On tourists and travellers

I am a traveller, you are (only) a tourist.

If I had a penny for every time I heard this phrase I’d be a wealthy woman by now. It’s my fellows that say it. I hear it from my fellow travel bloggers, from my fellow responsible tourism proponents and from my fellow travel enthusiasts. It has been getting on my nerves for quite some time, and I need to get it off my chest. Let’s just stop this snobbery and put the titles aside, shall we?

The general description of a traveller is someone that goes off the beaten path, seeing places and meeting people that are new and different whereas a (mere) tourist stays in a big hotel, and engages only with the sanitized, tourist enabled environment.

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I suppose they are trying to say is that travellers are going outside their normal comfort zone. But who I am to say that my trip to the deep forests of Madagascar, a day’s drive away from any kind of civilisation, is pushing me any further outside of my comfort zone than a single mother from Sweden taking her children on a charter trip to Spain? Maybe she’s been saving up for years to finally be able to take her children on a big adventure. Maybe she has never been on a airplane (or negotiated the ins and outs of an airport) before, and maybe she is terribly scared that her rudimentary school English will not be enough to keep her children comfortable and safe?

To me, being a traveller is not about the destination or the activities, it is about expanding your horizons. Whether your horizon is the furthest corner of the world, or in the next town makes no difference. To belittle people because their horizons don’t stretch as far as yours is no better than to consider people less worthy because their skin colour or religion differ from yours if you ask me.

Another argument that is often raised is that travellers are more sensitive about their impact in the destination. Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints (although this I also have a problem with; to go to a destination and just take photos without leaving a positive impact on the economy is NOT sustainable. But perhaps that is a discussion for another day). The general comparison between the traveller and the tourist is the small group (or even better, the single individual) going to a remote village where few people have set foot before, compared to the the masses of people staying in a beach-front resort, trying to get as tanned as possible and eating at the hotel all-inclusive buffet. But even small numbers of visitors can have a massive impact in remote areas. Water, sanitation and garbage disposal are but a few examples of what strain is brought in. The Evil Mass Tourism is, on the other hand, changing. Today, many of the traditional Sun, Sea and Sand resorts are environmental leaders. Many operators that cater to the masses care deeply and the environement and people in destinations, and have also made this easily accessible, especially through the Travelife labelling.

Travel is a wonderful way of expanding your horizons, learning more about the wonderful world we live in (and also about the not-so wonderful things, so that we can appreciate what we have and make a bigger effort to help those that are in need). Every person can be a traveller! So let’s just put the titles aside and stop being snobs. That’s all.

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4 responses to “On tourists and travellers

  1. I couldn’t agree more! The whole traveller or tourist thing is very juvenile in my opinion. Not to mention being the epitome of snobbery. Anybody who’s done a bit of travelling and still sticks to the notion that they are better than somebody else because they travel independently or to places that most people don’t go really needs to grow up!

    I travel my way which can include anything from wild camping to very luxurious 5 star hotels to couch surfing. I try not to judge others for the ways they choose to travel.

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