Let’s Define Travel, Once And For All

MikeachimTravel31 Comments

I don’t know where to start with this.

Well, let’s start here:

Holy seekers go looking for oracles, tombs, sites of revelation. Tourists like to visit ruins, empty churches, battlefields, memorials. Tourist kitsch depends on a sterilized version of history and a smug assurance that all of our stories of the past are ultimately redemptive — even if it is only the tourists’ false witness that redeems them. There’s no seeking required, and no real challenge, because the emotional voyage is preprogrammed. The world has become a frighteningly small place.

Oh, those damn tourists ruin everything, don’t they?

But the real issue here is the age-old problem of definition. When the New York Times Opinionator section uses the word “tourist”, it clearly has a very specific definition in mind (a kind of human locust, something that descends on a place, gorges itself on priceless, irreplaceable things and then flies off, leaving a cultural wilderness in its wake).

I don’t agree on this definition. And from the comments on that post, a lot of other people don’t either.

We all need to agree what these terms really mean.

So, let’s do that, right here, right now. Let’s slay a few of these beasts, and vanquish the circular arguments around them on social media, at water coolers, in hammocks on remote Thailand beaches – everywhere these terms are being used in the wrong way.

It’s time we defined Them and Us, once and for all.



Someone who tours in some fashion, ie. travels about. Some kind of moving between geographical points is implied, usually abroad and usually somewhere the person in question doesn’t usually go, and seeking some form of meaning balanced with a degree of comfort.

Traveler  / Traveller

Someone who travels, eg. tours around somewhat. Some type of movement is ideal, often overseas and typically somewhere unusual. Experiences are ideally fairly mind-broadening and not too horrible.


Travel Writer

Someone who writes about travel to some degree, as long as it’s not “hardly at all” or “virtually never”. Travel is necessary, however occasional. Online or offline originally-arranged words are a requirement, whether in a blog, non-blog website (I hear there are still a few around), print publication or something else that words get heaped on.

Travel Blogger

Someone who writes about travel either a bit or a lot, and has a blog, and travels (a bit or a lot). They could also write elsewhere.


Authentic Travel

Doing as the locals do.

Inauthentic Travel

Going along with the awful things the locals do.


The Noble Savage

Perfectly in harmony with nature, like in the old days.

Modern People

Hacking down trees, throwing crap into the sky, ruining the land, all sorts of feckless behaviour.


I hope this clarifies things.

So come on, people – pick your sides!

What…what are you waiting for?

Further reading: this from Jess; this from Gary.

Image: Mike Sowden