Travel Experiences and Why I am Proud to Be a Tourist

Touristy Rome Pic
Touristy Rome Pic

If this post is a little random, my apologies. It is part rant, part commentary and I decided not to overly edit it. So enjoy your ride on the crazy train that is Landlopers.

The travel blogosphere can at times be a pretty incestuous community. We tend to feed off of each other’s travels, stories and even controversies. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad but usually it really doesn’t have any impact on my writing. Recently though a post by Keith at Traveling Savage (yes, he has yet again provoked another post on my site) about tourism and the effect it has on various countries and peoples around the world piqued my interest.

Frankly, I don’t agree that globalization is necessarily a bad thing and that somehow by traveling we are making things worse. The one caveat I would grant is the effect of mass tourism on delicate, natural areas – that I can buy into. But people have been lamenting the gradual change of various regions for decades, probably even longer. I can just imagine some well heeled Roman family lamenting how Gaul had become too modern. Sandals and togas everywhere! It’s always been a travel complaint and probably always will be.

That being said, that’s not what I want to talk about. Keith’s article provoked another thought about a somewhat disturbing trend I have observed in some travel pieces on the interwebs and even more so in comments made: travel snobbery. [Keith is NOT a travel snob, but for some reason his article started the thought process]

Just as the concern for fouling areas of the world has always been around, I would suspect so too has travel snobbery. It’s a classic situation of trying to one-up those dastardly Jones‘. If they went to Paris on vacation, then you must go to Boudreaux and volunteer in the annual crush. Thailand is apparently no longer “other” enough, now you must encamp in the wilds of Vietnam in order to be a cool kid. I have a real problem with this.

Touristy London Shot
Touristy London Shot

Now before everyone gets all uppity with me, I didn’t say EVERYONE  feels like this, but I have seen it enough to really irritate me. And if you’ve ever read anything of mine before, you know it’s really not that hard to make me cranky.

I have said on many occasions that I am not a travel professional. I am a suburban, white male, button down in a dull office kind of professional. I get two weeks or so of time off a year, which I guard as jealously as Charlie did his Golden Ticket. I am not a traveler, vagabond, wanderluster or any other clever synonym – I am a tourist.

Being a tourist is awesome. We get to visit an area, soak in its brilliant otherness, taste some scrumptious delicacies (and yes, a Nutella crepe is a delicacy) and then return home to our quotidian lives with the kids and the dogs and the Target stores. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and it is in fact how most people live. That being said, even within this community of professional tourists, there is a competition war and the result is a mashup of confusing and downright odd travel messaging.

There is a reason why Disney World, Paris and the Caribbean are popular – people really like going there. It seems like a simple concept, doesn’t it? Joe and Jane visit Paris, love it, return home and inspire their friends Sam and Larry to go, and so on. It’s a chain reaction of travel yumminess.

Rather than scoff at people who may love an all-inclusive vacation, or seek a certain level of comfort in a cruise, they should be embraced. Because, while it may seem like they are yet another sheep going with the heard, they absolutely are not.

Like any two snowflakes, no two travel experiences can be the same by definition. Even though we may both go to Paris, it is our individual experiences, the people we meet and the emotions that it provokes that make our trips as different as if I had gone to Bhutan instead. These experiences define our own special travel snowflake and make these “common” trips decidedly unique and uncommon.

Along with this, I have also been annoyed recently by people who want to “escape” the crowds and find some forgotten or never discovered nook of a city or country. That’s all well and good, but that doesn’t make it a more authentic experience and frankly, there’s probably a reason why no one goes there. I can think of a no more classic French experience than observing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower followed by a great meal and glass of wine at a Marais bistro. Yes, it is the classic movie image of Paris, sans the berets and stripped shirts, but it defines the city. There is a reason why stereotypes exist and there’s nothing wrong with that!

There is no truly right and wrong way to travel. If you want to head down to Daytona and plop your rear in a beach chair for a week, more power to you! If you want to ride around on a camel in the Himalayas, go for it! (are there camels in the Himalayas?) The more expensive, harder to produce trip does NOT make it a better or more real experience.

In a previous post, I talked about why I travel. For me, travel is completely about the experiences, about seeing as much of this huge world as I can and learn from as many people along the way. For others, travel may mean an escape from the norm and an opportunity to relax and decompress. Both are completely valid reasons to travel.

And so, as I sit here thumbing through pictures of my partner and I in front of Big Ben, the Parthenon and many other touristy places, I am thrilled and honored to say that I am a diehard tourist.

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.

25 thoughts on “Travel Experiences and Why I am Proud to Be a Tourist”

  1. Hmmm, well I think maybe the disagreement is in how one defines tourist, because the way you define it is not really how I would define it.

    I love this quote: “The difference between a tourist and a traveler is that a tourist seeks only comfort while a traveler seeks discovery. They take more risks. They get pleasure in overcoming difficulties and discomforts, and they seek out the people.”–Lea Lane.

    To me that truly is the difference. Don’t get me wrong, I love comfort, but I could never travel somewhere just for comforts sake. I’m insatiably curious and I want to learn, explore, discover as much as I can about every single place I travel to. To me that’s a traveler.

    Oh well, at the end of the day who really cares! To each their own and I have no desire to make myself look any better than anyone else. If people are traveling that’s all that really matters period. :)

    1. Andi – Thanks for the comment! Ultimately it’s all semantics. I disagree that a tourist though just wants comfort. I think it gives short shrift to a lot of people who want to explore but do so either inexpertly or for very short periods of time. Being a tourist is not a bad thing, most of us are.

  2. Great post Matt! You had me reading all the way through (which doesn’t happen very often!). I fully agree with you. There’s been a lot of posts lately about “defining” travel, and with that, “labeling” the experience.

    We’re huge fans of the tourist hotspots – they’re world renowned for a reason! Though I’m not a fan of organized tours, I do enjoy be a tourist. I often here people talking about “getting off the beaten path”, as if its the ONLY way to travel. Hey, I love adventure. I love sports and culture. I love peacefulness and nature. But for me, leaving home IS getting off the beaten path. Traveling by definition fits that mold. I would hate to get to a place in life where I find myself not wanting to be a tourist!

  3. Great post. I’m kinda tired of those labeling too. Some people seems like they are “good enough” to decide what king of traveling is the correct way. I don’t like to limit myself in either beaten path or off beaten path. As you said, some paths are beaten for some reason. There’s so much you can learn from both. Many of the beaten path type of tourist destination have amazing history behind it.
    I tend not to categorized the backpacking style I have with my husband too much. We took opportunities. So if it’s the luxury cruise trip that happen to be cheap, then we took it. If we are tired of doing heavy traveling, we slow down and have a beach side rest. In Amsterdam and Copenhagen, priceline gave us 4 star hotel rooms for cheaper or equal price with the cheapest hostel in town, we took it.
    Great post, I rant about this topic myself sometimes. Traveling is too wide a terminology, who are we to decide what style is the best for everybody.

  4. Matt — I’m increasingly appreciative of your (often persnickety) perspectives, as they add much needed balance to the mix of more redundant travel messaging/blogging out there!

  5. Chris @ CAroundTheWorld

    Matt, I like this. I particularly agree with the part where you point out that you are – like many many Americans out there – a regular guy with a limited amount of vacation time that you guard with your life. When you don’t have a lot of time in a destination, you do want to see the major “touristy” sights, as well as have one or two experiences that feel unique (even if they aren’t). I’m always aware of the constraints that my audience has – and I think it’s an underserved market in the travel blogosphere.

  6. LOL Dave, thank you. Your comment made me chuckle. Funny you should say that though as my new friend Janice at Solo Traveler Blog has labeled me a curmudgeon, which I can’t disagree with.

  7. Nice post.

    I’ve always considered myself a traveller when the trip is over two or three weeks. Otherwise I’m a tourist or holiday maker. The one thing i have have found to be the difference between short and long trips is the daily spend. If you are confined by the structure of your life to 4/5 weeks paid leave a year then there is definitely a much greater need to cram a lot more “experience” into the allotted time. The lust for learning and experiencing different cultures and places is no less warranted because you can’t spent 3 months “living like the locals” or driving overland on mopeds! Because of these time constraints i think its perfectly understandable that a holiday maker would want their precious and often hard earned time off to count and ultimately go some way to satisfy said lust, thus, day trips, tour buses, airport transfers, hotels, room service, all inclusive, package holidays etc etc etc become essential in making it happen as stress free as possible. Wether this is the “Real_____” or not is moot. By being there it is simply by definition the “Real_____”!

    Life is hard work a lot of the time. This is one of maybe two chances a year most people get to spend time really relaxing and and in the case of families, with each other out of the ordinary. Tourists want this to be stress free. Thus will pay for the extras to make that happen.

    I defy any traveler to deny that they don’t long for and/or acquire creature/home comforts along the way. I have. Traveling can be stressful at times, especially if you are on a budget. However, this aspect of it is part of “the experience”, a mere inconvenience to a traveller could be the ruin to what was supposed to be a relaxing break for the tourist. A stomach bug is no fun anywhere but if it consumes half of your holiday its completely demoralizing. Not so bad when you’ve got weeks and weeks of uncharted territory ahead of you though.

    At the end of the day I think the difference between a Tourist and a Traveller is simply choice. You choose to be either based on your commitments, time, preference of travel and not forgetting, CASH! That’s it.

    Lets use Thailand as an example:

    Give a tourist $1000 dollars and they will get a weeks 3* > accommodation. Clear blue sky everyday (hopefully) bottomless cocktails, breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet; two/three day trips, will fly between locations and two/three days on the beach topping up the tan and a bag of duty free goodness!

    Give a Traveller $1000 and they will get 4 weeks staying in budget accommodation, cold showers, less chance of clear blue sky everyday (statistically), much more basic meals. Alcohol on a budget. Lots of sight seeing over time with a greater scope of geography and by traveling overland between locations, have a greater chance of learning some of the language, more downtime and beach-time and a bag of duty free goodness!

    I am trying to work out an equation to see if there are any constants between the two. I will post the findings on my blog when I’ve worked it out.

    Anyway I think that the difference between tourist and travelers is down to time more than it is money.

  8. There is so much travel snark lately, so I absolutely love this post. You said it yourself- there is no right or wrong way to travel. I can be a budget traveler, and if I have the money and find it reasonable, I’ll splurge at times myself. I can’t label myself, so why should I label others.

    As much as we all “poke fun” at tourists with their cameras and over-excitement, we’re all guilty of it at times. And why not, there is nothing like the rush of being in a new place and capturing memories that will last a lifetime.

    Great post.

  9. Matt, when we met I said I looked forward to more you in your posts. Jackpot. I tend to think there is a difference between a traveler and a tourist (they are different words afterall) but I don’t judge… (well try very hard not to)

    Instead, what I like to encourage is for people take a step, a small step outside their comfort zone when on the road… To learn and enjoy. To stay adventurous mind you. And for each traveler or tourist that is a different step. It’s different for all of us, and that is precisely what I see in this post…

    Stay adventurous,

    ps – I agree, a Nutella crepe is a treat. always.

    Stay Adventurous,

  10. Nice post.
    It’s incredible how people can make anything into competition! Even something as personal as travel! I too am tired of all the one-upping.
    And I’ve found that when people say they are experiencing a more “authentic” travel experience, it is usually not true and can even be offensive to local people in that country.
    Maybe we can all try to be non-judgmental travelers…

  11. I can’t believe you finally came out and said this, lol. There is soooo much controversy in travel vs. tourist. To travel literally means to go somewhere, usually a distant place. A tourist is someone who travels for pleasure. Don’t travelers also travel for pleasure? Do travelers not take tours and explore things in much the same way a tourist does? Whether a destination is popular or off the beaten track is largely a matter of taste. What one takes away from their travels is also a matter of personal taste. Someone who volunteers to care for rescued elephants will probably take a way a sense of community and a better understanding of the animal. Someone who goes on safari on the elephant’s back, will probably take away a sense of a grand adventure or “I never want to do that again.” In the end, it’s all the same, expressed in different ways. Individualism used to be a value in the west. With all the “my way is better then your way,” that value is disappearing. We need to be reminded to each his own, regardless of opinion, choice, and preference, in travel or otherwise.

  12. I had to go back and re-read my post (it’s been a ridiculously long week) before reading this one. I have no interest in analyzing the tourist vs. traveler debate, and I hope that’s not what readers took away from my post. I also enjoy seeing iconic places, and I think there’s a sense of familiarity about them – even for those who haven’t been to them – because of their ubiquity in media, photos, etc. One trait many people who like to travel share is the desire to experience something different. I think this conflict is where the debate comes from and it’s a kernel at the heart of my last post.

    People should travel however they like (as long as it’s environmentally responsible).

    Thanks for the shout out, and I’m glad my post kicked off some juicy thoughts.

  13. I think being a tourist is a great way to achieve yourself. For most people, taking a picture with the Eiffel Tower is probably just a dream they will never realize. But for us, travellers, it’s an achievement, a proof that we’ve made our dream come true.

    Touristy pictures are an essential item in one’s life. So many stories come with it.

    And, may I remind snob travellers, famous attractions aren’t famous for nothing – there’s a reason to it and real tourists want to learn about it (and possibly have their picture taken with it).

  14. Great Post and music to my ears! I’m really getting sick of the labelling that is floating abound the blogasphere. Who really cares what style of travel people are doing as long as their not hurting anyone. At the end of the day it’s still travel, you still getting out of the confines of your normal surroundings, I can only see that as a positive whether it 1 week or a year, on the beaten path or off. I sound like my Grandma, but everyone should just mind their own business! and only be concerned with what they are doing and not slandering other people because they want to go to the zoo! Zoo’s are great!

  15. I agree that there is some value to tourist travel and that it can be a way to get a good taste of a place when time is limited. It’s better to get out and see something than nothing at all. The trouble I have with tourist hot spots is that because of their popularity there is a developed style of selling the culture to the tourists, and it is often done in a clichéd manner. It is not so much what the place and culture really is, but a candied version made to fit the persona the place is given.
    I have been blessed with the opportunity of spending three semesters of my university career abroad in three separate places. This is an extremely rare ability especially when one has a job that gives a limited amount of time off. This is not a realistic way to travel, but what it has shown me is that when even spending three months situated in one part of the country it becomes increasingly apparent the difference between the actual culture and how it is being presented and sold ultimately at tourist destinations. New Zealand sells sheep shagger garb in the shops though that is a very small commentary in the culture and the Māori have a front put on their culture which is given to the tourists. It is still valuable to experience indeed, but it’s often a different culture than what really exists in the country. Its fine to visit the tourist spots I just think there needs to be a certain acknowledgment that the culture is more or less being sold to you and through that process it’s adulterated.

    “I can think of a no more classic French experience than observing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower followed by a great meal and glass of wine at a Marais bistro. ”
    It is a French experience indeed, but a much different one I am sure than that of the French people would have themselves. I can take this to my hometown of Seattle where the tourists visit mostly Pikes Place Market and the Space Needle and they are getting a culture of Seattle indeed, but it’s a very limited perceptive that has a selling front to it. This fact is often neglected with tourism though and what is seen is presented as the countries’ respective culture. This is not inherently true though and I think it’s a common mistake tourists can make in any situation whether it is tourism or travelling. To be fair I will say that the rise of backpacking travelling seems to wrongly deny that any culture exists in these spots because there is a lot culture to them even if it be adulterated and sold. Being off the beaten path may work for some but not everyone one. It also does not guarantee a more true experience. It also seems to give this ideology that both the culture and place is an entity to be found, checked, absorbed, and moved on from. It’s silly to turn travelling into a competition of who has done what because it’s so different from person to person.
    Ultimately however one chooses to visit a place only a small glimpse of what makes that place a place and gives it cultural meaning can be understood and explored. It will also depend on how open the person is to receiving the experience rather than forcing it into a certain mould. Each side of the travelling vs. tourism dualism is subject to different fallacies and troubles and what needs to be done is that people recognise what these are so that when they visit a tourist place they understand what is being fronted to them and when they “off road” they understand the context in which they are acting.

  16. Matt, this is a very interesting post that hits close to home. The past couple of weeks, I’ve written a couple of posts called “Travel confessions.” Some of my confessions are that I am not always a budget traveler, I don’t like tourists, and about 16 others.

    I’ve been very honest and vulnerable and, like you did in this post, very frank. I feared that I would offend people but found a lot of people that identified with me. I identify a lot with you. I am not a round the world traveler, a vagabond, or professional traveler. I have a job and a family and traveling is something tat I do on vacation.

    However, here’s where I disagree with you. Here’s your quote “travel is completely about the experiences, about seeing as much of this huge world as I can and learn from as many people along the way.” Now there is nothing wrong with being a tourist and seeing the world. I have done many of the same tourist things you have. With our limited time, we have no choice. However, I define tourist differently.

    I see a tourist as someone who doesn’t do the things you mention. A tourist who only goes to see sights and neglects to connect with the place they visit missed out on the experiences. Sure, they hear a different language but if they only seek to take from it rather than experience it, what have they gained. I see a tourist as someone who goes to a different place but only makes the trip about themselves. You can see touristy things and do the same things as a tourist but when your trip becomes about other people and cultures then you are a traveler. Just my two cents.

    1. Jeremy, thanks for the insightful comments, I really appreciate them. Yes, we do think a lot alike and have very similar worldviews. However, I think it’s all semantics, tourist, traveler, etc. I do think that everyone who doesn’t live in the place where they visit is a tourist, no matter what they do or their level of experience, but as I said, it’s a matter of interpretation.

  17. To my mine, a traveller is a person who travels, FOR WHATEVER REASON, to see the sights, business trip, going to visit the family.

  18. If a traveller is simply one who travels to gain new experiences, then wouldn’t that make all tourists travellers as well? Just because you head to Jamaica for a week all-inclusive doesn’t mean that you are not having a new experience?

    We are currently on a 15-month ish RTW trip. We rough it, sometimes…but we also like to spend a bit more and see touristy, not so “off the beaten path”sites as well…and when we get home, we will still love going to Mexico every year for our own all-inclusive adventure.

    Any “traveller” who labels someone else as a tourist (and thus believing to see themselves as superior… it’s true) is an ignorant ass who needs a good swift kick in the teeth.

    Ahhh, now I feel better :)

    Thanks for the post – an oldie but a goodie!

  19. I have been thinking about this exact topic recently!

    For me travelling is about learning about different cultures and seeing how people in different places live their day to day lives. This isn’t found only in remote wilderness and untouched civilizations, it is found in big cities and suburbs, sleepy rural villages and local markets.

    I like to learn how people around the world do things that seem the same as what I do everyday, but see how they do it slightly differently. I go grocery shopping once a week but in other places they go food shopping everyday. I make myself a cup of coffee at home when I get up in the morning, while in other countries they wouldn’t miss grabbing their daily caffeine dose at a streetside cafe. These are ordinary experiences that can make you think and change the way you live your life. Most importantly, you don’t need to be on a year long round the world adventure to experience them.

    I too love being a tourist because I recognize that I am fortunate to be able to do it. I think any type of travel is an enriching experience and no one should ever feel superior about or ashamed of the travels that they have been fortunate enought to experience.

    Just like Skott said, great post – an oldie but a goodie! :)

    1. Thank you and I’m glad you can relate! You’re right, we should count our blessings that we can travel in the first place and just go out and enjoy ourselves. :)

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