In the battle of traveler vs tourist, there is no clear winner and there never can be. But this is mostly because the tourist doesn’t know she’s at war.
As the worldly and well-traveled traveler sees it, the tourist is an embarrassment to the notion of travel. The traveler sees the tourist, with her sneakers and backpack and selfie stick and giant annotated map as clear as day. The traveler thinks the tourist disrupts the experience, sticks out like a sore thumb, and adds nothing to the scene. The traveler prefers to travel discreetly, perhaps avoiding the major attractions, always avoiding the tourist-trap restaurants, and never daring to step foot in a souvenir shop. The traveler wants to blend in, so as to observe life around the world like a local. She wants to have authentic experiences, make friends with local peoples, get off the beaten path, and travel as far and as wide as she possibly can. She doesn’t brag about how full her passport is or how many places she’s been. But in her worldly experiences she has gained unparalleled maturity, wisdom, and a respect for differences. She has traveled so much that is has changed her and shaped her and travel is a part of her identity.
The tourist, on the other hand, is just happy to be there. The tourist is on her annual week of vacation and doesn’t try to hide it. She has a camera in one hand, a map in the other, makes no attempt at speaking the local language, and finds great satisfaction in dining at the local Hard Rock Café (where she will most likely purchase a mug with the city’s name and the Hard Rock logo on it). She’s excited by everything she sees, though she has little understanding of it or its significance in the greater picture of this city or country or region. She undoubtedly posts to social media every day, purchases souvenirs for herself and everyone she knows, and falls prey to at least one scam aimed at unwitting tourists. The tourist, like the traveler, loves to travel. Or she thinks she does, though the traveler would point out that pre-packaged tour group trips hardly count as travel when you don’t have to exercise any independence or responsibility for your travels.
These two, the traveler and the tourist, have much in common despite their differences. They both long to travel, though even their definition of that term differs. And their ideas of where to travel are perhaps the greatest indicator of their differences, as the tourist prefers major cities and islands with resorts, while the traveler prefers developing countries and untouched landscapes. The difference in their execution of travel is in part due to their difference in personalities, but mostly to their difference in experience level. The traveler likely started as a tourist, we all do. She didn’t know what travel meant but she was dying to do it however she could. Once she had a taste, she wanted more and she began pursuing travel with a ferocity that others devote to developing a career or building a family. For the traveler, travel is more important than those things. The traveler wants to see the whole world, have great adventures, learn by living, and experience all the different manifestations of life that exist across cultural and geographical barriers. For the traveler, travel is everything. On the other hand, the tourist has other areas of her life that are important, and travel is just a small part of her identity. She might say she wishes to travel more, but she’s unwilling to prioritize travel over her career or family or friends, and so she sticks to her one week a year of vacation.
There’s nothing wrong with either approach, and that’s what these women both need to see. Both women want and love to travel. They both do travel! And sometimes the traveler is aloof towards the tourist. And sometimes the tourist doesn’t understand the traveler. But at their core, they have the same passion. So they shouldn’t be at war, because they’re fighting for the same thing. They’re both fighting for the life-altering experience of travel, and for the thrill of seeing a new place. Because no matter how much you travel or how far you go, it’s an experience that will change you every time. So the traveler needs to be more patient with the tourist, because she’s trying to be a good traveler, she just hasn’t had enough practice yet. And the tourist needs to understand that the traveler’s motivations and priorities are different, because she has traveled so much more. Once they understand each other, we can put an end to the traveler vs tourist war. We can move forward with an appreciation for our shared ground, and instead of battling we can support each other in our travels.
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