If someone would ask you to describe yourself in two words, would those words be world traveler? Or do you consider yourself more of a tourist? More importantly, do you know the difference between the two? Join us in this expedition to finding out what differentiates a traveler from a tourist, how to become a traveler, and what are some of the best places to travel in the world if you think you fit in the first category. We hope you enjoy the ride!
Are You a World Traveler or a Tourist?
Maybe you’ve never thought about this question, or maybe you’ve always thought in the back of your mind that the two are virtually the same thing. But there are actually quite a few major differences between seeing the world through the eyes of a tourist and looking at it through the eyes of a world traveler.
Before getting into the specifics of what differentiates the two, let’s take a quick look at what author Jonathan Culler wrote in an essay entitled “The Semiotics of Tourism”. Culler believes that unlike travelers, tourists only look for their own superficial expectations when traveling to a new place. They don’t want to see something that surprises them, they only seek entertainment and pleasure, but at the same time they are passively waiting for something to happen to them, instead of looking for adventures as travelers would.
This is how sightseeing becomes a commodified version of traveling. In other words, you go on guided tours with dozens of other people, you look at what you expect to see there, you buy a souvenir, and then you go back home.
In their quest, tourists engage in a practice which attracts volumes of scorn: they purchase mementos of various sorts. – Jonathan Culler
While tourists do that, Culler says, a true world traveler would be actively seeking new and interesting experiences, craving to meet people, turning traveling into a true undertaking. He/she would, as Frost would say, take the road less traveled by, venture off the guided path and into the excitement of the unknown.
How to Practically Differentiate a Tourist from a World Traveler
Now let’s get more specific and take a look at the actual differences between being a tourist and being a world traveler:
- A world traveler prefers to explore sights that are not as popular and crowded (and take his time soaking it all in), while a tourist wants to check as many famous attractions as possible.
- On the same note, a traveler doesn’t like to follow other people on a straight path, as the tourist would, but to explore new (and sometimes even slightly dangerous) territory.
- Travelers also don’t need maps and they are not afraid of getting lost – that would only mean tackling a new adventure.
- A tourist tends to pack a lot of things, from outfits to electronics, while the traveler packs as lightly as possible and only thinks about the necessities.
- Because they travel with so many things, tourists usually stay in hotels where they have everything to feel comfortable. A world traveler would prefer sleeping in a tent and listening to the sounds of nature all night long.
- Usually, when a tourist first arrives to the destination, the main thing on his mind is to reach the hotel room and take a shower, maybe even sleep for a little while. Well, this is not the case with a traveler, who is ready to go places as soon as he reaches the destination.
- Even the mode of transportation to the desired place differs. Tourists usually travel by plane or in the comfort of their own car, while you will see world travelers in old timey buses or hitchhiking.
- Souvenirs: tourists will more likely buy mugs, t-shirts, or keychains to replicate the attraction they just visited, while travelers will either buy nothing or buy more traditional, possibly handmade items.
- Taking pictures – can you guess what the situation here is? I think we’ve all seen tourists using selfie sticks and taking pictures of themselves in front of popular attractions. World travelers are more interested in the sight rather than having concrete proof that they were actually in that place.
- Where is home? For a tourist, home will always be the place where they actually live, while for travelers, every foreign place they visit can feel like home.
How to Become More than a Tourist
First of all, if you want to be a tourist, be a tourist. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if reading the above list made you crave some of the activities characteristic of world travelers, or if you already do some of them, here is how you can proudly answer “world traveler” when somebody asks you “What are you?”.
Secondly, take your time exploring new places, don’t try to cram an entire trip to a foreign land in a week. Don’t hurry to check as many sights from the list, this will take out of the experience of actually being there. Of course, no one says you can’t go traveling with some specific places in mind, but don’t stubbornly stick to the list, but allow unexpected surprises to take you off your path.
It may sound like a cliché to say that the road is more important than the destination, but in the case of a world traveler this works like a charm. There are so many interesting people that you can meet on the road, so many adventures that can change your perspective, it would be a pity to miss them only to stick to the original plan.
Only a couple of blocks from the main tourist hotels lies a street of small shops where one can see real native craftsmen at work and whose wares sell for a fraction of the prices charged at tourist traps on the main street. – Jonathan Culler
Be spontaneous and talk to locals, immerse yourself in their culture, don’t just look at it from a distance. Experiencing something different from what you’re accustomed to is what makes life fun.
All these being said, don’t feel like you shouldn’t visit popular attraction at all. Maybe going to the Colosseum seems like something everybody does, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth seeing or that you should avoid it.
Seeing the World as a Traveler
Finding the best places to visit when you are a world traveler can sound a bit ironic (after all, you’re trying to go to places that are not so well-known), and making a list of such places is definitely challenging. But just to give you something to start from if you are at the beginning of your path as traveler, or something to inspire your next travel, take a look at these amazing traveling spots from all over the world:
- Marieta Islands’ “Hidden Beach” in Mexico will charm you with its secluded location and crystal-clear water.
- Alaska’s Arctic National Park is the perfect place for adventurers – it is extremely wild and challenging to cross.
- Huacachina, the small village of Peru, is an oasis in the middle of the desert, and completely worth visiting.
- Popeye village in Malta was first created as a film set, but now it is a small theme park that you can explore.
- The Door to Hell, Turkmenistan, is a huge hole of fire created by geologists who tapped into a cavern containing natural gas. It is still burning today and it sounds like a unique place to visit.
Ending the Expedition
After reading our guide to being a world traveler, do you identify yourself with this, or do you still remain a tourist at heart? No matter the answer, we hope our article helped you understand the differences between the two and at least gave you some ideas to try on your next travel around the world. But before we go, we will leave you with this riddle:
What travels around the world but stays in one spot?
If you want to read Jonathan Culler’s full essay, you can find it here.