The word “tourist” tends to have a negative connotation, while the label “traveler” is often thought of positively. Some people might not recognize a difference between the two, however, it is possible to come to the same country and leave with completely different views of where you traveled depending on whether you are a traveler or a tourist.
What’s the difference?
Key differences between a traveler and a tourist:
1. Travelers recognize that the country they are visiting does not exist to make them comfortable. Instead of trying to maximize their own desires and agenda, they watch how the country and culture helps its own people to thrive. Tourists are often there to see what they can get out of a country, with the mindset of a consumer.
2. Travelers seek to be sensitive to the culture around them. Travelers recognize that they are entering a different culture, one whose customs they might not be familiar with. Rather than wanting to carry on in the way of their home culture, they adapt to the culture in which they are journeying. They are eager to try new things, because they realize that they left home for a reason and don’t feel the need to bring home with them.
3. Travelers go to a destination because they love expanding their worldview. Tourists might go somewhere to tick it off the list of “cool places they’ve been.” For example, travelers might take a local cooking class so that they can better understand the cuisine of the culture, while tourists take a cooking class for entertainment.
4. Travelers are spontaneous! They are willing to take the next adventure as it comes, because they know that things don’t always go as planned, especially in a country foreign to them! Tourists tend to be more focused on what they are “supposed to see.” This can cause them to miss an incredible opportunity right in front of them!
5. Travelers are willing to go off the map. They aren’t looking for the photo that will get the most likes on Instagram or make the best cover photo on Facebook. They are looking for the real deal–ditching the tourist traps for an authentic glimpse of the culture they are visiting.
6. Travelers value the advice and opinion of locals. No matter how many guidebooks you read, you can’t understand a country like someone who has lived in it and been a part of its culture. Travelers are eager to meet people and hear their advice on what to see and what to skip.
7. Travelers desire to see the country for what it is instead of the stereotyped version of the culture that is often presented to visitors.
“Please, be a traveler and not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what is right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.”
Which is better?
We would advise people to try to be travelers instead of tourists as much as possible.
It is fine to be a tourist and enjoy the comforts of familiarity in a different culture, but we think that you will get the most out of your trip by approaching it with the attitude of wanting to engage with the culture as much as possible. Sometimes it might depend on your resources and specific situations, and that is perfectly fine.
How can you be a better traveler? A little practical advice:
- Try new things! Whether this means tasting food that you would normally never be brave enough to sample, or riding a new form of public transportation, be adventurous! As far as food goes specifically, eat what the locals eat. Watch and see what is popular with them, because they know their cuisine the best. Every country has its own unique flavor–try as much of it as you can! See how many different dishes you can sample.
- Have a learning and humble attitude as you travel. Recognize that each culture does different things well and that you have a lot to learn from the culture you are visiting.
- Ask good questions.
- Get away from the biggest sights. This isn’t to say not to see these at all; some of the sights that are popular among tourists will take your breath away. See them! But don’t stress yourself out trying to see all of them. You’ll probably find that seeing the everyday sights of the country will actually be more enjoyable for you.
- Follow local cultural code as much as possible. Standards of modesty and acceptable dress are different in every culture. Be respectful!
- Ask before you take a picture of someone. No one likes to have a camera shoved in their face.
- Don’t plan every single minute of your trip. Leave room for spontaneous excursions or spur-of-the-moment experiences! Those will be the ones you remember.
How does Experience It Tours encourage a traveler rather than tourist mindset?
One way that we help our travelers experience the real Morocco is by having them stay in traditional riads rather than hotels. While there are many beautiful hotels available in Morocco, we believe that people should stay in riads, because they are a unique part of Morocco and hotels are available in most other countries.
A second way that we aid our travelers to get an authentic view of Morocco is by only offering private tours. Private tours allow for spontaneity and a chance to be flexible with your trip. Our personal drivers are there to offer their insight on local culture and help you find the places you want to see.
You definitely will not be able to understand a different culture in your 2 week travel time. Odds are, you probably won’t blend in like a local either.
However, it is important to give an effort to see the culture the best you can, in a way that is an accurate representation of it. Most of the time, you’ll find that view comes from engaging with it as much as possible, with humility and a desire to learn from the country you are traveling through.