Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



July 2016

“In the Middle Ages, people were tourists because of their religion, whereas now they are tourists because tourism is their religion.” Robert Runcie (1921), Archbishop of Canterbury, 1988 speech, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.



Tourist or Traveler?

Dear Reader,

I was curious. What are the differences between being a tourist or a traveler? Today, instant enlightenment awaits at the end of the Internet’s tunnels, so I typed the question into a search engine.

WOW! There is no such thing as a value-free word: consider the difference between “trailer” and “vacation home.” In the blogosphere, there is unlimited access to world-wide polarized thinking. I learned that “tourist” has grown a pejorative overcoat, with handy lists of what designates either a tourist (bad) or a traveler (good). Bloggers do not hide their disdain for “tourists” and the superiority of the “traveler” (read blogger). It was fun to read a few, albeit contradictory, opinions and predict which label they would stick on my back.

I turned to my trusty dictionary collection to get my bearings and a set of definitions. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1978), a tourist is simply a person who travels for pleasure. The definition for traveler is even more elemental: a person who travels.

I wondered if the meanings had shifted over time, so I consulted The Century Dictionary (1891). There, a tourist is “One who makes a tour; one who makes a journey for pleasure, stopping at a number of places for the purpose of seeing the sights, scenery, etc.” A traveler had more layers of meaning: “a toiler; laborer; worker” and “one who travels in any way; one who makes a journey, or one who is on his way from place to place” and “one who journeys to foreign lands; one who visits strange countries and people” and finally, “one who travels for a mercantile firm to solicit orders for goods, collect accounts, and the like.” The Grand Tour, required of the wealthy in days of old, and Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” came to mind as I read these definitions.

“Travel: England: William Blake”

This month’s blog has made me think, which is why I write it in the first place. Why do I travel? Admittedly, to find art. But wait, that’s not all! I want to learn as much as I can from as many people and things as possible in the prescribed time. I look forward to marveling, to thinking, to getting upset, to being consoled. I like to observe how things get done and who’s in control. I find satisfaction in tasting new foods and attempting communication in an unfamiliar language to get that food, or buy tickets, or (gasp) to shop. I know I will test my panic button when negotiating airports, trains, subways and streets.

Label me “tourist” or “traveler,” but I will be the same individual waiting in lines or looking for a place to eat, hungry and alert to the possibilities.