I cannot think of the amount of conversations I had on the topic of tourist versus traveler. For some people these terms are used synonymously. For others, like me, they are worlds apart and almost at the opposite side of the spectrum. So, before you brush off the topic or judge too quickly, let me just lay down my definition and see how we go from there.
It’s true that the term tourist has in recent years acquired a bit of a bitter taste. Once, tourists were simply people who visited countries different to their own, explored foreign places and soaked up new impressions. Nowadays, you have to clarify your purpose of visit to be judged and your trip valued accordingly for said categories. But as it naturally happens with language, meanings change over time, develop new denotations and sometimes even shift their connotation. In other words: meaning is added or changed – for better or worse.
There might be several reasons for such a trigger in shifting meanings and one of them might be the growing low budget/flatrate drinking culture that many travel companies are increasingly offering. Let’s call it the ‘Mallorca’ mentality.
From an anthropolgical Perspective
Have you ever read the genius anthropological catalogue of insights into British culture that is Kate Fox’s “Watching the British”? A definite must read for the sake of its hilarious detail of observation and writing style alone. Especially for everyone who loves Britain, enjoys making fun of Brits and/or just thinks about spending a prolonged time in England.
In it, Kate Fox analyses how otherwise uptight and rule adhering British people turn into irresponsible sunburned party animals that litter the pavement with regurgitated remnants of the meals of the day and their own intoxicated bodies occasionally. How come that whenever they put on a Hawaii shirt they end up dancing on tables and drinking their minds out? How could this have become socially acceptable for an otherwise strict British upbringing– especially if it is in a foreign country that could take offense at such mannerless behavour and on top of that, could get quite the wrong impression on how British people ‘normally are’.
Fox’s conclusion is to attribute it to ‘two sides of a coin’. In other words, if you always have to suppress your wants and urges for the sake of appearing sane and behave in a culturally acceptable way, socially well known exceptions are embraced with a passion. This is generally alcohol. A pub setting. Or holiday. Thus, basically suspending the rules while on vacation.
Party Home Style in an Exotic Environment
So let’s apply this concept broadly to the flatrate holiday goers. What they are searching for is not an exotic place full of new impressions and lifetime memories (especially since most of them can’t even remember how they got home), where the goal is to drink so as to get drunk. Best example: Full Moon Parties. If you don’t know about the dangerous and reckless excess that is involved here in this parade of intoxication, check out this scary report about the latest tendencies of such festivals. (Granted, not all are like that.)
So where does this lead us to Mallorca? If you didn’t know Mallorca is THE hotspot for European party people, Germans and Brits in particular. The ultimate destination of fun and endless summer nights with lots of booze and babes. There are cheaper and just as popular Eastern European destinations, but this one is almost a classic. Many people who are looking for a relaxed holiday getaway that does not involve frying in the sun on loungers and showing off beach bodies by the pool (even if they are not particulaar show-off worthy) during the day with a vivid party scene at night, will shrink away upon hearing the word ‘Mallorca’.
The funny thing is the Spanish island has so much to offer. And that doesn’t involve drinking, unless you count fine wines. Everyone always seems to be surprised (me included until a while ago) to hear people visiting who you would least expect to meet at a party, cocktail in hand and whooping. They are going for seeing the landscape. That is when their sanity is questioned.
The Fine Line
And here we are getting close to the difference between a tourist and a traveller. Tourists don’t have to be party animals, travelling solely for the fact of cheap nights and long hangovers with the novelty of foreign one night stands with the setting of palm trees swaying in the warm breeze. What tourists are, however, are the ones ticking off lists, travelling to get away just to be away and not really bothering to dig deeper into the new culture. Think lounging in spa resorts or fancy beaches all day long.
Sure, they love to listen to strangers talk, try exotic cuisine and take tours with illuminating commentary on the country and its people and then when they get home, they ‘have seen everything’ and are quite the new experts on the country. After all, they listened between snoozes to random bits of random facts that are part of a tourist friendly storytelling and just portray a tiny fraction of the cultural, political and historical complexity of a nation. Blending in with the locals is at best an entertaining pastime and afterwards the ‘funny ways’ of the ‘people here’ is gently mocked during a day’s recap.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not bitter. I am speaking from my own personal experience and yours might differ but the main difference that I am drawing here lies basically in the mindset. A tourist ventures forth for sights and travellers do so for the experience. Travellers do sometimes catch themselves thinking they’ve seen it all and knowing ‘lots of stuff’ and at one point a lot of things, places and even faces start to look similar and repetitive but the novelty of new spaces and exotic places generally weighs more. The journey is the destination.
Seeing the World with Different Eyes
Put a traveller in a new place and they will set out to explore and discover, walking down dodgy backstreets, chatting up locals on the best restaurants or applying language skills to strike up genuine conversations and show a humble respect to the guest culture. A tourist might apply basic phrases for the fun of it without trying to understand the underlying cultural meanings and values that are attached to language and its ingrained perceptions of the world, for instance.
There are different kinds of travellers and the lines that differentiate the terms are blurred and highly subjective. Each person has a different approach to travel. There might be the ones walking their way through the country so as to either experience life up close and at a non rushed pace. Or simply because they are cheapskates (Had to make that painful experience with a travel mate.) Then there are visitors that love to hop from city to city, getting as much as they can out of the country, soaking in different aspects, dialectal variations and regional peculiarities.
A traveler is not at all omniscient or the most tolerant of people, but they are aware of differences in a way that opens up their mind and for a moment erase prejudices and general expectations. They know that certain hand gestures might cause offense and are not as presumptious as disregarding said norms simply because ‘they are a tourist and not part of the culture’. Sadly enough, I have heard this comment way too often. So my plea to you is: don’t be just a tourist (it’s ok to be sometimes), but explore the world as much as you can and want. It’s a beautiful place.