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.

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.

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.

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84 thoughts on “We’re All Travelers Here”

  1. Love this post! I’m really disgusted by the strange snobbery that’s come into play as some “travelers” act elitest because they “never go anyplace listed in the guidebook” and refuse to take touristy photos. They just sound like jerks to me, like first they were jerks at home and now they’re jerks abroad. It seems like they’re trying their best to prove they’re superior to everyone, maybe because travel is their “thing” and if they see others doing it successfully, then they feel not as special anymore, thus they like to make a distinction between travelers and tourists so they can resume the superiority their egos require.

    1. p.s. My rant is not a reply to anyone in this comment thread. It’s just an outburst due to someone I met in real life who very condescendingly tried to explain to me that I was only a tourist since I love taking cheesy shots of world-famous places.

  2. I definitely agree that some travelers can be overly arrogant about their travel superiority. I have run into my fair share of douchebags who think because they roughed it on a bench in Prague that they are better than well, everyone. This is, of course, ridiculous and I don’t like feeling like I have to compete with people when swapping travel stories.

    However, I have to admit that I DO distinguish tourists from travelers in certain respects. The biggest issue for me is that tourists do not wish to experience the culture of the locals. I find it a little annoying when tourists stay in fancy hotels, eat at touristy restaurants that don’t serve local cuisine, and only go on guided tours. There is no shame in doing “touristy” things but there is shame is shunning the local culture.

    1. This is true, but as long at those tourists aren’t being offensive or harmful, then I think it’s really their choice how they spend their travel money, even if it means missing out on what actually makes travel great.

  3. Thats a great piece there man…
    I could very well relate to it because I’ve travelled with snobs like this who think they are doing something more than what the others are doing….
    I hate that contempt which they reserve for the tourists…

    afterall, these are all labels as you said :D…
    cheers from India!

  4. Hey Steph-
    Great post. When I am traveling and perhaps observe what some would call the ‘ugly American’ tourist…even if they are doing something slightly annoying or ‘not the way i would do it’, I always still try to give them the benefit of the doubt and say, ‘hey they are still here, they are still out in the world traveling and not at home on their couch watching ‘Jersey Shore’ and for that i have to give them props. They still made the decision to travel no matter HOW they are doing it.

    Keep up the good writing!

  5. I love this post! I didn’t start travelling abroad until I was 24 (totally regret not starting sooner!) and have travelled in groups, with friends, with parents and solo. And while my friends view me as someone who is very well-travelled, there are times when I am talking to others on the road or reading blogs and I somehow feel inferior.

    I actually just did a blog post on group travel and why to try it because I feel like so many people seem to “look down” on taking group tours. My first trip abroad was also a Contiki tour – 7 countries in 23 days. As someone above noted, I probably wouldn’t do it again, but it gave me a taste of what was out there and what I wanted to see again and it gave me the confidence to eventually go it alone. I also made some wonderful friends on my Contiki and other group trips.

    1. Thanks Katie! I think group tours can serve a lot of good purposes, and definitely anything that encourages people to travel more is a-ok in my book!

  6. Great post!! I also think the advantage of traveling in different ways (‘tourist’ ‘backpacker’ ‘expat’ whatever) is that you get to learn different things about a country/city. I’ve lived in 4 different countries (visited loads more) but I love living in a community, learning how the locals do things (get a bank account, find the best place or breakfast) – it just suits ME. That’s the beauty of travel, you can make it what YOU want (or need) it to be :*)

    1. Exactly, travel is such a versatile past time that it’s easy to make it suit your interests and styles

  7. Hey Steph – I just found this post (and your blog)! I think you hit the nail on the head with showing that travel is a state of mind. It’s the sense of adventure that sets travelers on the road. You don’t need to go anywhere to be adventurous, either. If you can’t afford to go further then you’re nearest lake or big city, just getting out there to experience whatever you can experience, is enough. Awesome post.

  8. Totally agree with u. If you feel like traveling do it, if u feel like doing somehting else then do it, you are your own boss, knowing the world, no matter how, as a traveler or as a tourist, is just amazing.

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