Travellers vs tourists

This is a subject I’ve wanted to talk about for a while because as divides between fundamentally similar people go, this battle blows skiers vs snowboarders out of the water.

Go and take a look at this link here. Go on. This is epitome of travellers vs tourists and shows very clearly that the artist (or the person who commissioned the art) is a pretentious idiot who believes that travellers are Special and Wonderful People.

Go on, have a look.

Here’s a sample:


I’ve never been quite sure which group to identify with. My colleagues, all people who go to family-friendly all-inclusive resorts in Spain and Turkey, view me entirely as a traveller because I go to cold places they wouldn’t dream of, like Iceland and northern Norway and this makes me an adventurer and a weird person.

Looking at these cartoons, I’m absolutely on the side of the tourists. The only real difference between the two is attitude. The tourist’s attitude is frequently “what a great place I’m in!” and the traveller’s attitude is “I’m better than you”. These cartoons show travellers camping, using huge expensive cameras and refusing to look at landmarks. Well, tourists also camp (have you not seen the huge all-inclusive parcs that families flock to in the summer?), use huge expensive cameras and of course real travellers go to landmarks. What’s the point in travelling halfway across the world to London to then refuse to look at Big Ben, St Paul’s and the London Eye? You’re all the same!

I’ve had a look down the cartoons:

Tourist with selfie stick vs traveller with expensive camera and tripod.
Well, for a start, not all travellers are actually professional photographers. There’s nothing wrong with taking a photo of yourself in a great place and it’s far more likely the travellers are the ones posting pictures of themselves on Instagram and worrying about their follower and like statistics.

Tourist in a hotel vs traveller in a tent
I do take a tent to Iceland. Because I like to make it up as I go along and I don’t know where I’m going to be that night. I prefer to be inside but what with the sheer number of tourists, hotels are frequently full and if they’re not, they’re probably out of my price range. The tent is an emergency backup that gets used at least two nights out of every trip. What’s wrong with a hotel? What’s wrong with a comfy bed and a hot shower? I wouldn’t mind if I hadn’t seen so many travellers pitching their tents at the side of their road so they don’t have to pay £2.50 to The Man who owns the local campsite.

Tourist buying a “I heart NY” t-shirt vs traveller buying prayer flags
They’re both souvenirs but at least the tourist isn’t buying a souvenir of a religion they don’t actually believe in while pretending that they’re a deeper and better soul for doing so.

Tourist taking the straight route vs traveller taking the rough road
The roads are there for a reason. Stop destroying hire cars in fords and pristine landscapes because you’re too special to drive on a road.

Tourists in a group vs traveller on their own
This is nonsense. Travellers are usually in pairs at the very least. And in what way does it make you a better person to not go somewhere with your friends and/or families? I go alone because I’m an intolerant people-hating person who gets angry when people want to stop for a cup of tea and it’s better for my blood pressure to not have to worry about that and also none of my friends want to trudge around in the snow at -12 at midnight in the hope of seeing some green light in the sky.

Tourist dreaming of a bed vs traveller dreaming of a tent
We’ve covered this one. Let it go.

Tourist heading for a vehicle by a signpost vs traveller trying to hitchhike on a motorbike
We get it, you’re too special to sell out by paying for anything. But I’ve spent half a month’s salary on hiring this car so I can get around. Why do you think you deserve to get use of it for free? You’re leeching off the tourist industry you think you’re too special to be part of.

Tourist with three t-shirts, a map and a laptop vs traveller with one t-shirt, a phone and three lenses for a very expensive camera.
What’s your point here? That some electronics are good and some are bad? I thought the first cartoon said that phones are bad? Is never changing your clothes is a worthy objective? Are you better than a tourist because you’ve got a huge camera? Tourists carry big cameras and travellers carry laptops. And fine, you can go round in circles for days on end and see nothing of interest because you won’t look at a map.

Tourist in a bed vs traveller in a hammock
This is the third time you’ve tried to tell me you’re better than the tourists because you don’t sleep in beds. Get over yourself.

Tourist at the Taj Mahal vs traveller paragliding
Well, quite honestly, I doubt you’ve got a paragliding licence so you’re either going to get yourself killed or you’re partaking in the tourist industry by doing a tandem jump with a professional pilot. And of course travellers go to the big sites like the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower, they just make bored faces in their photos as if they’re too good to be at the place they’ve travelled halfway round the world to be at.

Tourist on a road vs traveller on… a sort of path of dots?
I think this is meant to represent, yet again, we’re too special to use infrastructure and would rather tear up the landscape in the name of being authentic.

Tourist hailing a taxi by the Eiffel Tower vs traveller climbing a mountain
These two are fundamentally incompatible. There are no mountains in Paris. And who do you think is climbing Everest these days? 90% tourists. Who’s climbing Kilimanjaro? Tourists claiming to be doing it for charity. Who’s climbing everything else? Mountaineers, not travellers. Meanwhile, tourists and travellers alike are going to the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben and the Colosseum as we’ve already said.

Have I been contemptuous enough towards these pretentious idiots?

I don’t adore tourists either. I once stood at the viewpoint at Þingvellir, a place I find both beautiful and special, and watched a group of tourists get off a coach and follow an umbrella across the viewpoint, through the visitor centre and back into the coach with never a spark of interest in even one pair of eyes. This amazing place was nothing more than somewhere to stretch their legs, use the toilets and take photos of a view they couldn’t even name and that kind of tourist – what is the point? But the tourists who are wandering around with maps and guidebooks, reading out bits of trivia to their group – they’re the ones who are interested, the ones who’ve learned something about a new place, the ones who’ve got something out of their visit, the ones who’ve appreciated what they’ve seen and that seems like a good thing to me.

There’s a great hate for guidebooks. Is it because you’re blindly, sheepishly following the tourist trail? Or is it a symptom of this hatred for reading, learning and experts that seems to have resulted in Brexit? Are we all Mr Wormwood? Do we really hate knowledge? Do we really hate people who acquire that knowledge? Guidebooks are great. Guidebooks show maps, so you know where you are and where you’ve been. Guidebooks show correct spelling, so you can attempt to pronounce where you’ve been and so you can research that and read further. Guidebooks show basic information so you know why this great plain is interesting. Guidebooks tell myths, legends and local stories so you can put in context why people are interested in it. Guidebooks tell you what particular sights to look out for so you don’t come home and discover you missed a fantastic view, a lovely waterfall, a site of historical interest. Guidebooks are an absolute mine of information and you don’t have to stop at what’s in the guidebook – you can learn other things and add to the information you have at hand. They’re a starting point, not the be-all and end-all.

But at least tourists aren’t going round, getting in people’s way, causing trouble in places they’re not supposed to be in, and telling everyone how much better they are for refusing to contribute to the economy of the place they’re visiting.

I do have traveller tendencies. The camping, the liking for places not on the hitlist for young suburban families, the occasional climb up a mountain or jump off it attached to a big hanky. But as I’ve said, the tent is an emergency backup, all-inclusive campsites and resorts full of children are boring and are you really telling me that there’s nothing touristy about climbing Esja or booking a tandem paraglide through a local flight school that has a big stand right next to the cable car? Likewise, are you telling me it’s a bad thing to read a guidebook, consult a map, sleep inside and not destroy the landscape?

I’m a tourist and you know what? That’s not a bad thing.