The debate has come up numerous times usually over dinner with new friends from the road. There are many online discussion boards that also approach the question. Mike Carter in his book One Man and his Bicycle discusses the topic. Are long distance bicyclists tourists? Travelers? Or something else?
We like to think we are more than simply tourists, so what description fits us best?
The Webster’s dictionary defines a tourist as “a person who travels to a place for pleasure”.
Traveler is listed as a synonym and is defined as “someone who is traveling or who travels often” or “a person who moves around from place to place instead of living in one place for a long time”.
Adventurer: “someone who likes dangerous or exciting experiences: a person who looks for adventures”.
Explorer: “a person who travels in search of geographical or scientific information”.
I found this article to jump start my arguments: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adventure-collection/traveler-or-a-tourist_b_3568344.html. There are some great quotes in here about travelers-some of my favorites:
Daniel J. Boorstin “The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes ‘sight-seeing.'”
One theme identified that seems to separate tourists from travelers is total immersion. Travelers immerse themselves in the journey. It is not about the sightseeing of the destination, but about the journey.
I really like this quote by Paul Theroux:
“There are two worlds: the world of the tourist and the world of everyone else. Often they’re side by side. But the tourist doesn’t actually see how people live.”
When we cycle through a country we spend more time in the rural “in between” areas where much of a countries population lives, works and survives. We interact with folks who don’t speak our native tongue and often share their living space, even if just for a night. We are immersed in their world and we adapt to their culture as best we can. Although we are only temporary inhabitants, we gain local perspective. We don’t necessarily seek out comfort. We don’t need air conditioning or a comfortable bed every night. We are happy to take up a small space on the floor of a shed, or even a bus stop.
The journey, the adventures, the mis-adventures are more memorable than the tourist destinations. Sure, we love to visit some of the sights and participate in the occasional tourist attraction. But that is also part of travel.
I will argue that long distance bike touring is more complex than simple traveling. In bike touring there is adventure, exploration and physical demand interwoven with travel and a pinch of tourist in the mix.