Cruising Life

Traveler vs. Tourist

As Brittany and Scott, newlyweds, head down island to the Caribbean on their Hallberg-Rassy 35, Brittany reflects on ways that  cruising takes her out of tourist mode. Thanks, Brittany for sharing this post from your blog! Keep us updated!

Brittany entertaining some local children with her photos in Luperon, DR

One of the greatest gift of cruising to a place via sailboat is the fact that you are – almost always – viewed as a traveler, and not a tourist.  The other night our new friend Dee made this distinction – and I thought it interesting enough to share…

What’s the difference?

• The tourist can be found at the all-inclusive resort.  The traveler will be found at the local coffee shop.

At a local bar in Little Farmers Cay, Bahamas where we were taught how to play local dominos
At a local bar in Little Farmers Cay, Bahamas where we were taught how to play local dominos

• The tourist will emerge from an air-conditioned tour bus where they will frantically snap a bunch of photos and rush back into the bus to head to the next site.  The traveler will be jam-packed into public transportation, potentially alongside live animals and might even have someone else’s child thrust into their arms…

• The tourist will only eat at the ‘white’ establishments deemed “safe” by their resort.  The traveler will dine on local cuisine, in local cafeterias among local people (Montezuma be damned!).

A local cafe outside Luperon, Dominican Republic where the food was divine Enjoying some local beans, rice, plantains and 'ensalada' at a local cafeteria outside of Luperon, Dominican Republic
A local cafe outside Luperon, Dominican Republic where the food was divine Enjoying some local beans, rice, plantains and ‘ensalada’ at a local cafeteria outside of Luperon

• The tourist complains in a nasally voice that no one speaks English.  The traveler tries to communicate in the local dialect (mostly unsuccessfully (wince) – but not for want of trying!)…

A tiny treasure, found along a deserted beach in the Bahamas
A tiny treasure, found along a deserted beach in the Bahamas

• The tourist bounces from trinket shop to trinket shop buying shell boxes, woven wallets, and little shot glasses that say “Viva la ____” while the traveler collects momentos from the beach or from the locals’ whom they have befriended.

• The tourist has a detailed agenda and schedule, the traveler has intentions and flexible plans…

• What the tourist despises, the traveler loves:  Broken down busses, roadside riots, sudden strikes, flat tires, wrong turns, flash floods, taking the wrong train to the wrong town (whoopsie!)..etc…  To the tourist these are major inconveniences (even catastrophes) – to the traveler they are recipes for adventure…

• Where the tourist sees an obstacle, the traveler sees an opportunity…
Where the tourist sees dirt and disgust, the traveler sees a simple beauty…

The difference is in the mindset.

The traveler seeks to learn more about the world around him, whereas the tourist is looking for an escape.  The traveler tries to understand a new culture, the tourist prefers to see only what is appealing…

On the back of a friend's motorcycle getting a free tour of Luperon
On the back of a friend’s motorcycle getting a free tour of Luperon

For the traveler – it’s the journey that counts, for the tourist it’s the destination…

While both Scott and I have had moments where we have been both tourists and travelers – we have learned that being a traveler provides a much richer experience.  Locals have more respect for you, they’re more likely to view you as equals and see you as people and not just dollar signs.

Yesterday I hitched a ride to shore on a local fishing boat who’s friendship we have made here in Luperon;  I offered him a few pesos as a “thank you”.  He simply looked at me with a beaming smile, closed my fingers over my open palm and said, “I like you more than I like money”.

You won’t be hearing that at the local Sandals resort.

The traveler sees what he sees.

The tourist sees what he has come to see.

~G.K. Chesterton

Brittany & Scott

About Brittany Stephen-Meyers

Brittany and ScottBrittany Stephen-Meyers is a gypsy at heart; she has lived in Tanzania, Africa, has traveled as far east as Thailand and as far south as Patagonia…

She is currently on an open-ended cruising sabbatical with her new husband, Scott aboard their Hallberg-Rassy 35 Rasmus.

They married in July of 2010, took off on their boat in September and plan to stay afloat as long as they possibly can.

You can learn more about Brittany and Scott and their travels on their prolific and popular sailing blog

What have you learned lately as you cruise?

Share your experiences with us.

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7 comments to Traveler vs. Tourist

  • Brittany – so well said! Nothing makes it more apparent than anchorages which cater to charter fleets. Their glimpse of life ashore is from an outsider’s fleeting perspective whereas the cruising sailor’s is from the inside as a member of the community. Thanks for putting it in words.

  • Well written and hopefully many will read this. I have tried so often to explain this to friends and fear I usually see incomprehension.

    We too have found the same differentiation in all the places we visited bar cruise ship destinations. There the locals no longer can distinguish and treat all white out-of-towners as sources of a quick buck.

  • We’ve been following Brittany and Scott since they “left the dock” and so glad that you shared their blog. Brittany’s got a great style of writing that we always enjoy … we feel like we’re cruising with her!

  • Ruth Allen

    I really enjoyed this articulate explaination. I have always felt that to truly get the flavour of a place one has to get away from the Tourist Traps. Sailing is a great way to do that. One can always take a tourist break, which can certainly be fun.
    I happily play tourist from time to time. If one has only a week, playing tourist can be a nice break from the weekly routine.
    Few things are better than taking the time to truly get to know a place.
    Fair Winds

  • I love this piece. It really captures the magic of the lifestyle we all love. Not just the magic, but the value! I agree with Ruth that there are times when playing tourist can be what you need, but understanding the difference makes a huge difference. When the tourist incorporates some traveller perspectives, even the short trip will be far more memorable.

  • Brittany you’ve done it again. Taken the words right out of my mouth! Great story! George and I are so glad we got to cruise with you for the couple months we could. We will see you again soon. Miss you!
    Love from,

  • I found this piece delightful, and I am going to read it right now to the three young ladies, my two grand nieces, 16 and 20 and a friend of theirs also 16, who are visiting us in NYC, so they too can absorb this philosophy of traveling. Bravo!

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