No matter how well traveled you are, you’ve asked yourself the age old question: Am I a tourist or a traveler?
While there’s no easy way to make this distinction, we like to think that travelers have a world-savvy know-how that sets them apart from the too-trusting tourist. Travelers know how to find local deals, don’t waste their money on subpar experiences, and integrate travel into their life.
Read below for a handy cheat sheet that identifies several of the key characteristics that differ between tourists and travelers…
You’re a tourist if you rely on package tours.
You’re a traveler if you use short excursions to enhance your experience.
While tours can take you behind-the-scenes and be a compelling way to learn about local history, not all tours are created equally. All-inclusive tours arranged by large operators might relieve you of planning stress but ferry you from major site to major site, leaving little time to explore the off-the-beaten path hidden gems that real travelers know make up the experience of visiting somewhere new.
Instead of choosing big tours, travelers like to work with expert local guides to better understand their surroundings. Whether it’s a walking tour of ancient Rome with a local PhD candidate who makes the ruins come to life, or a guided trek up Table Mountain in Cape Town, smaller tours add color to your visit (and offer a welcome break from your travel companions). Bonus points for tours led by locals who are eager to share their favorite shops, restaurants, and activities.
You’re a tourist if you waste hours searching for the best flight prices.
You’re a traveler if you know how to effectively search for travel deals (and know when airline loyalty beats out savings).
Both travelers and tourists love to score cheap airline seats, but the difference is how they go about it. Tourists sit at their computer for hours, scouring different deals and combinations in an attempt to piece together the cheapest route—only to have it disappear by the time they’re ready to buy!
On the other hand, travelers realize that airfare search sites are not created equally. You’ll usually only need one or two to find the best deal on any given flight. Whether you’re looking for last minute flights, able to be extremely flexible on dates, or just wanting to build up loyalty, the experienced traveler knows which airfare search sites to consult before hitting buy. Sure, they might use fare hacking to score bargain basement deals, but even when they buy their flight full out, they’re confident that they’ve researched the appropriate fare.
You’re a tourist if you rely on guidebooks for recommendations.
You’re a traveler if you tap into a local network to discover hotspots.
While a guidebook can be a useful jumping off point for travel planning, its limited range of hotel, restaurant, and activity recommendations means it’s only part of coordinating a memorable trip. Travelers consult select guidebooks for an overview of what they can expect to find—certainly not as an end all, be all.
But the real difference between travelers and tourists when researching their trip comes down to their ability to consult a global network. Even when travelers don’t have a connection of their own (or from a friend of a friend) in their destination city, they’re eager to hop on social media to ask the locals firsthand about the best way to experience their city. Whether that means scouring Instagram hashtags, reading blogs, or joining a dedicated travel Facebook group, travelers relish the opportunity to make new global connections.
You’re a tourist if you trust markets to offer an authentic experience.
You’re a traveler if you understand how to assess local shops for real deals.
Every traveler has a story about a time when they were led astray by a supposedly “local, authentic” market, only to discover stall after stall hawking overpriced tourist trinkets. Whereas a tourist might stay and wander, or just be disappointed at the offerings, a traveler knows when to cut their losses and how to find a suitable alternative.
Unsurprisingly, this means turning away from the guidebook and asking the locals where they do their shopping. If you’re looking for authentic Italian leather in Florence, you’ll have better luck stopping by the illustrious Scuola del Cuoio (literally “leather school”) rather than il Mercato di San Lorenzo. At the Scuola, you’ll find handmade bags produced by master artisans and their pupils. If you want to understand Amsterdam’s place in the global flower industry, skip the touristy Bloemenmarkt in the middle of town and head to the Amsterdam flower auction in Aalsmeer, which auctions off more than 20 million flowers daily.
You’re a tourist if you moan about the wait at customs.
You’re a traveler if you figure out the best way to speed through airport security and customs.
No one likes to wait in line for hours, but tourists and travelers have two very different reactions to security lines and customs procedures. While tourists might grumble at the never-ending wait, travelers do their research to find out the best alternative for them. There are plenty of expedited entry schemes that let you speed through security with your shoes on, or help you proceed quickly across the border in your country of choice.
By now, most travelers and tourists have heard of Global Entry. Global Entry is operated by the Department of Homeland Security and lets trusted travelers use a shorter line when landing in the U.S. from abroad, and it also lets them use TSA pre-check when boarding. But while this is a popular scheme, it costs $100 for five years and isn’t the best choice for everyone. Many U.S.-based travelers prefer Mobile Passport, which is a free app that lets you speed through customs by pre-filling in your landing card and scanning a QR code upon landing.
Travelers also know that it’s okay if none of the expedited entry schemes work for them–sometimes waiting is just part of what it means to travel!
You’re a tourist if you expect working on the road to just happen.
You’re a traveler if you plan in advance for productivity.
Working on the road always seems easy, but travelers know from experience that it’s anything but. While tourists might pack along a computer and never take it out, travelers will assess their situation to see if getting work done is actually possible, given their schedule, before they blindly make commitments they won’t be able to uphold.
If work needs to be done no matter what, travelers make preparations in advance. They plan when and where they’ll work, and check out the wifi situation at their destination. Pocket wifi can be a savior when working to meet a deadline on the road. A tourist might get thrown for a loop, but a traveler certainly won’t.