My dear friend Pasquale was talking to me about my book, Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy, and my Glam Italia Tours while we were driving along the beautiful Amalfi Coast Road this past June. He said to me “You are a traveler, not a tourist. You teach your tour groups how to be travelers, not tourists, and the core message of your book is leading readers to be travelers, not tourists.” It was a fantastic compliment.
I keep thinking about that, and the importance of being a traveler rather than being a tourist.
One of the best travel guides to Paris is a book called Don’t be a Tourist in Paris. The book guides you through hundreds of incredible places to see and things to do in the City of Light, things that tourists either don’t know or don’t care about.
There is a huge difference between a traveler and a tourist. Both like to travel, but they seek and find intensely different experiences while they are away. They have very different characteristics and are viewed and treated very differently by locals in the places they travel to.
In my experience being a tourist is exhausting and can leave you quite depleted at the end of a trip. The path of the tourist is lined with crowds of other tourists, and being stuck in crowds all the time can be unnerving as well as really tiring.
The path of the traveler sometimes intersects those crowds, but it veers off in other directions too. Travelers enjoy human interaction in the countries they visit, they seek out a new understanding of the place they are in. When their trip is finished the traveler typically feels filled up by all the new experiences they have had.
I really do work hard to make sure that my Glam Italia Tour ladies walk the path of the traveler. I want them to come away from their tour feeling filled up by the experience.
This is a big part of why I wrote my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy. I hope the book will convert tourists into travelers and have them find a deeper love for Italy.
Here is a breakdown of 8 core attributes to each. I hope you will consider this next time you travel, and make the effort to be a traveler, not a tourist.
TOURISTS vs TRAVELERS
1.Tourists Sightsee, Travelers Experience.
Tourists typically just want to see the main attractions, the “Must See” places. They take their photos, check the attraction off the list and move on to the next. They don’t want to immerse themselves in the culture, they don’t need an experience.
Travelers do the reverse. They may go see the famous sights but they also venture off the beaten path and explore other less well known things in the area. Travelers crave new, unique experiences, and want to immerse themselves in the local culture, meet and talk to local people.
Example. The Eiffel Tower. Most people going to Paris for the first time will go to the Eiffel Tower. A tourist will wait in line for hours, go up the tower, take some photos and then move on to the next tourist attraction.
A traveler might wander down Rue Cler, buy items for a picnic, and take an uber to Champ de Mars, the park in front of the tower. Maybe they will time it so that they arrive in the late afternoon, get to see the tower in the sunlight, but are opening their bottle of wine when the sun goes down and the Eiffel Tower lights up. To the traveler creating a wonderful experience is paramount, and in this example they have taken part in local culture, interacted with locals, and created incredible memories of one of the most iconic sights in the world.
2.Tourists Stick Out, Travelers Blend In.
One of the easiest ways to separate the two is in how they present themselves. Tourists tend to stick out both by their dress and their behavior. From athleisure-wear to fanny packs around their waists to I Love New York t-shirts (is that a challenge to the locals? Are you saying New York is better than here?) to any inappropriate form of dress, they tend to stand out visually. They dress for comfort (and some of them dress to advertise their patriotism.)
Behavior-wise everything from clogging up the sidewalk to take their selfies or look at their maps, oblivious or uncaring of the local people getting to and from their jobs, doing their errands, living life in their cities, to being loud, being rude, making a commotion. Behavior that falls into the category of disrespectful. Tourists typically don’t think about how they would feel being on the receiving end of this same behavior at home.
A traveler makes an effort to blend in and to connect with locals. They tend to have a When In Rome mentality. Travelers make the effort to plan a wardrobe that works with the culture of the place they are visiting, they feel like guests and behave respectfully. They don’t need to draw attention to themselves, don’t think they are better than anyone else. Although they want to be comfortable they will also factor in style and a sense of what is appropriate.
Example: When In Rome. A tourist sees no problem in walking into a church wearing shorts and a tank top and is more likely to argue with anyone trying to stop them. A traveler understands that even though it is a hot day shoulders and thighs must be covered, so has on a knee length skirt and has a scarf to throw over her shoulders as she walks into the church.
A tourist walks around snapping pictures and snapping chewing gum while the traveler heeds the no photos signs and understands that flagrant gum chewing is both frowned upon and leaves locals wondering if you will be leaving wadded up pieces of gum behind you.
A tourist marches off to the next attraction on the list, a traveler interacts with the locals, asks questions, wants to know about life here. A traveler will be polite and will make sure to say please and thank you.
3. A Tourist Complains, A Traveler is Curious
Tourists tend to compare everything to home, invariably with the attitude that everything is better at home. They criticize, demand and complain. Tourists are more likely to by myopic and to have a closed mind. Travelers are curious, ask questions, and go with the flow, knowing that they are here to have a new experience. They approach everything with an open mind.
Example: Eating Out. A tourist will demand fat free ranch on the side, swap the greens beans for asparagus, demand salad be brought out first and complain that they are being charged cover charge for bread baskets.
A traveler understands that fat free ranch dressing (as well as regular ranch dressing) are not part of the cuisine. He or she understands that it can be considered rude to ask for foods to be exchanged and know that the order the courses are served in is specific to that culture. And isn’t that why we are here anyway? To experience something different from home?
While we are on the subject of food…
4. Tourists Eat Comfort Foods, Travelers Explore The Local Cuisine.
Tourists tend to stick to the foods they know. They are less likely to try something new. Tourists gravitate towards familiar food chains or eat at tourist restaurants, ordering foods they know from home. Tourists are comforted by seeing a bottle of ketchup on the table, whereas travelers are repelled by it.
Travelers know that the key to understanding a country or a people is tied up in their cuisine. Travelers may keep a wide berth from foods that seem too extreme, but overall embrace the local culture and want to try the local foods. They will normally have researched it as part of their upcoming travel experience and will be aware of typical and traditional meals in the place they are visiting.
5. Tourists are Oblivious, Travelers are Sensitive.
Tourists don’t pay attention to their surroundings or to other people. They don’t care if they get in the way of locals going about their daily lives. They can be completely oblivious to local customs, offending the local people without realizing it.
Travelers are more sensitive to local customs and norms and make an effort to embrace and participate in them, or at least not to offend. Travelers are always cognizant of the fact that they are a guest here and as such don’t want to get in the way of local life, so are more apt to step to the side, not take up the sidewalk, not be a nuisance.
Travelers also make an effort to communicate with the locals.
While we are on the subject of communicating…
6.Tourists Stick To Their Own Tongue, Travelers Make An Attempt To Speak/Learn the Local Language.
Tourists will only speak their native language and make little if any effort to learn even a few things in the language of the country they are in. They expect everyone to speak their language, especially English. In fact you will often hear them complain to each other and to locals that this city runs on tourism, so the locals should speak English!
Travelers try to speak the local language. At very least they will learn greetings, please and thank you and a few useful phrases. They may have them written out so that at worst they can point to them when in need. For example being able to point to the phrase ‘Excuse me, I am lost. Which way is the train station?’ followed by a thank you in that language.
Travelers know that wherever you are in the world making the effort to learn even just a few things in that language is appreciated!
7. Tourists Love Souvenir Shops, Travelers Seek Out Artisans.
Tourists love souvenir shops. They don’t care that the mini Eiffel Towers and London Bridge kitchen towels are mass produced in China and aren’t adding to the local economy. They see them as being authentic, settle for them, check it off the list and move on.
Travelers appreciate authenticity and try to support local artisans. They attach value to locally made soaps from little local stores, hand painted ceramic kitchen magnets rather than those factory produced in China, and they see value in keeping local economies and crafts thriving by supporting them.
Example: Venetian Masks. Walk along the Grand Canal in Venice near St Mark’s Square and you will see tourists flocking to the vendor stalls that line the waterfront. Tourists will happily pay for imitation Venetian masks, imitation Murano glass and Burano lace, all of which are of inferior quality and mass produced in China. This doesn’t support the local economy and actually puts local venetians out of work.
Travelers by contrast want the real thing and will seek out the little owner operated artisan shops, will take pleasure in conversing with the owners, learning about how many generations of their family have worked at this craft, and create an experience out of buying a piece of the local culture to take home and treasure.
8.Tourists Stick To Their Maps, Travelers Like To Explore
Tourists tend to have a list of famous sights and use maps to get them from sight number one to sight number two in as straight a line as possible. They have a fear of getting off the beaten track and as such will stand in the middle of a busy sidewalk consulting their map rather than stepping down a side street and getting out of the way.
Tourists are more likely to take transport from sight to sight rather than just wander and find something new.
Travelers might be visiting the same sights but will seek out the side streets and look for the lovely things they would otherwise miss if taking the most direct route or sticking to the main roads. They enjoying walking and exploring and finding their way, seeing local life happening, and feeling if only for a moment that they are a part of it all.
Tourists are excited to get back home to their own bed and to everything that is familiar and normal to them. Travelers leave a little bit sad, not quite ready to let go of the new experiences they have been having and the new world they have discovered.
Did you get your copy of my new book yet? Learn more fabulous tips for travelers, both to Italy and to anywhere else in my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy.
If you have more tips for tourists vs travelers, please tell me in the comment section below!