The Ultimate Discussion: Traveler vs Tourist.

Submitted by mumunmumun on 8 December 2013   •  Opinion



“But that’s not traveling!” Nia, my best friend of birth (she claims, though I have no memory of her from my fetus days), said to me on a bus from Granada to Cordoba, Spain.

“What do you mean this is not traveling? How do you define traveling then?”

“What you’re doing is touristy. Traveling is getting to know the people and the culture,” she insisted.

“How is this not?” I questioned her back. Another discussion about the definition of traveling and labels. 

Tourist vs traveler discussion - Me and Nia

It’s true. I was on a tourist route around Morocco – Spain – Portugal – France – Belgium – Hungary – Slovakia – Czech – Austria – Italy only in a month time. I visited the touristy cities like Barcelona, Paris, and Prague, just to name a few. I took a picture underneath the Eiffel tower, I ate Belgium waffles, and I lost my phone to a pickpocket in Lisboa. I am that tourist. I might not be the traveler that I’ve defined by living off and on my journeys, but how am I not traveling?

Tourist vs traveler - Making sure to come back to Rome

I eat what the locals eat, which could mean I might be eating at a fancier restaurant than my likings just to find the signature dish. I drink the tap water, of course making sure that it’s the cold water and not the warm. I travel like the locals using public transport or walk until my toes feel like they’re numb (since it’s not a ‘thing’ to walk in Indonesia). I do as the locals do by saying Obrigada, Graci, or the thank you in the local language as much as I possibly could. On top of it all, I’m learning. I learn something new everyday of the place I visit. Heck! I learn something new in every step I take, like the time I walked the streets of Vienna, Austria and seeing flakes falling. For a second I thought it was ash from somebody who was burning their trash, as they do in Indonesia. Then I realized, that’s not something that people do here. Vindhya delivered the good news.

Tourist vs traveler - public transport


“This is snow, Mumun!” Vindhya told me with a smile, knowing I had always wanted to see falling snow. My face lit up and I started giggling with joy. I watched it fall, I opened my mouth to taste it, and I even got a flake in my eye. Although cold, I was fuzzy and warm inside. Until, an hour later it started to fall a little too much. In the event of wind and in the middle of our walk up the hill to the cafe at Schonbrunn or summer palace (ironic, I know), I didn’t enjoy it as much. It was cold; it made my clothes wet, and kinda hurt when it hit my face. It wasn’t that pleasant by then. Did I mention it was cold? Yeah, I learned that snow is nice when you’re not in a windy storm or you don’t have to walk through it. I also learned that people have to deal with inches of snow for about 4 months each year. I learned, life can really be hard in winter.

Traveler vs tourist discussion - falling snow

One thing is for sure. Although I enjoyed the glory of seeing falling snow, I’m a tropical girl by heart. You can take this girl out of Indonesia, but you can’t take the Indonesia out of the girl. I even learned that on my journey.

From historical landmarks of a town to buying a metro (subway) ticket, everything is new to me, at least. It might not come much as a shock traveling Europe from developed countries, things might just be categorized as (I’m assuming) different. But, coming from a developing country like Indonesia, everything is a WOW, both good and bad. In the case of traveling and getting to know the local life, I’m pushing it as far as I can on this trip. Trust me, when an Indonesian is traveling abroad, they’re learning a lot!

Yeah, it’s not learning the true meaning of each culture in such depth through slow traveling, but does it have to be? I’m overwhelmed as it is.

But, that’s just a small portion my opinion of travelers, tourists, and traveling.

“Hmm you might have a point there,” Nia admits to my argument, but didn’t conclude to agree. It was just a discussion on a bus in Spain between childhood besties that never planned to be in Europe in the same time. After 33 years of friendship and our own individual escapades, we finally did the talk; the talk about the definition of travelers and tourists. It was interesting to hear what she had to say, especially since she is currently mostly hitch hiking and budget traveling.

However, whether I’m right or wrong is not really the case at all, and I’m not going to state more of the matter. It’s just that I’ve come to realize the debate about the definition of tourists and travelers will continue on, between strangers, newly found friends, or even after a long friendship. Although I pretty much would like to abandon the topic – and imagine how Vira would roll her eyes knowing that I’m writing about this – as there are other more interesting topics such as the impact of traveling, good accommodation, how to pack for winter, and should I take another batch of breakfast right now, the discussion will be inevitable in the future of our travel blogging days. And it’s cool, as long as it’s a healthy discussion. A healthy discussion is always good for a healthy mind and I don’t mind being healthy at all, especially when it doesn’t involve sweat. While I used to avoid the topic, now I’ll indulge the matter anytime over a cup of coffee. So, any tourist or traveler interested in a warm cup?

Tourist vs traveler discussion- drinking Pilsner beer

Leave a Reply

8 Comments on "The Ultimate Discussion: Traveler vs Tourist."

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
5 years 11 months ago

I don’t mind to be labeled as a tourist or a traveller.
Because while others are spending their time arguing about this topic, I’m enjoying my journey around the world :p

5 years 11 months ago

i’m ok to be called ‘tourist’ as long as i’m happy with my trip and i can travel all around the world!

5 years 11 months ago

Kak, kalo yang suka ikut trip gratisan itu turis apa traveler kak? :))

5 years 10 months ago

Hy, what about backpacker?