I have seen posts and write ups delineating, in fact defining which among the two are the astute travelers of the world and I need not elaborate further since there is no arguing that both are travelers and astute? It entirely depends on whose perspective one ask on how savvy they can be on the road and far more than anything else, they are filling the earth with their soles and their soles feel the earth, so to speak.
Here are my quick reasons why backpackers differ entirely, collectively or wholesale, from tourists. This is culled from personal experiences and those moments I saw hotel owners in Panglao, in Bohol quarrel with ‘tourists’ bringing Lonely Planet when they check in.
- Backpacks vs. Samsonite
Well, most people when they are at airports all over the world, defines travellers on the first impression they see and what prominent difference one sees when they travel are the type of carry-on bags they check in at airline counters or retrieve from baggage carousels. Be that as it may, commonly we see and which I also subscribed, backpackers use backpacks, two usually. One backpack which is usually bigger, in litters and another day backpack which stores their gadgets like camera, laptop, notebook, personal effects and a day’s tshirt, underwear and pen and journal. Tourists on the other hand are usually travelling with the bulk of their closet in usually big trunks of bags, preferably Samsonite or other versions of it. They usually bring in more than the usual baggage allowed and pay hefty baggage overloading charges. When in a group or family tours, they are usually the ones you see with each huge roller bags for each tourist.
2. Off-the-beaten paths vs. Disneyland
Because of the nature of the travel of most backpackers and due mostly on shoestring budget when they travel, they avoid the touristy, with hefty entrance fees which could be saved up for future better use while on the road. So instead, you see them hiking, trail-biking, spelunking, caving, swimming, and taking photos of bridges, people and how animated local sceneries are. Tourists however are seen everywhere where other tourists ought to go: Disneyland, the Ocean Park, Casinos and Universal Studios. They will just be lurking around, spending an entire time waiting to see the parade, spend cash on souvenirs which has commercial stamp on to it and this gives them bragging rights back home. Their favourite buys ranges from Disney character tee-shirts, mugs, caps, umbrellas, dolls, and usually, they are the ones who patronize Starbucks mugs and coffees while on the road.
3. Hostel vs. Hotel
Mostly, backpackers search for the cheapest accommodations which cost them less because they argued “it’s only for a night”. While on the road, they will walk alleyways and streets, to find not the best hotel but the cheapest but reliable, clean and functional hostel. Unless, of course, these backpackers are on a paid (usually, sponsored) trips. They are the ones you see dressing up in bohemian spirit, and walks on the streets and corners asking for how much the room is and whether the WIFI is available. They are also the ones you see lurking at hostelbookers online to check the nearest affordable rooms to stay for a night, a week or months on rent. Also, backpackers are favouring Backpacker’s Inn and are into Couchsurfing. Tourists however are seen in bulks and they are deposited by their tour agency usually riding tour buses, in hotels, from affordable ones to business boutique hotels to extravagantly and filthy-rich hotels. They are also the ones you see whiling away time in the hotel lobby reading the newspaper while they wait for their rooms. They are the ones who usually ask the concierge if they are in suite or how much to add on for an upgrade. They too are the ones who will certainly look for a Jacuzzi in the hotel or the nearest spa.
4. Budget vs. mammoth airlines
The advent of low cost travel enables everyone to fly to any destination they so wished and this happens virtually daily, night and day. Backpackers are usually the ones who buy tickets online, on zero fares or base-fares, promo fares and those who value each penny of their hard-earned savings. They are also the ones who have landed at the LCCT and understood when the cab driver grins when they say KLIA when their plane tickets are Cebu Pacific. Tourists however are fond of jet-setting lifestyle, from choices of class on airline accommodation. Mostly, they are the ones who take on business class or first class, avail of the airport lounge and are boarded separately from the rest. They also detest budget airlines for they prefer comfort, sumptuous meals and a complimentary wine. Perks of riches, you know.
5. Solo sightseeing vs. group tour guiding
Backpackers prefer to go by their lonesome or in a group of similar-minded backpackers while on the road. They usually wanted to track down the trails to the destinations they choose and are the most daring to pursue events uncontrollable to some. They find happiness in simple walking around the beach, simple coffee at the corner stand cafeteria or store talking to locals, they are also the ones who go hiking, caving, swimming, kayaking and walking on trails, armed with cameras and a supportive guide who usually is the habal-habal (tricycle) driver. They are the ones who do not opt for group tours unless extremely necessary. Backpackers wanted spontaneity and tourist however wanted predictability. Tourists are the ones who flock to tour packages to sightsee. They are the ones demanding for a guide who speaks their language or at least, speak understandable English. They are also the ones you see walking around in groups, with the guide holding a stick-flag, usually, the logo of the tour company. They are also the ones you see who brandish tour stickers and when in Disneyland or Ocean Park, they are the ones who converges at the entrance prior to their entry and during exits.
6. Photography scenes vs photography sins
Backpackers, by the nature of their keen eye for ordinary lives; usually captures photography that depicts the locals, the scenery, the mundane and the most common. They are the ones who take photos with less of themselves in it because usually, when they are on solo backpacking, they trust no one to take them their photos of the scene. Mostly, by preference, they are the ones who take photos of sunrises, sunsets and cityscapes, landscapes, buildings, statues and ordinary people. Tourists however are the ones who wanted to take their photos in every angle possible, and only using the vista or scenery as their background, and they call this facebook photography. They are also the ones who made sure they have the best jump-shot photos on every touristy place so when they upload it on Facebook, their friends will be envious of their travels. Usually too, tourists are the ones who dangle DSLRs on their neck who hates taking photos of the locals and local scenery unless it is the tourist destination because they see no inspiration in them. They wanted to be seen and as they are to be seen, they wanted to do photography sins.
So, there you go. Both are travellers and as they are, they are filling the earth with footprints and consume time to go out and appreciate the world. They are spending money too as visit places we dreamed of and are on the bucketlists. To the question, which is better? That depends entirely on what kind of perspective you share and whose perspective you wear. At the end, as long as you are happy travelling, you learn.