Difference – Backpacker vs Tourist
Although both backpackers and tourists travel to different countries, there is a big difference between backpacker and tourist. The key difference between backpacker and tourist lies in the purpose of their tour or travel; backpackers travel to new places to experience the local culture and way of life that is different from their own whereas tourists go to new places for pleasure and relaxation.
Who is a Backpacker?
Backpacking is a form of independent, and low-cost travel. A backpacker is a traveller on a long trip, who stays at cheap hotels and live like locals. Backpackers travel to places to experience different cultures and way of life that is completely different from his or her own. So, backpackers take local transport and try to hang out with the locals. They would sleep in cheap hotels, motels or homestays and even cook their own meals; they are not concerned about luxury and comfort.
In short, backpackers live cheap and try to experience many new things and places with the small amount of money they have. They are interested in learning about the local culture and seeing ‘real’ attractions of a country, instead of going on packaged tours offered by tourists. Backpacking is often seen as a being more than a holiday but means of education.
Although backpackers are often perceived as young people – those in their twenties – the average age of backpackers seem to increase over the years. Nowadays even some retirees enjoy backpacking.
Difference Between Backpacker and Tourist
Who is a Tourist?
A tourist is a person who travels for pleasure and relaxation. Tourists often take packaged tours offered by mass tourism programs. They stay in nice hotels, eat in expensive restaurants, which often don’t serve authentic local food, and travel in luxury vehicles. Tourists may be interested in learning something about the local culture, but they may not be willing to interact with local and taste local food at local shops. Tourists will often stick to their plans and schedule since they are on packaged tours. Families with little children and elderly people often prefer to travel as tourists.
Since tourists prefer to stay in comfortable hotels and travel in luxury vehicles, they will have to spend a lot of money. If a backpacker and a tourist are given the same amount of money, the tourist may spend it in one day whereas the backpacker will live on it for days.
All along the backpacker trail, you hear it. The talk. The chatter. The snarls. The attitude. The condescension.
I’m talking about how backpackers feel about “tourists.”
Backpackers view tourists as non-travelers. Tourists are people who just visit a place for the pictures and the hotel. They stick to the beaten path, take big bus tours, and never bother to interact with the locals.
Backpackers, on the other hand, consider themselves as real travelers – they go places for the cultural experience, to meet the locals, and to immerse themselves in faraway lands. Or, at least, that’s what they think.
In the traveler lexicon, a backpacker is usually a young traveler on a long trip who sleeps in hostels, cooks his/her own meals, lives cheap, is on a budget, and parties hard. They take local transport and hang out with the locals.
A tourist, on the other hand, is anyone who goes somewhere, follows the Lonely Planet trail, stays in nice hotels, eats at nice restaurants (that don’t really serve authentic local food), takes tourist buses, buys silly gifts, and generally sticks out like a sore thumb.
I always found this distinction a bit ironic since so many backpackers, while talking down about “tourists,” carry their Lonely Planet, visit the same cities and stay at the same hostels, and stick to the same path that was laid out before them 30 years ago by the hippies.
While I consider myself part of the backpacker crowd (though more of a nomad), I don’t subscribe to the line of thought that backpackers are better than tourists. When I hear this argument, I shake my head and find joy in pointing out the hypocrisy to some naive fellow traveler.
But let’s be clear.
“Tourists” do stick out like sore thumbs. They couldn’t hide if they tried. Many make no attempt to learn cultural norms, blend in, or respect the local way of life. These are the tourists that people speak about.
And I can’t stand them either — those tourists who come to a place, make no effort to interact with the locals and stay in the resort their whole vacation. What’s the point of coming to a new country if you’re never really going to see it?
To me, that is not travel. (Though, I do appreciate that they at least they made the effort to leave their country. Baby steps, right?)
But how is that different than a backpacker who just parties in Amsterdam and visits the Van Gogh museum? How is that different than a backpacker that does the same thing as a tourist but stays in hostels?
We are all tourists.
We all stick out sometimes.
And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that!
We all get an A for effort. What is ironic is that instead of trying to promote better travel – travel that gets people of all travel styles to interact with the locals – backpackers claim superiority because they do it cheaper and for a longer amount of time. They get off the beaten path, they say, and live like the locals do.
Except they don’t.
Experiencing a new culture means staying there long enough to get into the flow of life. Most backpackers don’t do that. They simply go to the newest party location and call it off-the-beaten-path until someone (else) with a Lonely Planet arrives. They eat at street stalls and claim they are just like the locals, yet they never learn the language and only eat food that looks safe.
I often get asked where to go to see the “real” Thailand, and I always say that there is no such thing – every part is equally real.
“Well, we want to live like a local,” they respond.
“Get an apartment and get a job” is my response.
If you want to really get to know a place, stay there for longer than a few days!
I like to call this “The Beach Syndrome” – this idea that traveling cheap is better and more authentic (because the locals are glad you are saving your money and not giving it to them) and that there is some place off the beaten path that is the true, authentic part of a country.
Backpackers think just like the characters in the book The Beach did – that there is some travel ideal out there. This authentic, mysterious place that supposedly exists where everything is real and you’re the only stranger there and everyone is friendly and you melt right into local life. What a place that would be! Too bad it doesn’t exist.
It’s a myth.
It’s “The Beach Syndrome.”
I’m not a huge fan of package tours (though I still do go on tours) but that doesn’t mean I’m better than the people that go on them. No type of travel is really better than any other travel. What matters is that we move past the backpacker/tourist debate and realize that the important part is that we travel.
We not only go for pleasure and pictures but to also learn about another culture and break out of our comfort zones — even if just a bit.
Isn’t that the point of why we go anyway?
A rose by any other name is still a rose.
And, no matter what we call ourselves, we are really all just tourists.
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Agoda or Aviasales / Jetradar. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels and also Hotellook
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are: