Tourist or Traveler?

Posted: 6 March 2011 in Travel.
Tags: , ,

In this article for WorldHum (, Eric Weiner chides those who look down on “tourists” and “tourism,” deeming themselves (“travelers”) as superior.

As one of those who considers herself a “traveler” and once offered travel services designed specifically to “transform tourists into travelers,” I’d like to weigh in on the topic.

First, there is nothing in Weiner’s article I disagree with.  It is true that communities, cities, entire regions of the world depend upon tourist dollars for survival, and no one wants to take those dollars away from them.

It is also true that on a first trip to Paris it would be a travesty not to see the Eiffel Tower, nor would you want to skip the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Colosseum in Rome, the Taj Mahal in India, the luau in Maui, etc., etc.

What I advocate for, however, is some level of cultural immersion.   In addition to the checklist of major tourist sites and museums, experience the culture by eating at restaurants frequented by locals, by exploring local markets, by spending a Saturday night at a popular music club, by taking a class at a cooking school or attending an art exhibit at a gallery.  Learn a few words of the language and engage the people who live there in order to gain a perspective on their lives, discovering both your differences and your commonalities.

The typical perception, I think, is that travelers are curious and want to blend in, whereas tourists are less sensitive to cultural differences and do not always take care to understand some of the customs of the destination.  Torn jeans and sneakers or chino shorts paired with a Hawaiian shirt and knee socks is not appropriate attire for, say, Milan.  The cliche of the Ugly American Tourist has been subsiding, but it has existed for a reason.

(For more on the Ugly American Tourist:

As with everything, the key is balance.  See those monuments, attend those cultural shows, but also try to go deeper and really soak the place in.

In the end, it’s semantics.  Tourist, as Weiner affirms, is absolutely not a dirty word, but its connotation can be.  The good news is, we can change that.

  1. TheBlackTwig says:

    I agree. Although “touristy” spots are highly recommended, it is also a must to trek the paths of the locals. 🙂 Nice post!

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