Tourist or Traveler?

Posted by Chika On 2:02 PM

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

When you leave your home, are you a tourist of a traveler? When I was a young buck traveling around the world, it seemed important that I consider myself a traveler rather than one of those mindless tourists who do little but ruin the landscape. As I grew up (somewhat) and continued to travel, I realized that there are few distinctions, and that all souls who wander the earth are both tourists and travelers, and that one species is in no way superior to the other type of explorer.

And those pretentious young kids with their backpacks, expert bargaining skills, and identical guidebooks -- who consider themselves somehow superior to tourists -- really need to grow up. Or grow older, for today's backpackers will soon be tomorrow's tourists on the escorted tour of Bangkok and beyond. Independent travel is in most ways a superior experience to escorted tours, but time takes its toll, and I certainly don't expect my elderly parents to crash in some $3 dive on Khao San Road.

Rolf Potts has more observations on the superficial difference between travelers and tourists. I'd say about 40 years.

Anthony Bourdain is a tourist dork
Rolf Potts
Sept 5, 2005


OK, I'm sure Anthony Bourdain isn't really a tourist dork, but I do take issue with the magazine advertisement for his new Travel Channel show, Without Reservations, which features the tagline "Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist".

For starters, the traveler/tourist dichotomy has long been one of the most insipid obsessions of the travel world (since, as peripatetic guests in foreign places, we are all tourists, regardless of what we wear, where we eat, and which guidebook we use) -- and to imply that one can shed the "tourist" mantle by watching a television show is positively idiotic.

Moreover, in the ad, Bourdain is shown clutching a red magic-marker in front of an aerial photograph of Paris, presumably having just scribbled little morsels of wisdom into the margins, such as: "Hungry? The Royal, a typical Parisian café, is a mandatory staple in the daily routine of the Parisian. No tourists here!"

Though there is much to ponder in such a reductive statement ("the daily routine of the Parisian" -- what is this, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom?), the "no tourists" part is what gets me, since the surest way to send "tourists" stampeding into any café or restaurant is to declare it untouristed. Ernest Hemingway knew as much 80 years ago, when he was a part of the Paris expat scene. "We ate dinner at Madame Lecomte's restaurant on the far side of the island," he wrote in The Sun Also Rises. "It was crowded with Americans and we had to stand up and wait for a place. Some one had put it in the American Women's Club list as a quaint restaurant on the Paris quais as yet untouched by Americans, so we had to wait forty-five minutes for a table."

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