A Traveller or a Tourist?

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What is the difference between a traveller and a tourist? Well, the easy distinction often made concerns what kind of trip people are on. To put it simply, someone visiting other countries with a backpack and roaming from place to place without a fixed itinerary is often regarded, especially by themselves, as a ‘traveller’. Someone on holiday, especially someone on a package holiday for one or two weeks, is generally regarded as a ‘tourist’. According to this distinction, the traveller gains an understanding of the place as it really is, mixing in with the locals, learning about the culture, whereas the tourist merely skates over the surface, seeing the sights but ignoring the people and their culture. This is why many people who consider themselves ‘travellers’ sneer dismissively at ‘tourists’ and are so anxious to distance themselves from them. However, this distinction does not seem to me to hold water in many cases. First of all, let’s accept that a traveller is someone who fully experiences the place they visit rather than simply observing it from the outside, as a tourist does. Does everyone calling themselves a traveller really do this? Of course not. There are herds of young backpackers out there in all corners of the world who see and learn very little of the places they visit. Sticking together in groups, their tales on return are seldom of what they learnt of other cultures but of the other backpackers they met. Contact with local people is negligible, and there is the suspicion that they are merely ticking boxes so that they can say they have visited all the places that their peers go to. This seems to me not to distinguish them at all from the package tourists boasting about the places they have been to, but who the backpackers so deride. Secondly, there are plenty of people much older than the backpackers who do immerse themselves in the cultures of the places they visit, even if they are only on short holidays. It’s not about how long your stay is,...
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