A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving
— Lao Tzu

What is really the difference? Is there any? Welcome to the backpacking world. You’re looking at a very popular debate among travellers.

Everyone has a different opinion. I travelled both as a backpacker and as a tourist so in this article I will try to write my opinion and point out the differences I’ve observed so far. If you guys agree, disagree or just want to point out an argument, I would really love to discuss this in the comment section.

When I was 14, I went on my first trip abroad with my school. It was a 9 day trip to Venice, Switzerland, South Germany and Innsbruck, Austria. It was a short trip for such distances. We were sitting most of the day in comfortable bus seats, glancing through the rainy stained window the foreign landscape. The first city we visited (and my first foreign city) was Venice in which we spent 2 hours because there wasn’t simply enough time if we wanted to see all the cities. 2 hours because we simply had to tick everything off the tour list. I simply couldn’t comprehend the beauty of this city. All I wanted was to leave the group and get lost in the tiny medieval streets of the city. That was a no go though. The very first day of the tour I was tired of being a tourist. I didn’t know the name back then but I knew I was a traveler.


What are the main differences though?


Tourists compare everything to things back home, travellers feel like home.

Tourists miss their home, their local food, their comforts. They tend to compare everything to the way things back home are. Too spicy, too dirty, too noisy, too hot, too different. Everything makes them feel homesick. Is there anything better than walking up in the early dawn in a completely different place? Travellers embrace the different and that is a big part of this lifestyle.


Tourists squander; travellers wander

Surely, there is no right or wrong on travelling but there are definitely better ways. A tourist visits a place with a group and a tour guide. Following a checklist that need to be ticked off. They don’t visit a place to explore it. A few pictures are more than enough. Don’t get me wrong. I just did a Charles Dickens tour in London and it was absolutely fantastic. It would be so hard to gather all this info and do this tour alone. The thing is that tourists stick just on these tours. They are either too afraid or they don’t know how much more is there on travelling. Travellers are trying to get lost. To observe the local life and the real country behind the travel guides.


Tours are absolutely a great way to see the city in a different perspective



Tourists have maps, travellers discover routes

There is nothing wrong with preparation but if you have every single detail planned, you leave no space for adventure. A tourist has pretty much everything planned out before they even board on the airplane. Touristic places are popular for a reason. They are unique and admirable. There is more than just Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower though. A traveller would prefer to just take a bus, end up on the other side of the city and start discovering rather than getting on a hop-on-hop-off bus and tick every attraction off the checklist in 2 hours.


Tourists eat at the centre, travellers locally

A tourist never leaves his comfort zone. They prefer an overpriced ‘’traditional’’ restaurant experience with menus in 10 languages rather than moving a bit away from the centre. one reason is convenience, the other reason that they just wanna say they’ve tried it. Once you go to London, fish & chips is a must. 11£ for a meal is an unreasonable price in my opinion. Me and my girlfriend decided to take the metro and just stop after 6 stops. Not only we payed only 5£ for a much bigger portion, it was also freshly made for us and gave us a chance to chat with the owner and find out more about the local life there. A traveller doesn’t just travel for the picture on Facebook rather than the experience itself.


Time is the big difference

A tourist is bound by time. A traveller might spend one month to explore a place but a tourist has to get done everything in a week. The idea of travelling for most is that you have to visit all the historic sites, see all the museums and take pictures in front of them to show them to your friends. A traveller is more interested in the experience though. It is much better to explore slowly a small part of the country rather than rushing out to cover everything and at the end don’t enjoy your precious days off. Afterall, a person with limited days off travels to escape his daily routine and relax, not to adopt a more stressful lifestyle than the one he/she has at home.


Tourists expect everyone to speak English, a traveller tries to learn the local language

When we travel, we are ambassadors of our own culture and country. With our actions we represent our homeland. I always despise when I see the angry tourists expecting the same standards of service with their country.  The tourist lifestyle builds a huge wall between them and the potential of exploring the new culture. Not everyone had the chance to go to school and learn English. Sometimes you need to learn a few basic words to maneuver through the language barrier. Learn as much of the language of your destination as possible. Even if it is just thank you and hello. A few basic words not only will help you making your life easier but also to make new friendships and get closer to the locals. You can read more on this topic here. One day in Jaipur India I was setting up my tripod to take a sunset picture of the Pink Palace. By accident I bumped into a woman. I just said ‘‘excuse me’’ in Hindi.  It is polite but also strange for a westerner to say something in Hindi so this woman started chatting with us and at the end she invited me and my friend to join her and her family for a home-cooked dinner. Who can say no to that? I assure you that this unique experience was as rewarding as seeing all the sightseeing I did combined and all this from a simple ‘‘excuse me’’.


There is a reason monuments are touristic. They are just unique and a trip is half if you don't visit them


The main difference in my opinion though is that travellers care. They care about the culture and the local customs of the destination they are visiting. They care about interacting with the locals and trying to discover as much as possible. They care about the local lifestyle and try to adapt to it. They simply care… 

For travellers, a new destination is an opportunity to learn something. It is truly a learning experience. A place where you will practice your skills and develop new. A lot of things can go wrong on the road. A traveller has to use or develop his set of skills to overcome those issues. A great opportunity to learn more about your surroundings and yourself. A tourist travels just to escape his daily routine. Relax and get away from his stressful lifestyle he/she has back home without the necessity to see more. They are protected inside a hotel with international comforts, restaurants and buses that are all designed for this reason. Arrive, visit and leave without any further interaction with the country. If something goes wrong, the travel company is to blame and a bad review will do it. A traveller has no one to blame though. He/she takes leadership of the actions and the bad times are those which are remembered the most and teach a lesson.


A traveller seizes the very same opportunity a tourist flushes down the drain. A traveller always seeks for the unknown.  He travels for the experience.


The biggest difference? A traveller already plans his next destination the moment he lands home.

A tourist would never leave his comport zone a traveler aims to find the adventure. It is the mentality that is different


Where do you stand on the topic? Do you agree or disagree? Leave a comment and let’s discuss it.