you don’t want to consult a map to avoid looking like a tourist, they might have whispered, ‘they are tourists!’
The difference between a traveler and a tourist is a perennial debate in travel communities. The usual distinction is that a tourist goes to see, while a traveler goes to experience. Plenty of travelers see immersion in new cultures and straying from the beaten track as markedly different from touring well-visited sights. But the idea that travel has to follow certain rules to be valid or meaningful reeks of snobbery.
Who decided there was anything wrong with being a tourist? In 2012, for the first time in history international tourist arrivals surpassed the 1 billion mark. Tourism is a major source of income for many countries. Like it or not, travel is very often a consumer experience – although it’s down to the traveler to explore the world responsibly, deciding how and where to spend time and money.
There’s no doubt that slavishly following an itinerary means you risk missing the most memorable travel experiences, the serendipitous moments and interaction with locals.
But there’s no need to cringe at visiting well-known attractions. we can all conjure up a memory of trying to photograph a classic sight while simultaneously keeping hundreds of other visitors outside the frame. While it’s easy to be cynical about travelers ticking off the top 10 sights, the simple truth is that I’m a visitor too. Giving in to that cynicism means losing touch with a sense of wonder about the world, and the reasons visitors flock to a destination in the first place.
Travel isn’t a competition. Most of us travel to experience something new, and how we achieve that is up to each individual. Whether you’re on an all-inclusive tour or a year-long backpacking adventure with a budget, they are both ‘real’.
And no matter how you travel, there will be times when you have to conspicuously pull out a map.