nomad.Coming from a conservative society,Ive had to endure criticism from family and friends for not “settling down” with a husband,2 kids and an office job…I dont think I can tolerate being so trapped! It might work for other 20 somethings,not for me!So here i am on my way to europe for a year leaving Jan 1st 2012..wish me luck! and pray my nomadic tendencies will ease off so my older siblings and parents “can stop worrying” about me! lol

  2. Too bad I missed this when you wrote it. I have been thinking the same thing for some time. I dislike showing of status in pretty much every situation, so I immediately noticed when people started identifying themselves as travelers instead of tourists or began making fun of people with that “certain look”– you know, with cameras around their necks, etc. One reason it bothers me is that there are people in my family who would fall into the tourist category, like my grandmother who worked incredibly hard her whole life and couldn’t afford to retire, died with nothing, and traveled with me to Poland and the Czech Republic. She had almost no experience traveling and wanted to do all kinds of touristy things, but that trip meant the world to her. Not everyone has the luxury to travel much.
    I am curious what the semantic difference is between tourist and traveler…I’m off to look them up right now. 🙂

    1. Totally, the world needs tourists too, and just being stereotypical is not necessarily a bad thing. My mom is headed to Beijing in November and I’m sure she will be just as touristy as you can get- but at least she’s going!

  3. Maria Alexandra

    BRAVO! *claps* excellent post my friend! I agree with you in every point you make. It is just like life–not everyone can be a lawyer or doctor or CEO just to be rich. You gotta find your purpose, your own way. We are all different you know. And *that’s* in fact what makes the world itself and life so amazing =)

      1. Thanks! I think a lot of people would get along much better if we just let everyone do their own thing and accepted it.

  4. Right on!

    I fluctuate between traveling in a lowdown, “gritty” way in order to get an “authentic” experience (and guess what? If you don’t speak the language, or are obviously a different ethnicity, or dress really differently — you’re not generally going to get an “authentic” experience, anyway!), and then going for comfort and ease when I need to. I was really excited to see the pyramids at Giza, okay? It was touristy, and I paid for a camel ride, and then got in my A/C van for the ride back to Cairo — but it was something I had always wanted to do. And I can’t imagine that the wonder of seeing something that f*****g AWESOME is any better if I had hitchhiked my way there and refused to take a ton of photos.

    As long as you travel with respect for the culture, and a willingness to roll with the punches and engage the locals, hell, travel however you please!

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