Traveler or tourist? Why you should be both

There seems to be a debate brewing among travelers on the topic of tourism. Nowadays, the word “tourist” has somehow developed a negative connotation. In fact, in many circles, particularly among those who write about travel, if you call someone a tourist, it’s perceived as an insult.

“Tourist” has almost become a dirty word.Β 

Personally, I am so over the traveler or tourist debate! I almost always roll my eyes now when I read articles bashing a place for being “touristy”.

Traveler or Tourist Debate

If you haven’t yet honed in on this debate, just spend a little time perusing travel websites and blogs. You will find no shortage of articles encouraging travelers to get away from the touristy places and truly experience a city or a culture. I’ve even made this argument a time or two myself, so what I am about to say may sound a bit hypocritical.

I think you should be a tourist from time to time. In fact, be a tourist every time you travel… at least for a day or two. As I wrote that last sentence, I could almost hear the collective gasp from my fellow travel writers reading this article.

Parenthood and Passports - Traveler or Tourist

Here is the thing. You wouldn’t go to Rome and not visit the Colosseum. You wouldn’t visit Paris and skip the Eiffel Tower. That would just be ridiculous. Those iconic places are woven into the tapestry of their respective cities. They’re beautiful. They’re historical. And they’re often the very heartbeat of their communities. Oh, and you know what else they are? They’re touristy.

Just about every major landmark or place of historic significance in the world has, to some degree, become a tourist trap. And while some might deem that unfortunate, it’s simply reality.

Parenthood and Passports - Traveler or Tourist

Why you shouldn’t avoid tourist attractions

Parenthood and Passports - Traveler or Tourist

If you were to avoid all of the tourist attractions, you would also be avoiding so much of what gave a place it’s name, it’s history, its charm. What annoys me the most is thatΒ  those same travel writers who are knocking “touristy” places have actually been to them all!

The people who are indignantly telling you to go experience a culture “off the beaten path” once stood in a long line for hours just to stare at a statue of a giant naked dude in Florence… Those same people chastising “tourists” once fought their way through swarms of people themselves to get a glimpse of (and a selfie with) the Mona Lisa.

Those exact same people telling you to avoid New York City’s Time Square, have been fortunate enough to see the bustling commercial district with their own eyes.

Parenthood and Passports - Traveler or Tourist

Why travel writers recommend avoiding tourist traps

In defense of those seemingly hypocritical travel writers, they probably aren’t trying to sound so pretentious. In some aspects, I agree with them in the traveler or tourist debate. There are so many wonderful things that you will miss if you never leave the tourist district. It’s great to stop off in a no-name town just because something cool caught your eye.

I’ve found the back roads are often more scenic. The food is better and way less expensive just a few blocks outside of the city center. There definitely aren’t as many crowds and way fewer pushy sales people in smaller villages and more remote areas. And you will get a better feel for a country and everyday life there if you step away from the main attractions.

BUT… being a traveler instead of a tourist doesn’t always make sense

Here’s where the problem lies. Being a traveler instead of a tourist takes time… time that most people, at least those in the United States, don’t have. Most of us have a very limited amount of paid time off from our jobs. And if you only have a few days in a place, realistically, you will only be able to sample the highlights.


That probably makes you (and me) a tourist in the eyes of those judgey travel writers. But you know what? At one point they were just like you… and just like me.

Average working people who spent their 2-3 weeks vacation each year taking in as much of the world as they could. Many travel writers have pushed passed that stage of life and now travel and write for a living.

Many might spend months at a time traveling, and can therefore experience more of a country or region. They can (and should) live like a local while traveling. I think some travel writers often forget though what it’s like to have just a few days to spend in a place.

Parenthood and Passports - Traveler or Tourist

So when you read articles or come across travel quotes like the one above… ignore them and go kiss the dang Blarney stone!

Parenthood and Passports - Traveler or Tourist

Ride in a gondola in Venice. Take that double-Decker bus tour in London. Pretend to hold up the Tower of Pisa. Be a tourist – unashamedly.

Parenthood and Passports - Traveler or Tourist

Traveler or tourist?

It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Be both a traveler and a tourist. You should visit the amazing tourist sites in the world. But travel to learn, not just to see. Learn about the history of the places you visit, and take time to understand the culture (research it before you go). And one final piece of advice: definitely, definitely eat the food!

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22 comments on “Traveler or tourist? Why you should be both”

I’m so with you on this one, Melissa! We too love off-the-beaten-path places and look for more local experiences whenever we have the chance, but there is no way we’re flying to the other side of the globe and miss all the ‘musts’, the things that actually made the destination famous. There is nothing wrong in being a tourist. Backpacking, staying with locals, eating street food and just ‘living like a local’ is not for everyone. Majority of people travel in order to see the very best of their destination in the limited time they have and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Well written and straight to the point!

Thank you! I was actually worried about how other travel writers would take it, so I have barely promoted this post. I absolutely love your blog, so your comment means a lot.

It’s imperative to be both traveler and tourist. I agree. Pick a few of the top spots, then wander. That’s what I do. I live in Paris and still get butterflies when I see the Eiffel Tower. There’s no shame!

I am with you on being so over this debate too. It was tired when I was first backpacking 20 years ago so it is definitely tired now. My take on it is that it’s just a form of snobbery to be honest. I am both a tourist and a traveller at different times, and often at the same time, and I really don’t mind how others choose to define themselves. I also think off-the-beaten-path is an overused term, and few of the places I see this used in reference to are particularly off-beat nowadays.

I’m so over the whole debate too – very refreshing to read a post like this! There’s a good reason places become popular with tourists – because there’s something worth looking at πŸ˜› I can imagine that plenty of the people who get on their high horse about going off the beaten track wouldn’t be saying so if they hadn’t already seen their fair share of tourist places in the first place. It’s fun to be a shameless tourist and take the cheesy photos, too! Why pretend otherwise πŸ˜›
Fab post!
lily kate x

I totally agree to your views in this post. Even though popular attractions in the city are touristy, one must visit these as there is a reason that they are famous + you can be a travel and explore other unknown places as well πŸ™‚

Great post

I completely agree with this post. I am normally drawn to a destination because of the touristy sites. Then as I begin my research I realize that there are also out of the way destinations that I want to visit. When time allows for it, this is definitely my ideal vacation type.

Great Post! It’s a vary valid point. These “touristy” locations are that way for a reason, often they are monumental or historical and missing them just because they are “touristy” would be silly. I’m also not a big fan of people being super judgey about the way other people travel. If you only have a few weeks off a year good for you for using that time to go out and explore the world. A week in Paris seeing the Eiffel tower and other touristy things is better than not seeing them. Thanks for posting. I think we need to make tourist a non-dirty word again πŸ™‚


Thought provoking concept and I think you should be both really. Great post and love the layout of your blog!

I was thinking of another post on “what is what and why you shouldn’t be-” and not only I’m sick of them, I find them useless. Beyond the points you’ve made (which I agree with) we are all different, and there is people who are not interested on “living like a local”, “experiencing the real X” and just want to go and visit those great places that the city/country are known for, who are we (travel writers, travel lovers…) to judge them, and why should we? Thanks for stepping out of the cliche πŸ˜‰

Yes! Living in NYC I try to do the tourist stuff sometimes, even though I have been living here for 12 years. I still learn new things! And some things are popular for a reason.

I really appreciated your thoughts on this. I think the best way to travel is to find that balance. Of course I want to see big touristy things, but I should also take the time to meander through local streets, and take the time to appreciate the lives of the people who actually live there, not just the tourist attractions that brought me there in the first place!

We completely agree with you that we cannot avoid touristy places when we visit popular destinations. We believe that its your interest about a place that makes one a tourist or a traveler. We try to gather all the details about the place before we travel so that we can enjoy our stay and relate things.

This debate has been going on for ages and being a travel writer, I have no qualms about enjoying a gondola ride, kissing the blarney stone etc.! Heck one of my favourite places I have seen in the world is the Great Wall of China. If I believed in not going to touristy things, I would not have gone there and enjoyed it as much as I did. Travellers who have months on end to explore, should see things outside the typical itinerary as they are in effect getting paid for it.

I totally agree with you on this! I just spent 7 months on the backpacker trail in Southeast Asia and if I had a dime for every pretentious comment from a fellow backpacker about being a “real traveler”, I could have funded my travels for another 7 months haha.
There is no shame in doing a little of both– see the Eiffel Tower but then take a walk in a less touristy neighborhood and see how the Parisian people actually live. Main touristy sights are popular for a reason, so why miss out for the sake of not being a tourist.

I really loved this post and I agree with everything you said 100%. I do get annoyed with travel writers and bloggers telling you to avoid those things. You can’t not go to Rome and skip the Colosseum and go to Paris and skip the Eiffel Tower especially if you’ve never been there. I also feel like those people who preach that have the luxury of time unlike those who have jobs with limited vacation.

Here Here! Totally 100% absolutely agree. Some of the best trips I have ever taken I have been a tourist. I remember my very first trip to NY City. As an Aussie kid growing up in the burns of Sydney it seemed impossibly far away and glamorous. When I finally made it there (only 6 years ago) I could stop pinching myself. In the first day I must have said to my girlfriend about 100 times ‘do you know we are in NYC?’ Lol I was unashamedly a tourist in that trip and did every one of the cliches and you know what I had a blast! I never judge anyone travelling style and as long as they are getting out there and enjoying it that has got to be a good thing. Those that slavelishly seek out non touristy spots could just well be missing out on some of life’s greatest moments.

I’m totally with you! I hate it when people ‘tourist-bash’. I mean, we only know about certain cities because of the attractions that have been found there. That’s what makes the cities a ‘must-visit’ place and therefore a tourist hub. I also agree with getting away from the main attractions and experiencing local life, but that this should just be part of traveling, and that we don’t need a distinction between tourist and traveler. Great read.

I always wanted to be a traveler, one of those people who don’t fall in the tourists’ traps and avoid the crowds. The truth is that if you want to explore the world, as you said, you are going to do these things as well as being a traveler. So here I am! A proud tourist-traveler! πŸ™‚

Hey Melissa, interesting take on the tourist vs traveler distinction. To me, being a tourist connotes an attitude of consumerism that isn’t accompanied by a cultural sensitivity that we should all have when we travel. I absolutely agree that there’s nothing wrong to see the tourist attractions when we travel, but I’d just like to add that we should still strive to act according to the cultural norms of wherever we’re traveling to. Btw I am visiting Ireland for the first time in March and can’t wait to see the Blarney Stone (although I may not kiss it because I keep hearing people piss on it! haha)

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