The traveller versus tourist debate has been raging for years. What started as a tongue in cheek look at tourists and their shenanigans, soon became a serious discussion, and that’s where it all went south. From light amusement, the narrative became boring, then quickly regressed to foolish and pretentious.
To try and define a tourist and a traveller is an effort to create labels, to then proclaim belonging to the superior label. Ever came across a post or article on this topic written by a self-confessed tourist? No, it is always the so-called travellers that are harping on about the differences and how they are somewhat grander in their unique ability to strike up a conversation with a local.
A single invisible difference
Time. That is the single, invisible difference between the two labels.
Travellers with little time at their disposal are called tourists because they seem to rush from one attraction to the next in a big air-conditioned bus. Upon arrival they pour out and follow the little red flag at the end of a stick.
In contrast, tourists with plenty of time at hand are referred to as travellers because they seem to leisurely use local transport, spend long hours in local eateries and somehow resist the temptation to photograph everything.
The real reason behind the difference in behaviour is simply the time available to each.
Tourists are rude
Another notion with which I strongly disagree is that tourists are rude. A rude tourist is just a rude person away from home. You don’t need to leave your home town or home country to meet rude people. And you don’t have to queue at a tourist trap to experience horrid behaviour.
I have met many so-called travellers who were really well mannered and kind hearted. But unknowingly to themselves, they were quite patronising towards the locals, sometimes to the extent that one would describe them as rude.
It’s a mind-set
Our behaviour during our travels is determined by our mind-set, which in turn is determined by, amongst many other things, our level of travel experience. I want to share two stories with you that will hopefully illustrate this.
- Milan – Italian fret
I was in Milan for work purposes and managed to add two days to my stay in order to experience a little bit of this global fashion icon. Being home to the Gothic Duomo di Milano cathedral and the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, housing Leonardo da Vinci’s mural “The Last Supper,” testify to centuries of art and culture.
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to see the world’s most famous painting as you have to book weeks in advance. But I had two other attractions at the top of my bucket list and that was Duomo cathedral and the da Vinci museum (to be correct, the Museo nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia “Leonardo da Vinci”).
My second and last tourist day was reserved for the da Vinci museum. I enjoyed the walk from my hotel and arrived at the building with great anticipation, just to see a sign on the entrance “Closed due to strike action.”
I was livid! How could they do this to me? It was rude, insensitive… I was a tourist victim. I almost allowed the situation to ruin a perfectly pleasant visit. Fortunately, there are a myriad of amazing attractions and an equally amazing metro rail system to get around.
- Midrand – South African bliss
We recently visited Nizamiye Masjid, also called the Nizamiye Mosque. Often stated to be the biggest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere, the plans for the mosque were originally designed in Turkey, but then adapted to South African building standards.
The mosque is an unbelievable venue for photography, especially to practise low light indoor images. And as dusk approaches, the outdoor low light scene is amazing.
It was my first visit to this mosque and I was looking forward to spend time inside. My wife is the photographer, so I could just sit and enjoy the decor. But, I forgot that Islam expect men to have their knees covered and I arrived in my Bermuda shorts!
So I had to kill a few minutes (hours) in and around the compound. I noticed a little bookshop and found the most amazing read: “Yes, I would love another glass of tea” by Katharine Branning. A splendid book based on Lady Mary Montagu’s “Embassy letters”, written in 1716-1718.
It was bliss. I missed the opportunity I came for but enjoyed the peace and quiet with a good book more than I would have enjoyed the inside of the mosque.
It’s all in the mind, how we choose to react.
“Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show”
I would love to have your thoughts, please leave a comment.