The Difference Between a Traveler and a Tourist

I don’t consider myself a well traveled man by any means… yet, but I have found that in my travels there tends to be a difference between travelers and tourists.

You’re thinking, “But it means the same thing.”

Not the same, they could be like sister words. Well… more like second cousins maybe. ha

So what is the difference you ask? First, let me list the actual definition of the two words. Afterward, I’ll list my opinionated definition with a blurb to better define the terms.



Traveler 1.) a person or thing that travels  2.) a person who travels or has traveled in distant places or foreign lands

Tourist1.) a person who is traveling, especially for pleasure.

Via Me

Traveler 1.) a person who can travel light and be open to changes and adventure 2.) a person who looks to learn about a culture while traveling

Tourist 1.) a person who travels for pleasure with no intent to change lifestyle or learn about another culture



I’ve had this conversation with multiple travelers and how it can be frustrating running into tourists. I know that travelers and tourists both go to the same locations but it’s how they handle themselves that I feel really defines them.

When I travel I want to get a sense of the people and culture of the place I’m visiting. Along with that I try to be mindful of the customs of where I go. I may not have any idea of what I’m going to do when I arrive but I will be well read and versed on things to do as well as ways to comfortably mesh in with the locals.

I would say most travelers that I encounter tend to travel light and modest. They don’t tend to draw attention to themselves by an overwhelming amount of luggage or flamboyant apparel.

When I’ve come across tourists they travel to live as if they were at home. Many times with multiple bags or one large suitcase, filled with x number of outfits and pairs of shoes. I have also met a lot of people in the transition phase where they begin cutting back on materials with every new trip.

When it comes to attractions, a traveler tends to be an admirer and lover of the place where many times, tourists go to say they went. Of course they go for the attraction but tend to hold it as a feat more so than an appreciation of something awe-inspiring.

I know I generalize a lot and not everybody is one or the other but these are just some blaring things that I have noticed. I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal either. I’ll admit, I started off with a tourist mindset and have grown to really love and embrace the places I go, people I meet and places I see. Over time I’ve drastically cut back on what I take and improved on my chameleon travel mode.

I feel like this a fun and debatable topic, so please comment below. Let me know what you think. Is this a fair observation? Am I missing anything? Any differences you would care to add between the two?

P.S. I’m not saying a traveler can’t be a tourist or a tourist can’t be a traveler. Just so we’re clear. It ultimately comes down to having respect for the people/places/things that we encounter during our travels, however we travel.


  1. says

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. My favorite experiences have been when I’ve gone to a rural area where no one speaks English and interact with the community. You meet the nicest people, eat the best food, and find out how other cultures live.

    • says

      For sure! It’s in those situations that I feel bring out the best and kindness in others. Plus, the local food of any new place is usually always eye opening and hopefully delicious :)

  2. says

    :-) I like the your term “traveler”, although usually for myself, I use “visitor” instead. I’ve had an experience in Florence where I visited a shop not intending to buy anything and was ask if I was a tourist (not to nicely if I may add). Told the shop owner “no, I was a visitor”… and lo and behold, he suddenly warms up to me and practically starts giving away his stuff.

    There is a difference, I completely agree :-)

  3. Jon Garnett says

    I too would consider myself a traveler. It is what I do for a living. Everyone thinks that what I do is glorious, but I work from 9-5 and many times later than that, afford me very little time to “see the sights” however I think that because I travel for business I often get a more realistic feeling for the community that I am in at any given week. I get to see things the way they really are, and that can be just as beautiful and resplendent as any touristy attraction. Prepping before a trip is very important, but it is also extremely cathartic to just go! No plans, no itinerary, just wandering around someplace and immersing yourself in where you are. I love it and couldn’t imagine my life any different! Cheers to voyaging!

    • says

      Cheers to voyaging indeed! I’ve learned so much from my travels and I’ve met some of the most fascinating people. I couldn’t imagine what I would be like without all of those encounters and experiences.

  4. says

    Travel snob ;-)

    I’m guilty of “living like I were at home” when I go to other places. But I guess I don’t consider it guilty. I don’t think there is one “right” way of traveling and I choose to do it the best way I’ll enjoy it and that’s what really matters to me. I wish I could say I was someone who could travel light and go wherever the wind blows… and I could just choose somewhere and take off, but don’t think I won’t bring a hair dryer with me! :)

  5. Lindsay says

    Such a small but elegant distinction! At the same time, I really despise when locals frown upon ‘tourists’. Tourists– even the ignorant, loud, obnoxious kind– do a lot to support local economies, and can be a great source of word-of-mouth advertising to ‘real travelers’.

    Make no mistake, though, I’ll be counting myself as a traveller!

    • says

      They do support the economy for sure and thinking about it, I’ve run into several ‘tourists’ who end up suggesting other places to visit or things of curiosity. Tourist, traveler or local, we can all be more open to each other and the experience!

  6. says

    I put myself in the middle. I see no point in going somewhere to keep their own culture like those who go abroad and stay at places managed by their fellow countrymen or go to their own country’s restaurants because they can’t eat anything else but I am not bold enough to venture in certain places like deep rural areas where I can’t speak the language. If I venture out of big cites is in countries I know I can be understood.

    • says

      I agree, what is the point of traveling if you’re simply going to enjoy the same luxuries and lifestyle. Maybe it’s just to be able to say, “I’ve been to (insert location here).” haha That curiosity of what a different culture and place is like, tends to push me to learn more about the locals and language. It’s intimidating for sure, but I love it :)

  7. says

    Couldn’t agree more with your definitions of traveler and tourist. I consider myself a traveler, and agree that running into tourists can be frustrating. I travel to meet people, explore the world, and learn about new cultures. It brings the world to life for me.

  8. says

    I agree that there’s a difference. I consider myself a traveler, but I don’t think negatively of tourists. I also don’t mind doing the stereotypically “tourist” activities… site-seeing, etc. I think the main difference is the mindset. I really like your definition of a tourist – “with no intent to change lifestyle.” Some people simply want to go on vacation, see some new places and new stuff, and go back to their normal lives 7 or 10 days later. That’s fine. For me, the keys to being a traveler are keeping an open mind, meeting local people, and learning about/from those people and their culture to improve yourself personally.

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