Tourists and Travelers

I am both a tourist and a traveler. Until recently, I felt as though these were two very different types of people and that it wasn’t possible to be both.

Throughout the past few years, I have had a lot of access to travelers, especially students returning from semesters spent abroad–from Greece to Guatemala. In my eyes, to be a traveler meant to be something more than a tourist. It meant going beyond the clichéd places and embracing local culture. It meant selecting the restaurant that the locals line up for, not the chain where you can pick up another t-shirt for your collection. Travelers have Life Changing Experiences. Travelers pack minimally. Travelers talk about that one time they ate dinner at the home of someone in Thailand.

Mountain goats, a discovery that caused me to wander from the group
and learn nearly nothing about the Temple of Apollo (Delphi, Greece)

Tourists are tacky. They visit the popular places on meticulously planned or guided tours. Tourists are ignorant and disrespectful. I have heard so many negative things about being a “tourist” that I have forgotten what being a tourist even means. By Merriam-Webster’s definition, a tourist is “one that makes a tour for pleasure or culture” and that is exactly why I travel. That’s why, from what I’ve heard, most people travel. Merrium-Webster goes on to define a traveler: “a person who travels for pleasure.” By definition, to be a tourist sounds pretty ideal. “Tourists” get just as much away from the journey as what I thought a “traveler” was: they just do it a little differently.

However, everyone travels differently. Limiting my belongings to 8 kg (about 17 pounds) in a travel backpack does not make me any more of a traveler than packing up my polka-dot suitcase with all the things I just might wish I had with me. There’s nothing wrong with taking a picture of you holding up the Leaning Tower or kissing the Sphinx. Those are moments to cherish.

In the end, it’s fact that you are going that makes you a traveler–and a tourist. You are leaving. You are seeking adventure and culture and new places. You are a journeyer, a sightseer, a visitor, an adventurer. If you go, you are a tourist and that is a good thing.

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