Are you a Tourist, a Visitor, or a Traveller?

At Kim’s House in Busan, South Korea, the Intrepid Traveller and I met up with Alfonso – a young (36) Doctor from Spain who asked us if we were Tourists, Visitors or Travellers? When pressed further, the discussion got very interesting.

Tourists have plans, they know where they will be every evening, they know what they will see every day. They join tour groups, eat in ‘safe’ restaurants with English Menus and familiar foods, and they stay in ‘comfortable’ surroundings. You see them at all the major attractions, but rarely at the minor ones – not enough time in their schedules. They arrive in a city in the morning, and leave the next evening, enabling them to check that one-off their list. If there’s an important festival – they plan to attend. They prefer to talk to other foreigners, or among themselves. They often either ignore, or never learn any words in the language of the country they are visiting, again – not enough time.

I think we have all been tourists – sometimes in our own home towns We structure our day to be sure to capture the important ‘stuff’, leaving no time and no room for chance.

Visitors spend more time in each place they go. Because they have more time, they can afford to take a chance on different kinds of food – street food or meals in local restaurants. They may hit all the ‘top’ attractions, but they will also visit lesser known temples, museums, shopping areas, sections of town. Having more time means seeing fewer destinations, but makes it easier to see more of the ones you do land in.

The Intrepid Traveler and I are visitors. We chat up locals – even if only a few words, we exchange favorite foods on the metros with our seat mates. we spend time in religious meeting places, letting our feet relax, and our minds wander. We accept gifts from strangers – a taste of ginseng from a lady on the subway, cookies from a vendor on the street, a cake from our seat-mate at the bus station. We smile and wave at everyone – and get rewarded by becoming the ‘mission’ for a group of Korean School kids – asked by their teacher to talk to a foreigner. We are Visitors.

Tourists take Cruises – visitors take boats.
Tourists fly – Visitors take trains or Buses.
Tourists make plans – Visitors rely on the kindness of strangers.
Tourists and Visitors stay in all kinds of lodging – it’s not the lodging that makes the difference – it’s the time, the need for planning, the openness to adventure that makes the difference.

But what is a traveller. Alfonso was basically referring to himself. He is extremely fortunate to have the ability to work, and earn a very good income, any time he feels the need. So instead of taking a long-term position, he takes short-term contracts when he runs out of money, and otherwise – he travels. Many times his destination is unknown, even to him. The wind of chance blows him as it will, allowing him the opportunity to wander the streets of a district without a plan, without a goal, just the desire to experience the life there before he moves on.

To me – being a traveller sounds wonderful on the surface, but consider the downside. Like a rolling stone, a traveller by Alfonso’s definition will never get married, have kids, have grand kids. They will never have a place to call ‘home’, a garden to worry about missing the azalea blooms, friends to see month after month.

Nope – I don’t want to be a traveller – being a visitor is good enough for me.

Signing off – Korean Visitors – the Intrepid Traveller and the Soup Lady.