I thought I’d use a blog post to share a few random thoughts on the different labels and characterizations we use for those who venture beyond their own backyards for fun, adventure, relaxation or curiosity. At the end I will issue a challenge to those rare individuals contemplating a quest to visit every country in the world.
I need to preface this by stating the obvious. These are all just my notions and opinions and you need not take any of this rambling nonsense seriously. I just felt like exploring the nature and purpose of travel and how it differs from person to person along with some of the controversy that terminology can stir up. Perspectives will vary.
I think I actually prefer the British word “holidaymaker” but sadly we don’t use that term around here.
A vacationer in my mind is someone on a getaway. If you remember the 1991 movie What About Bob? you’ll recall that Bill Murray’s character was in search of a “vacation from my problems” as he followed Richard Dreyfuss’ character to Lake Winnipesaukee. Most people probably don’t relate exactly to that fellow but they surely understand the need for an occasional change of scenery.
(Just remember that a vacation can’t actually fix your problems, as wisely articulated in this Adam Sandler SNL sketch.)
Although the term is sometimes used in the context of a sightseeing trip, I think it fits better with a stay at a resort or some place where the goal is not so much to gather meaningful experiences but instead to simply relax and enjoy yourself without a rigid schedule. Whether it’s filled with activities or endless time spent lounging on the beach, it’s primarily an escape.
When I go to Florida, the main activity is enjoying the theme parks. It’s fun and immersive and totally different than a city break. To me, that’s a vacation.
Although it’s a broad term, a tourist, in my view, is a person seeking some sort of enriching experience, not just a fun or relaxing getaway. You want to see stuff, do stuff, learn stuff. However, it doesn’t have to be a trip full of informative walking tours and museum visits – just one where you feel you’ve acquired something of value from the experience beyond merely escaping the daily grind.
Tourists will obviously have widely divergent interests. You’ll find lots of lists of “must-sees” for a given destination but they certainly won’t hold the same appeal for everyone. You’ve got to figure out what attracts you personally regardless of whether it’s on any list or its relative popularity among tourists generally.
I recall reading where someone regretted not visiting Notre-Dame in Paris before the fire, because it seemed like a tourist activity of the sort they typically avoid. In hindsight, it was the wrong decision. But even if it’s not a historic cathedral, if you really want to see or do something, don’t avoid it simply because it feels “touristy”.
It’s not uncommon to hear of those who actively try to avoid appearing or acting like a tourist. I understand there are situations when that can be important, depending on the city or country. However, for safe travel destinations, I don’t really see the point. As hard as you may try to blend in, locals can usually pick you out pretty quickly. And when you’re wearing a ball cap and carrying your Pacsafe daypack with a map in your hand there will still be people from the hinterland asking you for directions.
Sadly, overtourism in various destinations has become more prevalent in recent years and the word has taken on a negative connotation to some degree. Disrespectful or obnoxious tourists can reflect poorly on the group as a whole. Sometimes just the sheer number of people descending on a place will result in deleterious effects to the local area that cause residents to resent their presence. Unfortunately, individuals tend to gravitate to popular destinations even when there are a plethora of wonderful places that remain relatively untouched by mass tourism.
Tourists are also exploited in some cities. That’s why’s it’s always a good idea to do your research and be prepared for any scams you might come across and be aware of the high tourist traffic areas where things like restaurant food and souvenirs will often be overpriced.
The word traveller is much broader, encompassing a larger range of meanings than tourist or vacationer. Anyone on the move for any purpose can reasonably fall into this category. I guess you could argue that when you’re on the plane or checking into a hotel, you’re a traveller but when you’re strolling along the Thames or getting lunch at a chippy, you’re a tourist.
Yet, there are those who recoil from the tourist label and latch on to traveller in an attempt to detach themselves from the negative connotations discussed above. They prefer to go off the beaten path and strive for a more in-depth experience. This distinction can be tricky though because it might lead to a bit of travel snobbery. Not always, of course. Some adventurous souls truly transcend the conventional definition of tourist. But, if you’ve come to a place to see what makes it special and not to take up residence, you’re still a tourist aren’t you? You might as well embrace the term.
The Country Collector
Now we’re getting into less common territory – the individuals who seek to visit every single nation in the world, as distinct from those who generally like to travel to new places but without an overarching goal to see as many as possible.
It’s not as straightforward as it sounds. What constitutes visiting a country? Is being in the airport enough? Walking across a bridge and back? Does a few days in St. Pierre & Miquelon or Reunion Island count as visiting France? What are the rules?
The biggest issue I see with tick-the-box travel of this type is that you’ve got duelling priorities. One could argue that the two objectives actually line up perfectly – visiting new places underpins the desire to travel so this is just taking it to the next level. However, people naturally have preferences and that includes travel destinations. Surely you’ll eventually be going somewhere mainly to add it to your list and not due to any keen interest in the country itself.
Analogies aren’t always helpful but I’ll use one anyway. Say you’re a foodie living in a city and you decide to eat at every restaurant in town. The desire to try all of them is genuine and you’ll likely discover some hidden gems, but the practical reality is that the mission to “collect” all of them will necessarily have to override the inclination to return to a favourite to experience more of it.
I just don’t see how the satisfaction of completing the quest would be truly worth it in light of the compromise, but that’s subjective of course.
Now Something Different…
If any aspiring country/destination collector out there is interested in something a little more imaginative, here is an alternative.
I’m going to think of a dozen songs that have places in the lyrics. I’ll try to avoid those where the only place is the one in the title of the song because that would be too easy (and I do not guarantee that I have the correct number for each one.)
Why not make visiting all of these places your goal?
Here goes…this was the first song that came to mind with a place name in it – probably because he says it so emphatically.
1. Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes (2)
Okay, there are actually two place names in it but I’m going to institute a new rule – a song must contain more than one.
2. There is no Arizona – Jamie O’Neal (5)
There actually is an Arizona. I’ve been there. (Side note: When I looked up the singer’s name I discovered she had a song with Roswell, Memphis and Timbuktu in it. Too bad I don’t remember that one.)
3. Take It Easy – The Eagles (1)
I guess it’s obligatory to find that corner while you’re in the area…and I’ve already broken my rule about no single-place songs. No more from now on.
4. I’ve Been Everywhere – Hank Snow’s version (92)
Better? Heavy on the Americas though. I’ll try to branch out.
5. Loch Lomond – Runrig’s version (2)
Now we’ve made it across the pond and I’m counting two here even though one is within the other. (FYI: this is the only artist/group on this list that I’ve heard play live; it was in Edinburgh before Bruce Guthro replaced the original lead singer.)
6. Life is a Highway – Tom Cochrane (4)
Interesting combination. Three continents.
7. One Night in Bangkok – Murray Head (4)
I remember watching this on Video Hits one day after school on a very small television at my cousins’ house.
8. Down Under – Men At Work (3)
You still have to visit even if a place has been renamed since the song was released or if it’s referred to by its nickname.
9. We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel (22?)
There are some tough ones in there. Good luck with that. At least you’ve got Disneyland.
10. You’re So Vain – Carly Simon (2)
Is this blog post about you? Also I did not know till just now that Mick Jagger sang back up on this.
11. Barrett’s Privateers – Stan Rogers (3)
I can be in Sherbrooke in half an hour.
12. Northwest Passage – Stan Rogers again (3)
Bodies of water count too.
There, that’s a dozen. Perhaps you have quite a few under your belt already? There’s some repetition in there so that helps.
I probably should’ve added Bud The Spud (7) by Stompin’ Tom or Kokomo (9) by The Beach Boys. Oh well. I’ve already reached my arbitrary limit of twelve. Bonus points if you complete those too. Any other suggestions?
Hopefully this pandemic will soon fade into history and we can all take vacations and be tourists and travellers again. Don’t collect all the countries though. Just go to the places in those songs. I went to the trouble of listing them. At least do half the songs please.