Don’t Be a Touron

Line at Ellis Island

I have noticed quite a few articles by fellow travel types discussing the differences between a traveler and a tourist, whether or not one is better than the other and so forth. Ultimately this is a discussion of pure semantics and I don’t think it is very important. For what it is worth, while I think it would be romantic and Indiana Jones-like to self-identify as a traveler, I am probably just a tourist. I do not earn my living from the travel industry and ultimately, I’m on the road at most a few weeks a year. So, I therefore lay claim to the title of tourist. That being said, I am not a touron.

I first encountered this word when I was a college student in Williamsburg, Virginia, which is inundated with millions of tourists every year. Of these millions, there is a not-so-insignificant percentage which may be described as being tourons.

The Urban Dictionary defines a Touron as

“The derogatory term combines the words “Tourist” with “Moron” to describe any person who, while on vacation, commits an act of pure stupidity.”

Ultimately, a touron is a person who apparently hates to leave home, but for some reason has decided to spend coin and time to do just that. After a recent trip to New York, I was reminded of how awful these individuals can be and as a public service want to provide some tips on how not to be a touron, in the classical sense.

NYC Tourist Restaurant

You Are What You Eat

I took this picture in New York and I think it is self-explanatory. Why would someone travel from the far reaches of the globe, arrive at one of the true culinary capitals of the planet only to eat at an establishment advertising itself as a tourist restaurant? This is indeed a touron maneuver. NYC is unfortunately not alone in this phenomenon, there are similar restaurants in every major tourist area. I touch on this briefly in my e-Book (plug, plug, plug), but not only do you do yourself an injustice by eating at these restaurants, but they are almost always one of the most expensive options. Rather than eat at a bistro or café adjacent to the major tourist attraction, look for a little, independent restaurant a few streets over. Not only will the food be better, but it will almost certainly be cheaper.

Do Not Declare Yourself a Touron

Living in Washington, DC, I see this all the time, but have also witnessed it around the world. When tourons are on the subway or local bus, they seem to think that they are actually on a resort tram ride.  Not only do they refuse to pay any attention to what the local commuting etiquette is, but they many times announce their touronic ways. Case in point: too many times I have seen families on the subway yelling to each other from across the train about their next stop and many times revealing some pretty personal information. A friend told me recently about just such an encounter where the tourons were asking each other their hotel room number, including the name of the hotel itself. You might as well say, please rob me, I am far too dumb to deserve my belongings.

When traveling, it is vital to have at least a modicum of self-awareness. You are a visitor and you should comport yourself as a guest, not an invading army. Pay attention to what local people are doing, and then do that! Also be a smart traveler. No matter how much you try to blend in, you usually won’t. This inability to blend in will make you a more attractive target for thieves, from purse snatchers to pickpockets. That is why it is important to take a few more security measures than you normally would at home. No matter how comfortable you are in a new city, a basic level of caution and self-awareness will make your travels much more safe.

Get a Clue or Go Home

Theoretically you are traveling to a new place because you want to learn more about it, experience the culture and experience new sights and sounds. If none of these are true, then you should spend your money on a new TV for your family room, because you will get much more out of it.

Perhaps I am being unduly harsh, but I get very frustrated when I am at a tourist attraction and overhear ridiculously ignorant conversations. Once again, in New York I heard some doozies. The best (worst?) I heard was a wife telling her husband that she didn’t want to go up to the Empire State Building Obervatory because they had been seeing New York all day. There’s also the example of the family I saw in Dublin with a CHECKLIST of all the major sites in hand. They apparently would rush to the next site, look for 5 seconds in a Clark W. Griswold manner, check the box (literally!) and move on to the next spot.

I will not wax poetic here, but suffice it to say that if you are unwilling to stray from the tourist path at least once or twice, then you will have gained very little from your trip.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a tourist. As I said, I am one several times a year. However, there are some seemingly basic considerations one must take, otherwise you too will be just another touron.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

46 thoughts on “Don’t Be a Touron”

  1. Matt– I agree with you…. and I am PROUD to be a tourist.–Sing along to the tune of that country song :) It is the level of comfort I prefer.

    However, tourons should be exiled…..Sing along…. All my tourons live in Texas :( — sorry Texas– it was the only song I could think of .

  2. I didn’t realize you went to William & Mary! Marc went there as well.

    “Touron” is actually a word generally used by reenactors to describe particularly moronic members of the public who ask things like “Is that a real fire?” or “Aren’t you hot?” (when I’m clearly sweating buckets in my wool). In places like Williamsburg where the history tourists are pretty much a permanent part of the town, it becomes a term used by others as well. I rarely encounter it outside of a place with a high population of reenactors – for some reason it hasn’t really caught on in the general populace. Maybe your post will help with that!

    Great post, and very, very true.

  3. I met a Touron last night! He came to Nicaragua but was scared to eat any of the food so only searched out pizza and sandwiches, he is afraid to take any form of transportation that is not luxury (although he is staying in a hostel) but the worst was after I explained to him that in Guatemala it’s not okay to take photos of indigenous people without asking he said he would just sneak them because they don’t know any better.


  4. Tourons are a funny bunch. I just wish that most didn’t immediately associate touron with American. I know you didn’t say or imply that, but I know most not from the US are immediately going to associate the term with Americans, and I honestly think that’s unfair.

    While it’s true that there are countless idiot Americans out there traveling, there are plenty of others, Brits, Australians, whatever, that fit the touron category. In fact, while traveling internationally, particularly in developing countries, Americans we meet are usually on their best behavior so as to not fuel the stereotype of the “ugly American tourist.” I know many of my fellow countrymen have brought it on themselves, but I do think we get an unfair reputation sometimes. There’s idiots everywhere.

  5. I think the key phrase is “apparently hates to leave home, but for some reason has decided to spend coin and time to do just that”. I have heard plenty of stories of Germans being reviled in both Italy and Spain for their touron ways. This is not a culture specific phenomenon.

    I wonder if partially other travelers are partially to blame. Those that love travel so much as to talk about it can make these things seem like something you have to do. Note my weblink, I am part of this group too. We all believe our way is either best, or not and we try to convince others and ourselves of this fact. Are there maybe people that like mentioned would be better off just buying a TV? As a travel lover and believer in the good of travel I would not like to believe so. I would like to believe these people just need to learn HOW to travel, but maybe there really are some that shouldnt.

  6. I definitely try hard to not be a touron and I think the most we can expect is that others will try as well. As to whether we can expect that everyone will succeed and no one will ever be guilty of moronic behavior when traveling again……eh, I think that’s probably like believing human kind will sprout wings and be able to fly like birds in the very near future! LOL! Doesn’t stop me from wishing, I just expect a little less from others and try to better my own behavior as an example. Great article, an enjoyable afternoon read!

  7. I love the Tourons that go to the Grand Canyon for 15 minutes. They jump off the touron bus, snap their ‘I was here’ photo and then quickly jump back on the bus to go home and tell all their friends how spectacular it is!
    Or the ones who just want to eat their own countries food in other lands and whine when they can’t find a Big Mac
    Never heard of the word Touron before. Cool!

    1. Sounds like the Chinese domestic tour groups! They travel in tour groups that get off the bus for all of five seconds, take a picture and they’re off

  8. Great article and your part about Williamsburg was spot-on. We lived there for 4 years while in grad school at William & Mary and I can’t tell you the number of people who would stop my while walking my dog to ask where a specific hotel was. Usually, they would ask where the Holiday Inn was and I had to ask them “which one?” since there were 5 of them in the area when we were living there. There was a Holiday Inn West, Holiday Inn East, Holiday Inn Colonial, Holiday Inn Express, and the Holiday Inn something else (it’s been too long to remember). I loved it when the tourons had no idea and just looked confused! Come on! You are the ones who booked the reservations, so why don’t you know which hotel you are staying in and why didn’t you get directions when you made the reservations?

  9. hahaha awesome!!!
    I’ve never had a more pleasant word for these people, especially after working for 4 years as a tour guide I’ve seen my fair share of them.

  10. Thanks for all the great comments! I definitely don’t think it’s country specific, I have seen poor behavior everywhere. I think as Americans Adam, we just tend to be more sensitive to the issue. I don’t mind if people don’t know the ins and outs of travel, but at least a modicum of common sense would be nice.

  11. I really like this piece, Matt. I am particularly amazed at the tourons who would have rather stayed home and watched TV instead of appreciating the travel experience. I’ve known some of those people who can’t tell you about all of the wonderful places they saw on a trip, but rather complain about the long plane ride or other inconveniences. I recently heard this feedback about a trip to New York – the person didn’t like the Metropolitan Museum of Art because it was too big! Or I recall the person who wasn’t interested in going to the Grand Canyon because it was “just a big hole”.

    But these are folks who just don’t get it and probably never will. So I agree that they should just stay home and make more space for the rest of us.

    I also appreciate that you don’t take issue with those who may be unsophisticated travelers because they’ve not had the opportunities, but who are taking it all in and loving the travel experience. Too often, those tourists are grouped in with the real tourons.

  12. I think “tourons” basically show their worst behaviour when travelling because they do not really feel good while travelling, among them there are certainly people who need/want to learn how to enjoy travel.

  13. This is a great post and I agree with you 100% I myself try to get out as much as possible and bounce between traveler and tourist and the biggest issue I have is when I see people who are ignorant about other cultures and/or think they’re still in their own backyard. For example, I was once in a pub in London with a friend and the people next to us (from my hometown no less) ordered natchos and then complained for a half and hour that they weren’t the same as home (they were complaining nonstop that England wasn’t like home…I wondered why they left home)…then there was the guy in Beijing who was all pissy cause the police were yelling at him and he yelled back at them and made a huge stink like he was at some hometown protest….of course they were yelling at him, the jackass jumped the velvet rope at Tiananmen Square where the guards stand…it was painful to watch and embarassing for the people with him….I think the policeman just wanted him to go away and be done with it, but the guy kept on yelling…..and the list goes on…..I love the fact that people want to get out and travel, but…there are just some people that should, as you put it, spend the money on a new TV and stay home…

  14. Great post! I live in NYC and tend to spend a lot of time working in the area surrounding Times Square (the worst place in town if you ask me). I am constantly surrounded by tourons and one of their most frustrating things is to just flat out stop in the middle of the sidewalk to look at something, taking no consideration to the fact that there’s probably someone behind you. I mean if you stopped suddenly in your car, someone would probably rear-end you. The same principle applies to the sidewalk, at least in a big pedestrian city like NYC!

  15. LOVE the term touron! My favorite touron comment so far was in Peru: “Don’t they have any regular food here?” Huh? I had to walk away quickly before I opened my mouth.

    To me the whole traveler vs. tourist argument is ridiculous. Yes, there are some differences, but why do some people act like they’re superior because they’re a traveler instead of a tourist? I’m more of a traveler, and AFAIC so are you, but that doesn’t make me any better than anyone else. It’s what suits me. For others doing “the tourist thing” or never leaving their all-inclusive resort except to go to the beach or back to the airport is what works for them. I don’t understand it, necessarily, but I’m sure people look at some of the things I do and say and scratch their head as well. LOL

  16. Excellent points. For me, the difference between a tourist and traveler is the WAY they experience a new place. Meaning, tourists are people who are there to check things off a list, see what a guidebook tells you, and ultimately decide their home is better. Tourons drive me crazy because I think of all the people who would appreciate the trip more.

  17. Love it lol!
    We get quite a few here in kiwi land. They usually dont speak english and come on a bus and stop on the side of the road to take photos of sheep. Or they drive campervans at ridiculously slow speeds and hold up the traffic on the open road.

    I had an amusing incident once with some tourists from asia. We were riding our horses round the village we lived in…not an uncommon thing in the country here, and these tourists stopped their car beside us, got out and asked to take photos of us on our horses! It was a little weird.

    I find tourons here are the ones who take photos of everyday things and think its ‘iconic kiwi’ like sheep…New Zealand has more than just sheep…other countries have sheep to….

  18. Wifey of a Roadie

    Great things to keep in mind when traveling. Nice to read that you went to school in Williamsburg. My cousin went to William & Mary. I was born and raised in Virginia , wrote for the local paper, and know Williamsburg well. ***nostalgic sigh**** Anyways, I’ll be sure to keep my touronness in check,

  19. Matt, I like the way you approach this subject, Instead of dishing tourons as many writers seem to do, you give good advice on travel behaviours. Have most of the commenters missed the point of your post or is it me? Probably the latter. ;)

  20. Haha I love this! Here in S Korea, the majority of domestic tourists seem to be Tourons. They’re rude, they think because they’re away from home they can leave their litter for everyone to clean up (a beach I went to recently was vile in the morning), and for some reason act differently on public transport – shouting loudly and being generally obnoxious, in a way that doesn’t happen in everyday life.

    And of course, the tour buses that mow in to bigger European cities, offload a bunch of Japanese/Chinese/Korean tourists, who then procede to elbow you out of the way so they can pose in front of Buckingham Palace, hop back on the bus, and then repeat with Tower of London/Houses of Parliament/St Paul’s Cathedral etc.


    I too would class myself as a tourist – I think it all comes down to respect for your surroundings and the people who live their everyday lives wherever it is that you’re visiting.

  21. While traveling in London, I heard an American couple loudly discuss how Westminster Abbey is “just like the Hollywood walk of fame.”.

  22. Given your stance on the whole traveler/tourist thing it’s kind of ironic that your advert for Scottevest promotes dressing like a traveler and not a tourist :-)

  23. Oh the touron.

    In Havana, Cuba a group of tourons snapped a million pictures of memorials to Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.. and then turned to me and said “So, who is that?”. UHM, did you ever read one single thing about Cuba before hopping on that plane? TOURON. Okay, so unless you know more about the Cuban revolution, maybe you won’t know who Camilo Cienfuegos was, but Che? C’mooon.

  24. Hey Matt, I’m new to your site and so checking out some of your older articles. As soon as I saw the title on this one I had to check it out, and glad I did. Excellent post all around, love the term “touron” and like others have pointed out here, we’ve all encountered them at some point on our travels (and hopefully not been one often). My travel/touring mode is very much like yours, I work for a living and only get to travel away from local environs a couple times a year and seek to make the most of that time when it happens. The rest of the time is either planning for the next trip or taking shorter, 2-3 day trips here in the Northwest, which is luckily for me an endless source of adventures and beauty.

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