Two T for journeying

Ashok Silwal

We all know, more or less generically, the meaning of these words (TOURIST OR TRAVELER) and we use them almost interchangeably. We consider them synonymous, both indicating people going to new places, for sight-seeing, for new adventures, for new experiences. However, actually there are differences between tourists and travelers.

Those who identify themselves with the second category do not want to be confused or have anything to do with the first. On the other hand, those who appreciate the advantages of being a tourist, usually look at those who use the term “traveler” with some mistrust.

I do not pretend here to give perfect and definitive definitions!

I will not take in consideration all specific types of tourism like religious tourism, commercial tourism, sports tourism, medical tourism and so on.

Internet, countless blogs, Wikipedia and many sites on social networks propose numerous discussions and exchanges of ideas on this topic, that often insist on highlighting the difference between a tourist and a traveler.

I would like to focus on tourism in general that concerns those who travel to see new places and cultures.

My following modest reflection is based all on my personal experience as guide and trekker-hiker, having accompanied and still accompanying with passion, people, whether there were tourists or travelers, from all over the world, in our endearing and wonderful country. Certainly, I did not ask for a certificate of belonging to one category or another !!!!.. but as guide, as human being, I always felt a difference even if it could be minimal.

I think the difference between tourists and travelers can be observed even before the journey starts, in the choice of traveling companions.

Tourists usually travel with their families or with a group. The company gives meaning to the tourist’s experience. The traveler is a loner, sometimes was a couple or with a friend. The travelers experience is individual.

The tourist is someone who is visiting the country to see greatest highlights, whether it is nature, art, culture.

The traveler is someone who is there to discover more about the country, its people, its culture, its food, its style of living. He has a more immersive experience.

So, the tourist gets off the plane, goes to the hotel, is accompanied to the most famous places, returns to the hotel to rest, does the same the next day; then he gets back on the plane and goes home. The traveler loves to get lost, he flies “like a bird”, he doesn’t have a destination, he stops where his heart takes him. He loves talking and smiling with local people, he loves sharing with them and not only knowing but experiencing their habits and ways of life.

We could say, perhaps to schematically, but to understand each other moire easily, that the tourist is more “superficial”; he is satisfied with what he sees more than what he feels. While the traveler is more authentic; he is not satisfied with appearances, he wants to understand.

Maybe somewhat crudely, one thinks of quantity, the other of quality.

So the tourist has generally a fixed itinerary covering all famous spots. The traveler has not an itinerary; he is wandering to “hidden” places. He will not fear from taking the road less traveled to find out what may lie ahead. His curiosity is greater. Generally he is a backpacker who is not afraid of losing his daily little comfort .

We could continue this list in opposition:

The tourist lives to be guided, driven. The traveler love adventure.

The tourist is always a bit rushed. The traveler has more time: when he likes, he stops.

The tourist tries to recover what he left at home (food for example). The traveler wants to try new things, he wants to meet people, to explore.

The tourist takes photo with his selfie stick. The traveler buys some local craft items.

The tourist is “on holiday”. The traveler does something else: he travels!

But really we have to stop saying black against white and to use clichés that perhaps belong to the past.

Tourist and/ or traveler? You can be both!

Actually, these two words are not at all antagonist; they have a lot in common despite the generalized idea that being tourist is too “common” and even a bit vulgar.

You must not fall into clichés.

Not everyone can afford the mystical and spiritual exploration of uncontaminated places and a fully authentic experience of the culture and life of the place they visit. Some have limited time or other reasons to be mire “tourist”.

So the concept of “tourist” has to be freed from its negative nuances. There can be more inclusiveness between tourist and traveler.

Certainly, there remain differences on how to approach a trip and it is often a question of attitudes, of character, of education, of tastes, of disposable income and so on.

The important thing is to be curious to know things and people, to wonder “as a child”, to demonstrate the ability to adapt and to respect the others, perhaps more or less profoundly.

The image of the man with the sunglasses and cap, rocking socks and sandals, looking around confused and checking his guide book again, is overcome. Differences certainly remain on itineraries, on travel companions, means of transport, time available, on mentalities, on luggage, on accommodations, and you van opt for “skyscraper suite instead of mosquito infested hammocks” ! But today there is a middle ground .

At the end of the day, we /they are all people doing the same thing: we/they are all trying to see a country, to know new places and us/them selves, to understand better our world.

Whether one travels as tourist or as traveler, he never backs home the same, he will be more tolerant, more open-minded, more aware of our similarities as human beings.


Silwal is Langtang Goodwill Ambassador and advisor of Villiage Tourism Promotion Forum Nepal. He is tour/trek instructor and guide too.

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