The Great Debate: Travelers vs. Tourists

The Great Debate: Travelers vs. Tourists

According to Merriam-Webster

Traveler (noun)         

: someone who is traveling or who travels often

: a person who moves around from place to place instead of living in one place for a long time


Tourist (noun)           

: a person who travels to a place for pleasure  

: one that makes a tour for pleasure or culture

While exploring the Basilica Cistern below the streets of Sultanahmet, we couldn’t resist this photo opportunity. The chance to dress in Ottoman costumes in ancient Istanbul was one that we didn’t want to pass up, even if doing so made us look like “stereotypical tourists.” Why the quotation marks? Well, because this picture makes me think about the great travelers vs. tourists debate which usually results in travelers gaining more credibility and a higher ranking on the travel pyramid. But truth be told, I’m not sure why. Based on the above definitions, don’t people who travel often (i.e., travelers) also travel for pleasure or culture, and can’t people who travel for pleasure or culture (i.e., tourists) also travel often? Is there something beyond these definitions that distinguishes the two groups? Are travelers’ experiences somehow more authentic than tourists’? When it comes to the great debate, are travelers really better than tourists, or is the whole idea just a bunch of crap?

I think it’s crap. What do you guys think?


  • I wanted to dress up in the Basilicia cistern but my friend would not do it. Said it was too touristy!

    • Dana Carmel

      Awww…see, you missed out on a cool photo opp! 😉
      Sometimes it pays off to do the “touristy” stuff.

  • We have always avoided the photos in Basilicia Cistern, although I have to say, you look very good! I want to dress up as an Ottoman sultan now!

    • Dana Carmel

      Don’t avoid the chance to dress up like a sultan! One of the great things about travel is that it affords us opportunities to step outside of our comfort zones. So the next time you’re at Basilica Cistern, go for it!

  • Wow, that photo… I would have jumped on the occasion too! It’s awesome! Living on an extremely touristy island, I do see a difference in visitors’ travel styles. I think people traveling to enrich their lives want to dissociate themselves from people who travel for a vacation and a good time;’tourists’. The travel style associated with all inclusive pre-organised trips. People are brought from their hotels to the main attractions and back. Some don’t leave the hotel, only eat Western food and learn nothing about the country they’re in. I see them here all the time, acting inappropriately, scolding staff outside the hotel for not speaking “proper English”. If one of them came to me and told me they are true travellers, I would laugh. The thing, is tourist or traveller shouldn’t be labels you place on people. It’s just a temporary style/state of mind, not something you are, just how you act. During the same trip you can be both and that’s fine.

    • Dana Carmel

      You make a great point, and I totally agree! Still, I think that all of those negatives are stereotypes, but not actually what a tourist really is.

  • I have run into this argument often. Someone claimed that a visit to this place was something that only tourists do. I had to remind them that plenty of local people were present too. Sometimes I also avoid tourists. However, I have had to remind myself that these places or activities are popular for a good reason so don’t shy away from them.

    • Dana Carmel

      Exactly, Eduardo! Funny thing is that sometime last year, Jave and I went on a “touristy” tour to the Hollywood sign here in L.A. and EVERYONE on the tour was a local. It’s great to see your own local spots through the eyes of a tourist and not to write off the stereotypical tourist spots.

  • I think that people who call themselves “travellers” are deluding themselves that somehow the way they travel is more “authentic” than other people. Really, though all of us are experiencing a small portion of the experience of being in a place. I have lived in London for 6 years after moving here from Canada. Not sure I can say, even as a transplanted Londoner, that I know what British life is like.

    • Dana Carmel

      That’s an excellent point, Greg! I think that’s why it’s so important for us to keep traveling in and exploring our own backyards. I agree that both travelers and tourists are in the same boat.

  • I’m so glad that finally someone has highlighted the difference between tourists and travelers. Me and Cez often get mistaken by locals and it’s so frustrating. Locals think you are a tourist when you hold a camera in your hands and carry a backpack on your back :)!!!

    • Dana Carmel

      That’s so funny, Agness! And thanks for pointing out that you can be a traveler/tourist right in your own backyard.

  • I’v never really thought about it, but i guess a traveler would be considered more authentic and as Monique points out, their is the notion of the “ugly tourist”.

    On a lighter note, love the photo, you guys look like Persian royalty.

    • Dana Carmel

      Haha – yeah, we couldn’t resist the chance to dress like Ottomans. This is definitely one of my fave pics from our trip to Turkey.

  • Agreed! We’re all tourists. I’m always just happy to see people out there traveling, regardless of how they’re doing it.

    • Dana Carmel

      Me too, Jessica!

  • Phoenix is literally sitting next to me and I looked at him and said, “I think it’s crap, you?”
    He said, “Can we say that on Dana’s blog?”
    Me, “Yep…she said we can right there see?”
    Phoenix, “Then I say double crap.”
    Two votes crap from Reno it is!
    That is just a ridiculous gray area and who on earth cares! That seems to be for people who have wayyyyy too much time on their hands. Love the pic with you two! Mysteriously regal! Love the post 🙂

    • Dana Carmel

      Lol – I love getting to “eavesdrop” on your convos with Phoenix, and I’m glad that he agrees that it’s double crap. Yeah, Phoenix! And like you, I always wonder why people care or try to make it seem that travelers are more elite, savvy, or more authentic than tourists. Crap, I say!

    • LOL Mike :):)!!!

  • The distinction between the two is very fuzzy most of the time and one is the other at so many times in this voyage called life.

    • Dana Carmel

      I agree that the definitions are quite fuzzy. I honestly don’t know why people make distinctions between the two.

  • I’m with you, I think it’s crap. Every traveler is a tourist and every tourist is a traveler!

    Maybe this debate starts with the notion of the “ugly tourist”, the one that just wants to check places off a list and doesn’t try to understand the local culture or actually learn something while there; that is what I think come to people’s minds when they think “tourist”.

    I think of myself as a traveler, since I really go from place to place (not only for my vacations but in life in general) but I am also a big tourist, that will take in the local culture and will take as many theme photos as possible (holding the tower of Pisa and the Eiffel Tower etc).

    Travelers and tourists are the same: a bunch of curious people willing to explore the world!

    Awesome post!

    • Dana Carmel

      Absolutely, Monique. I agree that travelers and tourists are interchangeable and I definitely see myself as both.


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