Travel Topics

What It Means to Be a Traveler vs. a Tourist

hiking in peru, what it means to be a traveler vs. a tourist

What does it mean to be a traveler vs. a tourist? Over the years, the term “tourist” has received a somewhat negative connotation. While when someone says they are a traveler, people look at them with admiration and a bit of envy.

As a writer, I understand words are powerful tools. And as a self-proclaimed traveler, I want to define what it means to be a traveler vs. a tourist. This is my attempt to do just that with these questions below.

What is travel?

Travel to me is freedom. Particularly, solo travel. Every time I journey somewhere new, I experience myself in an entirely new way than I do back home. But strangely, travel is always home to me. It builds my confidence and creates a certain knowing that, yes, I can navigate through this world even if I don’t know my way around. It’s a realization that we are all connected and that you can have an impact, whether it be big or small.

There are many different types of travel. You can travel for work, pleasure, volunteer, etc. There are also various ways in which you can travel. Some choose to bounce from destination to destination by way of car, plane, train, bike, or even their own two feet. But no matter how you get there or why you are going, there is a subtle (ok, maybe not so subtle) difference in what it means to be a traveler vs. a tourist.

Is it the journey or the destination?

small town stops, a cafe in Istanbul Turkey
My first day in Istanbul, Turkey. I found a hidden cafe while wandering the streets.

To me, the biggest difference in what it means to be a traveler vs. a tourist is whether the reason for travel is in the journey or the destination. Travelers are interested in the journey that will transport them to their destination just as much as the destination itself. While tourists often just plan for the destination.

For me, the journey continues, even upon reaching my destination. When I arrive in a new place, I typically spend the first day just wandering around its streets taking photographs of anything that catches my eye, breathing in the new smells, and eating unfamiliar foods. Sometimes I sit on a bench talking to the stranger next to me or just watching the people walk by. It’s my way of introducing myself and absorbing my new surroundings.

Some places demand silence and contemplation. While other places party with you until 5:00 a.m. It’s the role of the traveler to observe a destination’s culture and characteristics. So, no matter where I choose to travel, I am a part of the destination’s journey.

What kind of impact do you make?

backpacking in Colorado
Me, backpacking through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado.

To quote the late Anthony Bourdain, “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life and travel leave marks on you.”

Travel can take you near and far, but what you are left with can sometimes be the most important piece of it all. It’s not just how you travel but the feeling you get at the end of your journey. Do you feel changed? Do you feel inspired? Did you learn something? What positive impact did you make? Did you leave with something you can share with the world? This to me, is the best part about traveling.

But it’s not just about the impact travel has on you but the impact you made while traveling. With the rise in sustainable travel, there are many ways in which to have a positive effect. Look for eco-friendly tours, green hotels, eat locally, walk instead of taking a cab, etc. are just some of the ways we can positively impact a destination.

Even traveling to more obscure or unfamiliar places provides a positive impact on travel. You don’t add to the over-crowding of popular tourists’ destinations, you support local businesses and people, and you will walk away with a truly unique experience.

Why do I travel?

what it means to be a traveler vs. a tourist

Several years ago, I ended a 10-year relationship, quit my career as a buyer, and decided to set out on a four-month journey of international travel. When I told people what I was doing, most responded with, “cool. So, this is like your Eat. Pray. Love. moment?” I thought sure, if that is how you want to justify me putting my stuff in storage and taking off (only) four months to travel.

However people wanted to classify my journey, those four months quite literally changed the trajectory of my life. It awoke a part of me that had been silent for many years. I had encountered confidence in myself that I had never felt before. It was the kindling to my fire that has yet to burn out.  

Of course, the beauty of travel is that it means something different to everyone. And we can all bring our own unique perspectives and experiences to the table when visiting new places and meeting new people. And while there is certainly a need for both a traveler and a tourist, I created this blog to provide you with travel stories not just about the destination but about what makes its heart beat, and the journey it took to get there.

My intention for this blog is to share with you some of the lesser-known or unfamiliar places in this world and the people and stories who make these destinations worth the journey. I hope my future posts will inspire you to seek out the road-less-traveled and savor those people and places that may not have a massive global impact but a larger-than-life impact on you. One that you can take with you and share with others.

Even if you are traveling to see the main tourist attraction, I hope you take the time to take a slight detour off the beaten path to hidden restaurants, intimate gardens, local hotels, and quiet trails, using this blog, Small Town Stops, as your travel muse.

If you wish to travel along, you can subscribe to this blog and follow me on Instagram @small_town_stops

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