6 Reasons why Backpackers are not Tourists

Tourists waiting for their guides in the ferry port in Macau

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.

  1. 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.

Backpackers walking on the streets of Saigon, Vietnam

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.

Categories: Backpacker's Tip | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

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38 thoughts on “6 Reasons why Backpackers are not Tourists

  1. labels are overrated

    Fuck labels. The only people who are so concerned about these “differences” are the backpackers themselves.

    • So? I was surprised u left a comment without even spending time to read through this post pass the title itself.

      Because if you do, you would be eating your own “fuck label” comment. Needless to say, I also share your tagline that “labels are over-rated” and so? Does that make you think way better than anyone now?

      If I am a backpacker or a tourist, does it warrants your “fuck labels”? Darn, whoever you are, show your face!

    • erin tan

      I’m not fond of labeling travelers as well. Their style, their money, their time. A know of a staunch traveler who drags along his trolley because he can’t carry a backpack due to scoliosis yet he’s there far traveled. And I for sure shouldn’t miss Disneyland or USS for childhood sake. Hehe. With accommodations, so long as I could leave my belongings, lay my gadgets down at night and peacefully sleep for it is my home away from home. I really wouldn’t care to spare a little. In Agoda for instance, you could get greater perks of hotels with same amount you pay in a hostel, so why not? I don’t limit my travel photos as well, me or not in it, so long as my intent is to remind myself 20 years from how I looked and everything then. Of going solo or not, DIY-ing or joining tour packages, does not categorize a traveler as well, there are places which are better left to tour agencies, trust me. And travelers (tourist or backpacker) with flight cards in hand would for sure prefer a quality service during the flight and accumulate miles at the same time. Low cost carriers can be a pain in the ass sometimes.
      So I juggle and I can be both. Traveling is too personal to the traveler. No one can really draw a line in between. Thanks for sharing yours.

      • Well, as we travel, we mature on our choices and as I describe here, nothing much is alluded to which one is better or label them but rather, describe how they travel and what could be some of their travel options and choices.

        Be that as it may, I hope the post helps discuss issues we both and all shared, that travelling is life and we are inspired by those travels we make.

    • erin tan

      And wait, that “fuck labels” must be the result of not-so-kind words you used in describing “tourists”. Blogging is that, you can’t just demand someone to show up after writing stuff like this, you and your readers do not think alike. Well, coming from a newbie backpacker like you, I wouldn’t be surprised. Cheers!

  2. Brilliantly written! 🙂

  3. AJ

    In terms of #s 1 to 4, I’m team backpacker!

    #5, hmmmm I don’t like traveling alone, though I seldom join tour groups. I prefer a mix of spontaneity and predictability.

    And #6, guilty as charged, hopeless camwhore eh, haha! And I’m hesitant at taking candid photos of local people. Who would want to have their photo taken by a stranger while walking down the street or minding their own business? Kinda creepy, hehe.

    But I mostly call myself a tourist. Labels don’t matter actually; only the traveling matters. Alanis said, “You live, your learn.” I say, “You leave, you learn more.” 🙂

    • precisely. This post does not espouse labeling as claimed by one who hideously left a comment. 😉 Read pass the title, and it still do not ascribed to labeling but delineates the gap between the two.

      • AJ

        Yeah, I read that comment. Basta lang maka-comment, haha! Anyway, the skill of taking photos of people without their knowing it is something I have yet to develop. Maybe it’s cuz I don’t have super zoom lens so I couldn’t shoot from a “safe” distance. I use a P&S so I’d need to be close to the subject to get a decent shot. That’s always been my frustration. I’ve let so many photo-worthy moments pass cuz of this.

      • Ok lang yan AJ. What is important is you capture as much photos which can remind you of those moments you walk in the midst with the locals and appreciating the mundane lives they live.

        Ako nga rin eh, i need to improve pa alot.

        Thanks alot for returning a comment. 🙂 God keep you and your family safe always. Send my regards to your gracious Mum.

  4. I don’t really care about labels… basta if that makes them happy, so be it. Ayaw lang pag bout-buot sa ginabuhat sa mga tao, right? Tssss.

    • Precisely Renz and that what should be observed, always and all the time. I was even wondering why someone left a comment as if I am sending the marching order for the labels. Well, if you get to finish reading the post, its not more so on the labeling per se but the stark difference one gets to do when they travel and either are not bad too.

      if one is a backpacker or a tourist, that one is choice one has to make so he gets to enjoy the road. Way but-anay ug post. right?

  5. Eli Medina

    Well I think you categorized just a little too much. Most tourists do not fly first class… in fact, the majority of people I see traveling on airlines ARE tourists, and the majority of seats on any commercial jet are economy, therefore most people fly economy… Typically the business class cabins are for business people. I travel a lot, I would not consider my self a “backpacker” according to you label, and yet I still buy my tickets online. You don’t have to be stingy to buy online, and you do save considerable amounts of money when you plan ahead. As most tourists do, they plan a vacation in their future and purchase tickets before they leave. Who actually just shows up at an airport saying “Today I am going to Africa!”. Seriously…
    Just my opinion I guess, good article!
    I fly very often myself, a Delta Gold Medallion holder. Sometimes I will have a backpack, so don’t judge! 😛

  6. Love this article! Thanks for sharing.

  7. “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” This is very true!!!

    as to the entire concept of the post… labels are not important… as long as it makes someone happy let him be =) we travel cause it makes us happy anyway =)

    • Thanks for dropping by Jherson and for sharing your thoughts with me on this post.

      As I have said, we need not label but what I wrote is simply to describe which are which and if we happen to belong to those which i said, that is where we find our happiness when we travel.

      Ciao 🙂

  8. i think all of us are and will be a combination of a variety of travel stereotypes, when we’re younger we’ll be backpackers, when we have some money we can be flashpackers, when we get older, we’ll be carrying trolleys instead of backpacks.. some young ones dont carry backpacks coz they dont find it comfortable… some dont carry trolleys coz they dont find it comfortable to lug around too especially in a diff terrain… stuff you use on your travels depends also on where you’ll go and what you want to do…

    different strokes for different folks 🙂

    travel lang ng travel and enjoy 🙂

  9. Haha, you’re a brave man for taking on this debate. You said it best, though – we’re all travellers!

    • Hahaha, like I wrote, we are all travelers, though we may differ on our travel choices and ways, we travel to learn life, enjoy it and share inspirations!

      Thanks Simon for dropping by.

  10. erin tan

    So yeah, fuck labels! 🙂

  11. Hey Journeys and Travels,
    Ignore those negative comments. I think you did a great job, it just happens to be fact, backpackers and tourists are different, no labeling about it. It’s all about preference.

    • that is the intention of this post and no matter how fellow bloggers howl against it, I will write this the way I see them and experience it as a backpacker and a tourist, and as I defined it, we are all travelers.

      Thanks for the reassuring comment 🙂

  12. Truthfully, no one can pay me enough to make me want to stay at a hostel but I bring a sturdy, hardcore backpack and not a trolley when I travel. I love going up to mountains, laying on beaches and adventuring somewhere remote but I also enjoy getting to know the culture of the working class, immersed in the the day to day street scenery of big cities, taking public transport and pretending to be a local of the place that I am visiting. I also don’t mind going to the tourist traps such as themeparks. I’m also big on solo travel, I take either budget or mainstream airlines so long as I get wherever and I enjoy taking photos of whatever by whatever means possible.

    In other words, I think I am a bit of both. That, or I am just totally weird.

    Flip said it best, travel is travel.

    Nice post, Doc 😀

    • Thanks for your first comment on my blog post Drew. Well, as you said it rightfully, and which i also subscribed with Plif, travels are travels and what differs really is how we make the best out of it, whether we are backpackers, tourists or both.

      As I said, we transitioned to and interchange this as we travel and nothing wrong with it. This post will never grant labeling but simply provide descriptions of the two based on my personal experiences and those I saw on the road.

      If others do not see this the way I write it, all I can say is we don’t think the same and as I say it too, ergo, write RESPECT! 🙂

      Cheers Drew and Happy travels.

      I noticed it took me to write this kind of post for you guys to leave a comment on my blog 🙂 hahaha

  13. ah. i really don’t care what they call me. as long as i’m freakin’ happy, imma do it my way. like the highway. like a baws baby! char.. 🙂

    • and in our effort to find our ways to happiness on the Road Brenna, we are all entitled to our own opinions and descriptions however, as we are defining every travel we do which empowers us to be better, it is our own.

      Thanks for the first time commenting on my blog 🙂

  14. I’m a combination of both. It really depends who I am traveling with. I admire those travelers who can go solo. Nevertheless, when we travel and enjoy, it doesn’t matter what category are we in.

  15. Nice post! but surely when you’re blogging, not all people share your opinion just remember that as free as you have written yours, they will write theirs too. 🙂

  16. Precisely! Very nice. And true. By the way, are you familiar with couchsurfing.org? these guys are brilliant! a group of backpackers and tourists as well. 🙂

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