When travelling a lot, one can’t help but notice the other travellers that cross your path. In today’s world, when travel is as easy as ever, you as a traveller are bound to run across all kinds of different kinds of people from all different kinds of cultures from all over the world. And after a while it may become apparent to you that while every individual is unique, in terms of types of travellers, there are a few distinct categories that we tend to fall into.
I know, I know – this is all a huge generalization and you will most likely look at this list and think either, “I don’t fit into any of those” – or more likely, “I’m a mixture of several of those categories.” Sure – but isn’t it a fun product of travel, and people-watching generally, to be able to watch someone for 5 minutes, 20 minutes, 2 hours – judge them, and put them into a box all of your own making because 1. You’ll probably never see them again and 2. It’s a super entertaining way to pass the time when you’re sitting, waiting for a bus, your plane is delayed, or shit, you’re enjoying your second Aperol Spritz at an outdoor café?
- Let’s start with the most obvious one. The “I’m a Tourist” tourist. Obviously, this is the most uncool of the traveller categories. This is most likely because it often (but not always) involves an older generation. This is the kind of traveller that still uses travel agents to book your flights and accommodation for you. I like to think of this traveller type as “the Sightseer.” You have your map and you have your key tourist attractions in each city – and you’re not leaving until you have seen everything on that list damn it. Famous museum? Famous monument? Check. Famous art gallery? Check – even if you don’t particularly like art. You’re eating Pizza and Tiramisu in Italy and Tacos & Mole Sauce in Mexico. You buy shitty fridge magnets and tea towels proclaiming where you’ve been – in fact you’re wearing a baseball cap right now with “Budapest” written on it. Hop on/hop off bus is the best way of seeing the sights. Or maybe a Segway. Either way – you know how to do tourist.
Although inherently uncool, there is something kind of endearing about this kind of traveller. It harks back to a time where travel was a massive privilege – most people didn’t get a chance to do it very often. And by the time you’d paid for your flight, accommodation and food – you couldn’t really afford anything much more than a shitty teaspoon with an Austrian flag on it. What’s wrong with being a tourist anyway? That was the whole point of travelling in the first place wasn’t it?
- Next, the “Classic Backpacker.” Now this category of traveller is a rite of passage for most young Australians – whether you are just out of high school on a “gap year,” somewhere in the middle of university studies or just finished uni and wanting one last sojourn before “real life” starts. The obvious accessory is a monstrous backpack. Those things kill your shoulders, back and soles of your feet by the way. The backpacker is obvious to spot. You have a pair of ratty hiking boots/thongs/yoga mat hanging from the outside of your backpack. You’re wearing a fedora, bandanna, hippy pants, or woven friendship bracelets that you picked up from a market in South East Asia. And you probably smell – mostly of unwashed clothes. Did someone say hostel? You might not be able to afford that delicious fondue in Switzerland, but you can always afford that can of beer from the local kiosk. In my day you would’ve had you Lonely Planet On a Shoestring guide under your arm as you march about.
It’s not so much the destinations with this category of traveller – but rather, the journey – the core challenge of getting from point A to point B. You don’t necessarily know where you’re gonna be tomorrow. But it’s probably going to involve a hostel.
- Now, this category is kind of new, something that has become more and more popular with our constant reliance on the internet for travel tips. The “I Wanna Be A Local.” The “Local Wannabe” is a direct reaction to the “I’m a Tourist” movement. Tourists are not cool. Bum-bag wearing, Pisco-Sour drinking, city map reading, camera around the neck tourists stick out like a sore thumb and are just asking to be taken advantage of. But – being asked for directions by one because you – nonchalantly walking down the main street carrying a takeaway coffee, man-bag over your shoulder – are mistaken for a local? Does it get any cooler than that? You’ve done your online research and you know the cosmopolitan neighbourhoods where the locals swig beers after work. You’ve got your Air BNB apartment – no air-conditioning because the locals don’t need it. And you spend your travels glued to your I-phone scouring for “local’s bar” and tiny restaurants which are “off the beaten track” but somehow still manage to have a queue of people waiting outside.
Truthfully, we’re probably all guilty of this one to some extent. I mean, who doesn’t want to eat the authentic noodles from the train station rather than the Westernised Thai curry from the mediocre hotel-restaurant? But at some point if you’re too wedded to this method of travel, maybe you need to take the pressure off yourself and accept that, unless you’re actually living in the place for a good few months, you’re not a local. And, that’s fine – because it’s okay to be a tourist.
- Some call this style of travelling lazy or indulgent. In most cases, it’s definitely expensive. The “Tour Guide” – or “Cruise Ship” tourist. This category of traveller won’t go anywhere unless the package includes all accommodation, a decent supply of meals (all-inclusive, all the better) and someone to lead you around from place to place so you don’t have to do the tricky navigation yourself. For you – it’s as much about meeting the other people on the tour (that means getting drunk with them every other evening) as it is about the destinations. Sure, you’re there for the cultural experience. But you like your travel to be easy, comfortable and social. How much easier can you get than having someone organize the whole shebang for you? You come home, not with plastic bags full of tacky souvenirs (although there was that expensive Venetian carafe you bought because…well it’s Venetian glass and you were in Venice…duh) but with a notebook full of email addresses of your new friends from all over the world who have invited you to stay with them next year.
Like backpacking, this kind of travel has less of a focus on the actual destinations; rather it is the experience that is more important. And really, what’s wrong with that?
So, which are you? Can you find yourself or part of yourself in any of these categories? Of course, there’s many more – these are just a few favourites that have crossed my path over the past few years.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter which of these travellers you are does it – so long as you have some self-awareness, respect the cultures that you are implanting yourself within and always be ready to laugh – not only at the situation but at yourself!