Lately, the travel world has been abuzz with countless opinions on what makes someone a “traveler” and how to know if you’re simply a “tourist.”
Don’t believe me? Just search on Google for “Are you a traveler or a tourist?” and you’ll know what I’m talking about. (You can even take online quizzes to find out if you’re a traveler or a tourist. Genius, right?)
The popular theory is: A traveler goes where tourists don’t – that means travelers are people who choose to visit lesser-known destinations while tourists are those who visit popular attractions.
But that’s not all. Supposedly, there are hundreds of other factors that can help to differentiate travelers from tourists.
For example, if you choose a comfortable traveling style and opt to stay in nice hotels when you travel, you’re a tourist. You can call yourself a traveler if you’ve canoed in the Amazon and lived in yurts in Mongolia or places that don’t have electricity or hot water.
Following along so far? I bet you must be thinking it’s no biggie. You just need to choose to head to the “non-touristy” destinations and avoid the popular ones, choose tents over hotels, pee in a hole in the ground instead of a proper toilet (it’s all about having authentic experiences, you know?) and bam! You’re a traveler.
I hate to disappoint you, my friends. The lines of distinction are a bit fuzzy here – if they even exist at all. As another opinion on the internet reads, “Having a glass of wine for an hour in a non-touristy section of town makes you no more a traveler than someone who is having a glass of wine for fifteen minutes in the must-see part of town.”
Wait, what? I’m not sure I follow anymore. Do you?
Okay, let’s just leave those supposed categorizations aside for a while and ask ourselves this – should we really care about being labeled a traveler or a tourist?
Well, many of us do care.
In fact, I came across slightly disturbing research which found that almost half of Britons would prefer to be labeled as “travelers” rather than “holidaymakers.”
And why do you think that is? Because of a mindset that condemns tourists and holidaymakers.
That, my friends, is travel shaming.
What is Travel Shaming?
It’s the belief that destinations and traveling styles that “travelers” choose are praiseworthy and ones that “tourists” choose are not.
It’s about shaming how people plan their travel or what activities they choose – all used to create meaningless divisions between people instead of understanding that we’re all allowed to travel in our own ways.
Now before I go any further, I think it’s worth mentioning that I find nothing wrong with exploring lesser-known places, living in tents, or interacting with locals.
However, I also don’t find anything wrong with visiting the popular attractions, living in comfy hotels, and taking a bunch of Insta-worthy photos of yourself in pretty outfits when you travel.
But when I look around, I find that we often feel that we need to discard every pleasurable activity from our travel itineraries if we really want to be known as a traveler.
The need for social validation and appreciation is so acute that many of us go berserk trying to find off-the-beaten-track kinds of destinations for our next travel.
We go out of our comfort zones and adopt traveling styles that we don’t even enjoy. And slowly, we lose sight of the reason why we chose to travel in the first place. To be happy.
Perhaps, it’s time we need to remind ourselves of what the words “traveler” and “tourist” actually mean. According to the Oxford dictionary, a traveler is: “A person who is traveling or often travels.” And a tourist is: “A person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure.”
Now tell me, do you find anything in these definitions that suggests one is better than the other? Is there even a difference between the two?
No One Gains from Travel Shaming
That’s exactly the point I’m trying to make. Travel shaming makes us question our choices and makes us feel inadequate. It makes us feel like we’re constantly being judged for the travel choices we make. And no, these aren’t figments of our imagination.
I’ve come across people who feel the need to describe every bit of how excruciating their road-trip through the Himalayas was, and how strong they were to have survived it. And how such journeys are definitely not meant for “finicky tourists.”
Such people would shame you for staying in all-inclusive resorts and choosing an exotic beach destination to spend your next holiday. Because, you know, that’s classic “touristy” behavior.
You stand a better chance of impressing them with your stories of solo travel to Central Africa or backpacking across eastern Europe. Why? Because those are the choices a real “traveler” would make.
Okay now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve tried a variety of travel styles – I’ve traveled solo on occasion, although it’s certainly not something I personally enjoy. I enjoy traveling with my husband and I’m the happiest when both of us are able to explore unseen places together and make wonderful memories along the way.
I’ve also stayed in a variety of places including the Marriotts and all-inclusive beach resorts to the tiniest of Airbnb apartments in Hong Kong and even hostels with shared bathrooms in Europe. If you guessed that I enjoyed my stays at the Marriotts and all-inclusive resorts way more than at the hostels or shared apartments, you’d be right.
Now, just because I don’t enjoy solo travel and prefer comfortable stays, would you call me a tourist and shame my choices? This mindset is exactly what needs to change.
Who said that travel is praiseworthy only if you’ve been to the Congo or tried some sort of extreme adventure sports during your travels?
What if I’ve always dreamed of admiring the Paris skyline from the Eiffel Tower summit, ever since I was a kid? When I finally get a chance to do so, should I just give up on my dreams and divert my attention to Kilimanjaro in order to be a traveler?
Travel Should Make Us Happy
Here’s what we need to understand. There are people who’d gladly choose France over Tanzania while there are others who’d do just the opposite. Regardless, it doesn’t entitle us to shame any of these choices. (Or come up with mindless quizzes to distinguish travelers from tourists).
Some research says you need to visit 21 countries, own three different plug adaptors, and bungee jump in order to be called a traveler. Just to prove to the world that I’m a traveler, should I do a bungee jump even if it scares the living hell out of me?
How many times have you found yourself questioning your choices because you thought they might not be good enough to be appreciated by others? Hasn’t that made you feel inadequate?
If you have ever felt that way, you know why travel shaming needs to stop. It’s time we start being a little more supportive and appreciative of each other’s choices. No matter how different they might be from our own.
For those of us who find popular attractions “touristy,” let me tell you that no destination today is truly offbeat. If you’ve been there, dear traveler, you sure weren’t the first and you certainly won’t be the last. This petty name-calling simply creates a rift between people and diminishes the joy of traveling by propagating people’s self-righteousness.
So, if traveling for adventure makes you happy, so be it. If traveling for relaxation makes you happy, so be it too. Let’s just focus on doing the things that make us happy. And just ignore the rest.
Chandrima Chakraborty is a content creator whose passion for writing and travel made her leave a successful career in sales and marketing to do what she loves the most. On her blog, Travel Stories Untold, she shares helpful guides, itineraries, tips, and experiences to inspire people to travel. Her pet peeves include small talk (she’s terrible at it), exercising (no love lost there), and glib talkers (she gets anxiety attacks around them). She’s a perfectionist at heart (if it isn’t a right angle, it’s a wrong angle) and her Instagram feed stands testimony to that.