The hazy line dividing traveller and tourist has long been a hot topic. Many like to plant themselves firmly in the traveller camp and shun the idea of being a tourist, but does it take more than a hemp headscarf and a dreadlock to be a true traveller? Decades of in-depth scientific analysis have led us to the following conclusions when it comes to that all-important distinction…


IMG_7102 by Carolyn Williams

Journey vs. Destination

Travellers separate themselves completely from the realm of city breaks and package tours. While tourists often see the merits of all-inclusive deals and last minute holidays, travellers consider themselves nomadic adventures embarking on a life changing voyage of almost spiritual magnitude. Instead of wishing only to enjoy a cheap deal and a good-looking beach they aim to find themselves (along with an endangered animal and/or a worthy cause.)


Travellers can play at least one Bob Marley song on guitar, demonstrate limited ability with a circus skill and bend themselves into a yoga posture at a moment’s notice. Tourists may be able to do one of the above but would rather not, thanks. Not in public.

Tourists are too shy to use the limited words and phrases of a nation’s language that they remember from school. Travellers, on the other hand, use their limited words and phrases with absolute confidence, interspersing them with English words in a native accent when nobody seems to know what they are talking about.


No matter the location, a traveller would not be seen dead with a wheelie suitcase and would rather traipse around nicely paved city streets sweating profusely with their own bodyweight strapped to their back. Likewise, a tourist would rather drag their wheelie case along the pothole lined streets of a mountain village than be seen dead with a backpack.


Tourists wear frighteningly expensive cameras around their neck. Travellers keep frighteningly expensive cameras in a handmade llama wool bag.

Tourists take generic pictures of themselves posing in front of landmarks, posing at the beach and posing with plates of food. Travellers take generic pictures of wide-eyed children, market stalls at jaunty angles and smoke-filled shisha lounges. A whimsical selfie with a sunset backdrop is the trademark of a true traveller. A shot which shows the subject holding, eating or propping up an iconic landmark is the trademark of a true tourist.


A tourist will most likely be reading a guide book or, if on the beach, a bestselling thriller. A traveller will most likely be reading The Celestine Prophecy, Eckhart Tolle, The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance or a guide book hidden in the cover of one of the aforementioned tomes.


top of the bus by zoetnet

Getting about

Tourists travel around on large, air-conditioned coaches with a group of other tourists. Travellers get around on small, air-conditioned mini buses with a group of other travellers. Those using local buses instantly win extra traveller points, especially if there is a live herd of cattle on board and the driver demonstrates a certain reckless abandon.

And so our research is concluded. Despite our thorough and technical guidelines there may be other telltale distinctions that we have failed to spot. Add in your insights below.

Stella Nuthall is a writer and traveller who counts herself lucky to have lived and worked in more than five different countries. The next destination on her list is Guatemala…