Tourist or Traveler?

What is the difference between a tourist and a traveler?

That’s the question that DP and I have been discussing, and coming back to, for the last 24 hours.

DP captured it best when he said, “A tourist is a person who is entertained but not changed by travel.”

This debate is not about the clothes we wear, the gear we carry, or the price of the hotel room where we lay our heads at night. The relevant question is, has travel transformed you? Has experiencing the world forced you to question some of your assumptions and deeply held beliefs? Have you amended your world view, re-drafted your own personal Constitution about the way things should be?

Tell us your thoughts about the difference between tourists and travelers.


  1. That is such a good one. I have thought about this too and would have to say I am a traveler. I come away with a new outlook on life, I am more accepting and feel as though my range of thought and view has broadened.I gain an appreciation for new things, political and religious views and ways of life. I feel enriched and blessed.I also wanted to thank you for the comment on SAJ's blog, you are so sweet!

  2. ok what about you are a tourist when you go somewhere to only care about yourself (lay on the beach, eat good food, take a diving course, see the sights etc.) no matter how long you stay there. you are a traveler when you are one with the country, talk to random people, experience things you have never experienced before, when you learn from what you are doing. but. no matter what. really. if you are new to a place you are a tourist no matter what… it doesn't really come with a negative sound to it from the beginning of times 😉

  3. I think tourist has been given such a bad name, that we're forced to come up with an alternative: traveler. They both mean the same thing essentially: they are visiting somewhere far from home, without planning to live there forever. I think your post illuminates the distinction that people who consider themselves "travelers" want to make: we're not just here for the cheap beer, we're here to learn something, respectively and humbly. It's this attitude that makes the difference between yelling at the waiter for taking the wait as an opportunity to people watch. It's the difference between marching around a city looking for the next piece of entertainment and meandering in quiet plaza, looking for where the locals eat. In the end, we're all foreigners, but how we approach the situation makes all the difference.

  4. Delurking for this one. :-)I think this debate happens when holier than thou travelers look down on the white sneakers and rolling suitcase crowd. "Buncha tourists" they say, dismissing them for not having the time or the energy to travel the way some other person thinks is the "right" way to travel. You can't define someone else's travel experience. What seems touristy and shallow to you might be a really big deal to them, maybe it's their first trip out of their home town ever and to them, it seems like epic travel. This debate is about how other people see your travels and really, who cares? Plus, how do you really feel about that guy who says, "Oh, not ME, I'm not a tourist, I'm a TRAVELER," as though it's better. Traveling. Touring. Whatever.

  5. @ Anna-b-bonkersThanks for your comment. I also feel enriched and blessed to have had the oppotunity to travel. You expressed it so perfectly!@ Nomadic MattDP and I were in the Musee D'Orsay on my first visit to Paris. There weren't many people there (it was December) – just us and a large group of people, many of whom were taking photos of each painting along their path. Snap. Shuffle to next painting. Snap. I wondered if, when they got home, they would have a slide show and share these photos of Monet and van Gogh with their friends. Truthfully, I didn't get it and I still don't. I think it's time for me to ask, tactfully, about this cultural difference.@ BarcelonablogHi! I visited your blog and I really like your tips about cool things to do in the city. It's true – the whole city is swept up by Merce-mania right now!You wrote that you are a traveller "…when you learn from what you are doing" and that is exactly what I was talking about. Travel has the power to transform us if we permit it.@ ChristineYou are in the last few days of your European stay. How are you feeling?I agree that regardless of what we call ourselves (or are called by others), we are all foreigners and that how we approach our travels is what is relevant.@ PamThanks for your comment. Having read peoples' responses to this post, I find that I don't feel as tied to the terms themselves (tourist and traveller)… but I do feel passionately about the issue of how we go out into the world as visitors. It is not my intention to criticize those wearing white sneakers or travelling on organized tours or people who have never before held a passport. That is made abundantly clear in my post "To Blend or Not to Blend". I am in favour of travelling with an open heart and mind. To allow myself to be moved by what I see and what I do and by the people I meet when I travel.

  6. Just finished reading A Hat Full of Sky by T. Pratchett and thought about this conversation. Had to share a little quote. "Why do you go away? So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving."pg. 405 – april

  7. @AprilI love the idea that this quotation captures so brilliantly. It's not possible for us to stay the same… not after living in Colombia or Mexico or Spain. Although we can go home again (I believe we can), we won't be our same selves or see home with the same eyes. Still, I look forward to the time that we will want to return.

  8. i am a travelista! usually, i view someone else's life through my eyes. if i am lucky, i will come across someone with the patience to show me thier life…through thier eyes. those are the experiences i remember.

  9. @LittlestYou ARE a travelista! I laughed right out loud when I read this comment and it was 7 o'clock in the morning and that's not my best time (as you well know) but you totally made my day. I read your comment to DP and we both marveled at how clever you are and how it must run in the family!You are a travelista… not a fascista or a fashionista (although you do love a good bargain). If we are lucky, you will get your little travelista butt to Barcelona before we leave! (It's really pretty here!)

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