Traveler vs. Tourist: A Debate I Hate

Not too long ago, I read an article entitled, 40 Things Good Travelers Never Say. 
...Let's just say that is five minutes I'm never getting back.

The article ticked me off for two reasons: the first being the actual content, and the second (and more significant) being the entire concept all together. Included on this wholly pretentious and vaguely misinformed list of things that "good" travelers just don't say were expressing a preference for only drinking bottled water, wanting to spend a day by the pool rather than exploring, suggesting a meal at McDonalds, or planning to see Times Square when in New York.

The whole thing was just... so wrong... I'm not even sure where to start!
But as there wouldn't be a blog post without that, I'll do my damnedest ;)

I suppose we should begin with some basic facts. In many parts of the world, drinking bottled water is more than a preference, it's a necessity! Unless you plan on boiling everything you drink, or came prepared with a filter - bottled water is, in many places, the only safe option. You either drink bottled, or run the risk of spending the next day or two worshipping the porcelain god. I'm not saying this to scare anyone or hate on any country in particular, but it's just the reality. Not every country you travel to will have tap water that is clean enough to drink.

As for the day by the pool... Especially when engaging in long term travel, and even on vacation, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a day by the pool. Long-term travel is not easy  constant movement from place to place is stressful and hard on your body  so sometimes spending the day by the pool is not only acceptable, its necessary for your mental and physical health. Even if you are not engaged in long term travel, why the hell should you not use a day of vacation to lounge by the pool?? Lounging? Awesome. Pools? Great. Days filled with rest and relaxation? Fantastic! There is nothing wrong with taking a rest.

Additionally, there is also nothing wrong with the occasional meal at McDonalds. Should you eat it at every day, all day? Probably not, but that is more for health reasons than anything else. Eating at McDonalds in other countries can actually be pretty cool because each country has something unique on their menu: Squid Ink Buns in Japan, Bulgogi Burgers in Korea, and every McVariation you can think of... McSpaghetti, McFalafel, McArabia Chicken. I could not make this stuff up if I tried. Though it's obviously not super healthy, nor does it represent authentic local food, it can be nice to change things up, save a bit of money, and it does give a bit of insight into the unique quirks and tastes of each country.

And finally, if you're never been to New York, why would you not visit Times Square? Or any other famous landmark for that matter... Great Wall of China? Yes, please. Taj Mahal? So there. Pyramids of Giza? Sign me up!  Yes, these are popular places that attract a lot of visitors. I would still like to see them anyways, and there's nothing wrong with that! They are popular for a reason.

Anyways, moving on... As I said above, the content was not my only issue with this article. My main beef is with the entire concept of "good" and "bad" travelers in and of itself.  Though this author may have discussed the concept in a way I found to be particularly distasteful, he is definitely not the only one who seems to think that way. Ever since I began travelling, and more so since I started travel blogging, I have noticed that many people really do make a significant distinction between good travelers and bad travelers. Put more simply - the great "tourist" vs. "traveler" debate.

My main problem with this division is that it creates unnecessary rifts in a culture that, at least to me is about connectivity across divides and the breaking down of arbitrary barriers between people.

"Good" travelers vs. "Bad" travelers?? Talk about an arbitrary division.

Throughout my travels, I try to maintain the motto: Different is not bad, it’s just different. Despite the fact that most travelers do tend to outwardly espouse a personal philosophy of acceptance and a search for increased understanding, it is often these same people who come down so harshly on their fellow travelers.

Slow travelers condemn country hoppers for not spending the time to truly and fully understand the places they visit. Budget travelers condemn luxury travelers for living in an ivory tower, backpackers scoff at those who travel with suitcases, and those with the suitcases scoff at backpackers for being dirty, party people, who haven’t showered since last week. This type is of cliquey behavior is trashy, hypocritical, and it stands in direct contrast to what travel is about.

I have literally heard someone say, "Well they are just tourists. I'm a traveler." Ok, cool. Well right now, I'm pretty sure you're just a judgmental dick. That distinction between tourist and traveler seems to come up a lot in traveler circles, and I've thought about it a decent amount myself. What is the difference between a tourist and a traveler? To be honest, I came up pretty blank. The only real difference I can think of is that tourists tend to be on short-term trips such as vacation; whereas, a traveler seems to be in it for more of a long haul. But again, I don't believe time spent on the road makes someone fair game for derision or scorn. 

If I played by the logic of the infographic to the right, I don't know what the hell I would be. I live and work in Korea, so I'm a traveler. But I have more expat friends than local friends. So I'm a tourist. I've backpacked through seven countries... Traveler. In which I visited many of the popular sights... Tourist. What the hell guys? Really?

Many travelers know exactly what it is like to be covertly discussed and openly questioned about their break from so-called mainstream society: When are you coming home? When will you get a real job? When will you stop living in a dream world? So why then do these same people seek to create divisions within a group of individuals who made the same decision that they did.

We are all traveling to pursue adventures, gain new experiences, and expand our understanding of the world and its many unique peoples. We travel so that we might have a life in which we actually feel alive.

Now, I’m not saying I have not seen behaviors among travelers that I did not agree with, because I surely have. People who refuse to practice any form of cultural sensitivity,  or complain the entire trip about one thing or another, or show up to new place and are just so flabbergasted and angry that this new place isn't exactly like home. However, I try not to think of this in terms of some “good traveler” vs. “bad traveler” dichotomy, but rather as a simple divide between “good behavior” and “bad behavior” period.

Those same people who act badly when abroad, probably act badly when at home too. Is it a shame that they are making a bad impression? Absolutely. This being said, in my experience those people tend to be outliers, and nothing more. I like to think that just as travel has made me a more level-headed and open-minded individual, their journeys will work the same magic on them. 

The reality is that most everyone I have met on the road has been caring, intelligent, and thoughtful - whether they are traveling on $20 dollars a day, staying in five star resorts, have been on the road for years, or are on their yearly vacation. More than that, they all share one amazing thing in common with me:  a love for the world and the lust to see and do as much as they can. More than any arbitrary label, that is what matters most to me. 

What do you fall on the traveler vs. tourist debate? Does a label like that divide people unnecessarily, or does it have a valid place in the discussion? Join the conversation by commenting below, share this post with your friends, or for more pictures and fun travel articles find me on Facebook


Enjoy the beautiful view!

Morgan S.