The Traveler Vs. Tourist Debate

I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with this silly debate…..

During a recent conversation with a young-ish travel blogger, one who hasn’t even been alive as long as I’ve been traveling on my own (yes, as an adult), I was told “Oh sure I travel a lot but I’m NOT a tourist, I’ve NEVER been a tourist!“.

Uhh….excuse me?

While I was tempted to slap the stupid out of him, I managed to explain – quite diplomatically, IMHO – that there is absolutely NO difference between ‘travelers’ and ‘tourists’.

If you’re someone who falls on the “I’m a traveler” side of the debate, let me ask you this: Do you really think that ‘tourists’ stick only to sights and attractions that everyone knows about? That they don’t also seek out ‘local gems’ or quiet cafés, or enjoy chatting up the locals?

Do you base your opinion on the handful of tourists you see at popular attractions, instead of the millions (and yes, millions of people travel globally every year) that you don’t see? Likely you don’t notice them because instead of being where you are they’re enjoying a drink at the pub down the street from their hotel. It’s in these small local pubs and coffee houses all over the world that I’ve met both locals and tourists from near and far – some whom I could communicate with and others with whom I could only a manage a few words beyond ‘where are you from?’ and a smile.

It matters not all all whether you travel with a monogrammed rolling suitcase and stay at The Ritz or don a backpack and stay in a youth hostel, nor how much or how little you spend on your trip, nor whether you’re visiting one place or going around the world.

If you leave home to go elsewhere for a visit — that is a temporary stay of any duration — and your primary objective is to see what there is to see — well-known or off-the-beaten-track — and/or to learn about a different place, culture, and society, then you’re a tourist. Backpack or rolling bag, you’re a tourist, period.

If you actually sign a lease or sub-lease, relocate your basic household furnishings (or acquire new ones), and take any sort of job (or remain location-independently self-employed) and *live* in your new destination, then you are no longer traveling, are you? You may call yourself a resident, an alien resident, or ex-pat, but you are now settled for however long you plan to be there.

If your plan is to live and work in one city for some length of time while spending weekends exploring others (as I’ve done), then you’re an ex-pat in the city in which you live and a tourist in those you visit.

ALL tourists are travelers, and all travelers are tourists, with the only exception being those who travel on business — spending time only to attend a meeting or conference without staying long enough to see any sights….their objective is their business, not tourism.

SO there you have it — the ONLY person who can legitimately claim to be a traveler and not a tourist is the business person who literally sees nothing but the inside of a meeting room and hotel room.

Is that you? No? Then stop denying your ‘tourist’ label.

Those who turn up their noses to the concept of being a ‘tourist’ must be overlooking the fact that tourism is a multi-trillion dollar industry, in fact it’s one of the largest global industries, the one that enables your travel.

Tourism is what allows you to cross (most) borders with just a passport and a smile. Tourism is what provides you with places to stay — yes, even if you’re couch-surfing — and those helpful guidebooks and apps that get you there. Tourism makes traveling reasonably affordable and is why you’re welcomed with open arms when you arrive.

Tourism opens the world to you……and the stimulation of it is why we write travel articles, and, more importantly, why people read them.

SO the next time you point your nose in the air and declare yourself to be a ‘traveler, not a tourist’, understand that doing so simply makes you seem ignorant…..and the tourism industry would laugh at you if it could.

~ Trisha

About Trisha Miller 116 Articles
Trisha Miller Editor-in-Chief, - Trisha joined the Travel Industry in 1996 with a background in telecommunications and helped to build (and later sell) one of the industry's top inbound call centers specializing in air travel. Her career in Travel Writing began with creating destination-specific content for a corporate travel intranet, and continued as she contributed content to a large number of travel-related companies that were establishing an online presence throughout the late '90's and early '00's. Currently she is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, and a former Board Member of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (2009-2015).  Still a frequent world traveler, and occasional guest-blogger on a number of other Travel Blogs, Trisha writes about travel and technology, sometimes both at the same time. You can follow Trisha on Twitter at:


  1. well written Trisha, I keep meeting people who call themselves as travel blogger, travel gurus, and champions of tourism just by visit three neighborhing countries Dubai, Thailand and Turkey.


    • Thank you Farah, your comment made me laugh because I also run into people like that on my trips…..the only real ‘experts’ I’ve ever met were all very humble and did not consider themselves to be experts. :-)

  2. Suggest you not try to slap the stupid out of these. You’ll be there for weeks and there will be nothing left if you are successful. And the authorities tend to get irritable about the loss of economic units.

    Me? I’m neither. I’m just wandering around looking at stuff. Sometimes I photograph it, sometimes I tell people about it. Mostly I just wander around being amazed and amused.

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