Tourist and Traveller seem closely linked and almost interchangeable terms to describe someone who travels… however the word tourist can be uttered with such disdain and to an extent quite derogatory, especially around the West End of London.
So what is the difference? There are some inherent characteristics that separate travellers and tourists.
Generally, tourists stick out more than a traveller does. Whether this is because they are in huge groups, waving selfie sticks or throwing up ‘peace signs’ in front of the famous landmark. This is all very cliched behaviour that I am sure the vast majority of tourists don’t do these things, but as a Londoner, I am continually dodging selfie-sticks on Tower Bridge and along the South Bank. A traveller is more likely to blend into the local crowd. Although each person has their preference, it is vital that if you are travelling in a large group or you appear as a stereotypical tourist, that you remain safe and protect your belongings when you are out, as you don’t want to attract the wrong sort of attention.
Travellers are foodies; they will try the National cuisine to integrate with the local culture. However wondrous this may taste or be to experience, it can come at a cost. Delicate stomachs not used to local produce can result in days in bed. Tourists are more likely to stick to what they know, with recognisable fast-food chains, without worrying about being unwell.
Tourists are likely to sightsee, taking in all the landmarks and culture, but without any human interaction. Travellers will talk with locals and find the hidden stories in their destination. This is something that I personally still struggle with as quite an introvert and shy person, but I know that by stepping out of my comfort zone will reap the rewards or a unique ‘not out of a guidebook’ experience.
A traveller is more likely to give the native language an attempt, however embarrassingly bad. This is, whereas a tourist will stick to their native tongue. Whether it is ‘please’ ‘thank you’ or ‘hello’. I always find ‘cheers’ a good phrase to learn! The human interaction with attempting the language will give you a more personal experience.
Tourists are more likely to put their trust in guidebooks, maps and fully booked itineraries, whereas travellers will trust their instincts and dream of ‘getting lost’ in a place. Where this has its positives of possibly seeing and experiencing something off the beaten track, it is worth noting that something’s gets booked up in advance and it is advantageous to prebook. For example, The Last Supper in Milan, Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam and certain art exhibits in major cities. It is also important to remain street smart when ‘getting lost’ in a place. There are certain places in London that I would not want to end up stuck in. It’s all about finding that balance to give you that unique adventure.
Travellers are more likely to have a more authentic experience and sense of culture from where they visit, just because of the behaviours they have when they are there. Do your research before you go. Learn some of the languages. Eat the local food. Be humble and patient. Follow your instincts. Stay safe.
A traveller will generally be offended if you call them a tourist, but one is not better than the other, and if we all get out there and see a bit more of the world, you can call me what you like.