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Do you think there is a difference between travelers and tourists? I go back and forth on it. In general, I think we are just trying to feel better about ourselves when we label people. I think we are all just exploring the world in whatever way we feel comfortable. On the other hand, I felt pretty firmly like a “tourist” this summer when I was on a cruise and waking up at a new island every morning (and it was great!) And there have been times where I’ve felt quite deserving of the “traveler” hat, like when I’ve stayed in the homes of strangers or arrived in new countries without even the loosest of itineraries. Either way, I quite like this week’s travel quote.

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” -Paul Theroux

What do you think? Is there a difference between tourists and travelers?

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14 Comments...
  • Grace
    January 31 2012

    That quote is funny; Paul Theroux is a good writer.

    I kind of feel like there is no difference, beyond one of being pretentious.

    On the other hand, someone who travels in a guided, packaged tour, only to popular, “tourist-friendly” spots, is going to have a very different experience and perception of the country, than someone who does it independently and adventurously.

    I often think this about people who have been to China (a country I know pretty well; I lived there for a year and spent 4 months traveling in addition). It’s really annoying to hear people pontificating about “China”, who actually only took the week-long Beijing/Shanghai tour in the company of a guide. But maybe I am just being snobby: they really did go there and observe things, and who am I to say their experiences aren’t equally valid?

    I guess the real answer is that I’m not sure.
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    • Meihoukai
      January 31 2012

      I love your thoughts on this, Grace. I think its especially difficult not to judge people when it comes to places we feel close to. This is kind of tangent, but you made me think of it: When my boyfriend and I were moving to Grand Cayman and were going to be working 90% with people on cruise ships, a friend of mine gave me some great advice. He said when he moved to Hawaii with his girlfriend (to work in the tourism industry) they promised themselves they would never mock the people that were through their tourism/traveling/whatever allowing them to live and work in paradise. I tried to remind myself of that when I saw the thousandth cruise shipper choose to spend their precious on-island time at the Hard Rock Cafe.

      I’ve relaxed a lot since then. I even took my first cruise! And I think I learned something even more important: sometimes, people want exploration, adventure. Sometimes, they want a vacation.

    • Diane C
      January 31 2012

      One of my spiritual teachers talks about the difference between tourists–see the sight, buy a souvenir, don’t get hurt, bring home pictures. And Travelers: have a plan, yes to seeing things but also go off the beaten path, are experienced, difficult things become part of the story, bring home storiesAnd Pilgrims: set out to experience rather than see, no set path, embrace the difficult..maybe never come home.

      • Meihoukai
        January 31 2012

        I love this… especially the part about bringing home souvenirs/bringing home stories/never coming home.

  • Rachael Sena
    January 31 2012

    In my magazine feature/article writing class, we are learning about Paul Theroux. He is an extraordinary travel writer! I believe the label “tourist” comes with the behavior that each person displays. “Tourist” is often a negative label and people who act like tourists disrespect the area and culture they are visiting. Whereas, “traveller” represents a person who appreciates the world.

    • Meihoukai
      January 31 2012

      Interesting distinction. I think maybe the problem is that some people see it as a negative label and others don’t, so you can potentially offend someone unintentionally!

  • Gram
    January 31 2012

    seems to me you are an interested and interesting traveler. I like your style !

    • Meihoukai
      January 31 2012

      Thanks šŸ™‚ If I had to pick one of the two, I would say traveler.

  • Dad
    February 1 2012

    Meihoukai, you are a traveler….not a tourist.

    • Meihoukai
      February 1 2012

      Thanks šŸ™‚ I do think of myself that way. But I’m saying that even as a “traveler” there are still situations I’m in sometimes where I’m very much the tourist. And that’s just fine!

  • I see a difference for sure. A lot of people in the travel world turn their nose up to people who see a difference, but I don’t care. I’m not saying that if you’re a tourist you’re a bad person, just saying that there are definite distinctions between the two. šŸ™‚ I agree with your Dad btw.
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    • Meihoukai
      February 1 2012

      I think its possible to acknowledge that there is a difference without being rude or condescending towards either one! I just wonder where the line is drawn.

  • Cat
    February 1 2012

    Haha, nice quote. I do think there is a difference but don’t know how to define the difference without going to a dictionary. But, I usually think of a tourist as more of a once or twice a year short trip vacationer and a traveler as someone who is a more permanent nomad or takes more frequent trips. There’s really just too much unnecessary controversy around the words that it kinda annoys me. In my opinion, it’s great when people (especially most Americans I know) just get up and go places!
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    • Meihoukai
      February 1 2012

      Hey Cat, I agree! I applaud anyone who takes the time to go exploring the world (whether it’s across the globe or the next city over). Like I said to another commenter, I think part of the problem is that some people associate negative connotations with “tourist” and others don’t, which can lead to some friction!