What sets apart Travelers from Tourists ?

What sets apart Travelers from Tourists ?

Tourist and Traveler. Both these words have the same meaning but practically they differ in many ways. To be frank all tourists are travelers from a literary point of view but not all travelers are tourists. There are many major differences between a tourist and a traveler.


I have also noticed people associate the word traveler to someone who is always on the road doing odd jobs to support their trip. Being a solo traveler who takes short trips, I can tell that the word Traveler is a much broader term than that. A traveler can even be a businessman who goes to a foreign location for a meeting but takes time out after the meeting to explore the place. But the same person can become a tourist if he goes for a family vacation but decides to check his work emails occasionally.

The duration of the trip does not matter, it is the mindset you travel with.


So what exactly keeps a traveler apart from tourists.

A traveler plans trips but does not plan each and every bit of it. A traveler is always in search of an element of surprise. A traveler might know where he is going but never knows what he is going to experience. While a tourist has a scheduled itinerary for each and every thing he needs to do and expects to be chauffeured around by a travel agent. Simply put, tourists squander, travelers wander.

Tourists tend to get Homesick, while a traveler just loves waking up in different locations.

Tourists find it hard to adjust to a new cuisine and culture and tend to go back searching for the familiar McDonalds and KFCs while you see travelers huddled around a street food stall.

It is quite funny how a person’s social media gives away whether he is a tourist or a traveler. If you have more filtered selfies posted than landscapes then you, my friend, are a tourist. Why would anyone spoil a good landscape shot by placing themselves in the frame. That is one reason why I follow many travel bloggers so that my Instagram feed is updated with photos of places than faces.

A traveler tends to remember the airport codes of the places they visit. Strange but true. I remember all the airport codes I have flown from. A tourist barely remembers the name of the airport; airport codes are a long shot for them.

A traveler’s passport is the most important document for him. The more crumpled and dirty it gets, the more it makes a traveler happier.

A traveler does not go on rampage, checking off places on their bucket list. If a traveler loves a particular place, he will take it slow. He will be ready to spend more time there even if he has to miss out on other places.

A traveler loves traveling so much that he makes it a part time or full time job.

A traveler switches between the tourist trail and the off-beaten path to get a taste of both while a tourist sticks to the tourist trail.

Tourists go by the guide books and clicking the requisite photos while a traveler searches for the real beauty and mystery of a place and are the ones who often write the book.

So to summarize the whole thing, a traveler is someone who travels to experience a place and a tourist is someone who travels for pleasure. But there is no wrong side to traveling. Being a traveler and a tourist is basically based on personal preferences and mindset.


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111 thoughts on “What sets apart Travelers from Tourists ?

  1. WOW this is spot on. I love how you wrote this, the style and voice are intriguing! defs bookmarking this and using it for the future! thank you for sharing!

  2. Very interesting take on this very much debated topic. I agree in most of your points. as you said as well, each person can be a traveler, at other times, a tourist. I find travelers that go off the beaten path at times, then also doing some touristy things. So if i’m asked the question, are you a traveler or a tourist? I’d sometimes im a traveler, sometimes im a tourist. This is just a topic that is difficult to explain really. But thank you for your insight.

    1. I know it can get be difficult and leads to an identity crisis at times. Even I felt so but when you have a traveler’s mindset you know how to make even a short trip worth it.

  3. Hi Gokul,

    A tourist is like “I wanna check this place out.” A traveler is like “I want to live here for a few weeks, months or years.” No right or wrong way to do it as we have different tastes but tourists are more about seeing places while travelers are more about BEING places. You know what I am 😉

    Thanks for sharing 🙂


  4. True, there’s a little bit of a tourist and a traveller in all of us. I would go further to say that traveling is a reflection of our personality, and accordingly, we all seek out different things.

  5. Interesting perspective – not sure I agree with all of it, because I think that tourists can often be looked down upon as somewhat inferior t what people might consider travellers. There is quite a bit of snobbery. I don’t think the terminology matters so much – it’s what is in your heart that matters – getting out and seeing the world is a privilege no matter how and why you do it!

  6. This is a very interesting topic to delve deeper. I guess traveler cares about and wants to understand the place deeper, and to have a connection with the place.

  7. I think the travel bug starts the moment you venture outside your comfort zone. For me the biggest thing that stands between a traveler and a tourist is experience.

  8. Great article! Travellers and tourists are indeed very different categories but there are also so many different types of travellers, I think the longer and the more you have been travelling, the more you know which type of traveller you really are 🙂

  9. Thanks for sharing your insights! Always interesting to hear people’s thoughts on this topic–lots of good points! I always say, as long as someone is out traveling and having a great time, that is all that really matters 🙂

  10. I KNOW I’m a traveller, but it’s nice to have the reasons spelled out!! Before I read your post, I would have defined a traveller as someone who wants to explore, get off the beaten track, and experience rather than just drive past! But that’s not so different, is it?!?!

  11. I think that every traveler at some point is a tourist, unless he is able to avoid visiting places like the Louvre when in Paris! There is nothing wrong in visiting touristy places as long as you enjoy the experience. I think it is an individual preference at what one likes to enjoy and how he or she wants to experience places.

  12. hmm … this traveler vs tourist debate 🙂 I think that the line is actually very vague, almost transparent, especially nowadays when all of us can be a cliche traveler one day, and a cliche tourist the other 😉

  13. This article certainly got me thinking, though I think it is a bit harsh on tourists. My hope is that everyone who travels gets an understanding, however slight, of the country and people that they are visiting. Any sort of prejudice is to be avoided, so let’s not be too harsh on tourists 😉

    1. 😀 I know but it is just my opinion. The line between them is thin but there are differences and also there is no right or wrong the way to travel. It is based on what type of travel suits you.

  14. Thanks for your insight about the differences of a traveler or a tourist. As long as the people enjoy their journey and get something out of it, I don’t mind 🙂 @ knycx.journeying

  15. It seems to me like just another article that somehow tries to suggest “travellers” are somehow better than the lowly “tourist”. In my opinion this attitude is elitist nonsense.
    You talk about tourists going by the guidebook but almost every $5 a day backpacking “traveller” seems to have at least one guidebook in their possession.
    The definition is simple, if you leave your home to see somewhere new, regardless your attitude, budget or goals, you are a traveller.

    1. The way a traveler travels is a lot different from the way a tourist travels. And all these differences are valid as they have been taken out from my own personal conversations with tourists. Anyway this post only points out the difference rather than degrade tourists. If someone doesn’t want to experience a place and just wants to take photos from the pool side, it is all upto them and there is nothing wrong in that. And the way you defined traveling is what I mentioned in my first line. From a literary point of view, if leave home to some other place, then you are a traveler.

  16. This has given me inspiration for another post! I think I qualify better as a tourist than a traveler. (which is not a bad thing; see lots of negative connotations with that term these days)

  17. This is such a ridiculous argument and one I am frankly over. People that call themselves travelers think they are better than “tourists”.

    I am a travel writer. I want an itinerary and my time scheduled. I have a certain amount of time to see and do the things I need for the article(s) I plan to write. And even if I wasn’t a professional travel writer, researching and having my time planned is how I enjoy traveling. It most certainly does not mean I expect to be chauffeured around by a travel agent or guide. In fact, I would never, ever even use a travel agent and I like exploring on my own without a guide.

    Honestly, who gives a shit how you travel? If you like it, go out and explore and it couldn’t matter less if you do it by sticking to a guidebook and having an itinerary or if you wander aimlessly around and “stumble upon” something.

    All that really matters is that people do travel outside of their own culture, but being exposed to other cultures and places is what breaks down the hate and the prejudice.

    Perhaps people that love to have this traveler vs. tourist argument should focus their energy on that, rather than explaining why you think you travel better than others.

    1. Whoa…someone seems to be really pissed off here…:D


      I decided to write this post after a conversation I had with an ‘avid traveler’ few months back who said his favorite place in the world was Paris and then went on to tell me that Italy is the capital of France. People like that don’t really give a dang about the places they are visiting or exposing themselves to cultures like you said. They just travel to show off on social media. Maybe that should not bother me but I would like my readers to know that there is always a better way of traveling. Maybe you never had any such conversations but what I wrote are the differences I found from my own experience. I have real life examples for each and every point I have made but have not included them in the post to keep it light. I have been to Thailand recently and I have seen obnoxious tourists making fun of the local culture and creating nuisance inside the pubs. It pisses me off to see people like that tag themselves as travelers.

      I have met people from different countries who travel overseas and never try the local food, who stay at a resort and never explore beyond that, who take horrendous selfies and never share the beauty of the place they visit, people popping up on my social media who are visiting 6 countries in 6 days like it is some achievement. The list goes on and I categorize people into travelers and tourists based on this.

      Also I am from India where people love traveling in packs & with tour packages and consider solo traveling to be weird. So it must not be surprising to see this post coming from me. 🙂

  18. interesting ideas! but sometimes I don’t mind being a tourist if it means being able to do a fun activity I wouldn’t be able to do elsewhere! sometimes I meet people who don’t want to be associated with the word ‘tourist’ so all they do in these amazing new countries is wander around trying to “find themselves” and that sometimes means they miss out!

    1. I am sure about that. I still don’t understand the ‘find themselves’ theory. Even I do visit touristy but make sure I visit atleast one offbeaten place in the country.

  19. This debate has always amused me for frankly, it is just what suits one’s interest. Maybe the so called tourists are not so deep into things but the wanderlust does get them away from home. As is the case with travelers. To me, each to their own and it really does not matter if you are a tourist or a traveler for it is just “wanderlust” that works for both. Just that the degree of it differs

  20. I do tend to agree, but I do think there is a bit of generalisation. I think we can be travellers and still visit tourists spots and well as venturing into the unknown. Travellers also can and do get homesick, we are often away for such longer periods of time and that has its challenges even when our heart desires new places there is always a calling for home. I think the truth is that you can be many things when you travel, most of us are a mixture, even from day to day, there is nothing wrong with that either! Travel as you enjoy!

    1. My categorization of tourists is different from what you think. It doesn’t mean a traveler always has to visit offbeaten places. I felt travelers don’t really need a home. They are happy where they are.

  21. You make some interesting points that I’m not sure I agree with. However, based on your generalizations, I’d say I’m both a traveler and a tourist. I travel lots for pleasure and enjoy spots that are considered “touristy”, but I also love to get off the beaten path and explore without a schedule or itinerary.

    I also live in a very touristy area. Tourism brings lots of money into our small community, and I love meeting and chatting with tourists when I can’t travel myself.

    1. That is great but I still do not know if you got the way I categorize tourists and travelers. Maybe I should have put down the real life experiences I had with tourists. 😀

  22. I know I’m a tourist in many cases, but I definitely associate more as a traveler. I travel to learn more about cultures and meet people from around the world, and to try new foods – it’s sort of a learning adventure. I feel like tourists just go somewhere to be entertained and waited on for their own relaxation.

    1. I didn’t have to research for this. I have met many people who tag themselves as travelers but posses none of the traits of a traveler.

  23. I love being a traveller, though sometimes its nice being a tourist. It can get exhausting working out what to do when you get to a place and planning where you are going next. I would love to travel slower but there is always so much to see in places that it never seems to happen too often!! I think only when I have spent months in a place before I can truly chill and spend time really exploring and finding new places.

  24. I must confess I consider myself a traveler but rather eat fast food than at a street stall! There are some good points here about the differences between tourists and travelers.

  25. I agree with all of this and now having been on the road non-stop for three and a half years I guess I would fall into the traveler category but I don’t know that it’s great to divide and classify. It seems some people that are travelers look down their noses at tourists. Everyone needs to do their own trip their own way and how is best for them. But then again, maybe it’s just easy for me to say that b/c I’m a traveler and not a tourist lol.

    1. Lions and tigers belong the same family but are distinct from each other. I don’t see any issue in classifying people based on their traveling style.:D

  26. From time to time, just for fun, I like to check out Urbandictionary.com.

    It says:

    Traveller – A term used by people who are travelling away from home, but have distaste for the terms “tourist” and “holidaymaker”. Travellers are often said to be distinct from tourists/holidaymakers due to the fact that they travel for longer periods of time, seeing a variety of places in one trip, and make an effort to experience the real spirit of the places they visit, rather than just tourist resorts. Those who self-describe as travellers are also often travelling on a tighter budget than traditional tourists, staying in hostels rather than hotels. A roughly synonymous term is “backpacker”.

    Tourist – A person who vacations in people’s lives, takes pictures, puts them in his scrapbook, and moves on. All he’s interested in are stories. Basically, their selfish.


  27. Some people are definitely about checking off the list of countries rather than exploring what each country holds. But the most important things is that we are travelling! Travel – whether as a tourist or traveller – can be exceptionally rewarding and eye-opening, no matter how many pre-prepared itineraries or group guides might be involved. I think lately there’s been a lot of discussion about the whole traveller v tourist thing, and while I understand there needs to be a greater appreciation for other countries and their cultures, I think it’s great that people can actually get in a plane and fly somewhere completely new, regardless of the manner of their travel and how they go about their days overseas. Boastful ‘tourists’ can be annoying, especially those who are clueless about the place they are visiting (or worse, complain that x activity or x food is never big enough/good enough as back home) but then long-term ‘travellers’ can be just as annoying at times when they tell people they’re travelling the wrong way. Let’s all just celebrate the beautiful privilege of travel!

    1. I am not sure if a person can be called a traveler only if he travels long term. But I believe long term travelers have a better idea on how to travel and to make the most of it. I am a short term traveler as of now and I won’t mind any long term traveler give me tips on how to make trips better. 🙂 Anyway we are spending money to travel, so if there is a better way to experience the world then why not try that.

  28. Thanks for sharing! I was asking myself how to explain why I travel. Very often people asks me info about Morocco where I travel quite often. But when they ask me about monuments, famous cafés or luxury riads I don’t know what to answer. Because I don’t travel for collecting nice pics to show friends in fb or for leisure. I can’t be on a beach more than a couple of hours. I need to move, three days are enough in same place. If I remain longer it’s because I found something useful to do in that place or because I feel like being at home. Maybe after tourist and traveller adding 3rd category: nomads?

  29. We dunno….we tend not to compare how one travels. We don’t really put labels on those who travel. You see, each has his/her own way of traveling, and we learned to respect that.

    The only common denominators we truly impose are that 1) travelers don’t harm the environment, 2) travelers respect the culture, and 3) travelers don’t do anything illegal.

  30. This is a beautifully written and eloquent article on a much debated topic. I completely agree that it is a mindset that sea these word apart. Well done for capturing the definition so well

  31. Interesting article. At the end travel for one person may not be for the same purpose as another. As motives, goals, purposes are different, so are the styles!

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