‘Tourist’ has become a dirty word. Tourists are the selfie-taking, Maccas-eating, constantly complaining foreigners who wander a place oblivious to the world around them other than to gauge how much of a tan they’re likely to get.
Travellers, on the other hand, are explorers, experiencing the world in an authentic, ‘real’ way.
But according to the Oxford English Dictionary a tourist is just ‘a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure’. A traveller is ‘a person who is travelling or travels often’.
By all the definitions offered above (by the OED and popular opinion), I am sometimes a traveller and sometimes a tourist. I stick out like the foreigner I am walking the forested paths of Japan’s Nasu Valley, but fit right in picking mangosteen along the road to Tagatay in the Philippines. Is one experience less valid than the other?
Disparaging tourists for their need to see the ‘must-sees’ is a fruitless enterprise engaged in by those who either have nothing to do or like to point out the plot holes in Star Wars. The must-sees are so described because not seeing them can take you out of a discourse that has been happening for decades. For instance, when in Paris for the first time, I had little desire to see the Eiffel Tower up close. But as I stood at its feet all the images and stories I had heard of the famed site flashed in front of me. My mother had stood here, just like me.
And as for the ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ goes, I say bah, humbug. There is no one, correct way to live in a place, let alone to visit it. And if a person is limited by time or money and can only quickly visit a few ‘touristy’ places, then well done them. Surely travelling a little is better than not travelling at all!
Especially in this day age we should be encouraging people to experience as much of the world as possible, whether that means staying in a four star hotel or living with a local family, or even a bit of both. It shouldn’t matter if you stop for a selfie in front of a landmark or pause to have a long conversation with a local, as long as you do no damage, both are valid experiences.
So tourists and travellers unite. Let’s just be what we are: visitors hoping to have a good time while learning a little about the world (and ourselves) along the way.