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Who Counts As A Real Traveller? – A Story About Travel Judgement

road with lake and mountains ahead

Who counts as a real traveller? Should some places be labelled as easy travel destinations, and does the form of travel matter? Who gets to make such decisions? Let me tell you my experiences of travel judgement and why we need more acceptance around where and how people choose to travel.

I’m not the most seasoned traveller. I haven’t been to half the places I wish I had. Does that make me any less of a real traveller? And do the places I visit contribute to my status as one?

Woman standing behind tree branches

Travel snobs might tell you that your way of travel is wrong, but who let them decide? I certainly haven’t come across any rules or regulations that state backpacking is a truer form of travel than holidaying.

Debates about calling ourselves travellers or tourists aside, it ties into a conversation about whether the places we visit have more or less value than others, and if by visiting “easier” countries we are lesser travellers.

Does visiting Costa Rica make me a real traveller, and a trip to Paris make me more of a tourist? Why?

Do Some Countries Make You A Real Traveller More Than Others?

plane flying through sky

The differences between travellers and tourists led me into a path of thinking:

Who are the real travellers, and who gets to decide such a thing?

To begin, here’s my story of being judged for where I choose to travel. One could even call it travel snobbery at it’s finest – telling someone the places they visit aren’t really travelling.

Occasionally, when discussing with people where I visited on my post-uni gap year, I encountered some unexpected reactions. The conversation usually went like this, after the usual small talk about our homes and time spent travelling:

Fellow traveller: “So where have you been so far? Where’s next?”

Me: “Oh the usual places on everyone’s gap-year list! Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and next is South East Asia…”.

I found the reactions to each country fascinating. I wondered what was assumed about me and my travel choices, and what the opinions of the listener said about them.

Some seemed intrigued by the tropical mysteries of a Fiji island-hopping adventure. Often people seemed eager to know the specifics of a South East Asian itinerary. And, while the majority of reactions were positive for arguably the two most popular backpacker destinations of Australia and New Zealand, I have come across the occasional odd reaction to these particular countries on my list.

I’ve had more than one fellow traveller tell me:

“Oh… But that’s not really travelling, is it!”

Obviously whenever I heard this I was surprised, and a little hurt (rude, much?).

So I wondered, why might they think that? With a bit of thought and research, here’s what I’ve put together on the matter.

Are Brits Abroad Seeking Home Comforts In Easy Travel Destinations?

Cartoon by Sarah Cooper

My first thought is always that these two English-speaking countries are not exotic enough for a Brit.

Do we find it harder to call ourselves real travellers in countries where we speak the language, where our history is deeply connected to theirs?

In the countries brushed off as “easy” travel destinations, the lifestyle and culture is very alike that of the UK. Of course, there are some differences, but on the whole they’re largely very similar Westernised 1st World countries.

They speak the same language, their laws are relatable, they have a similar sense of humour and values in culture (for the most part), and they’re of a comparable economic status. It goes without saying that these are generalisations, and I don’t doubt for one second that there are key differences to be found too, but for the argument of travelling these might well impact one’s views.

Does this correlation of cultures mean it’s an easier place to travel? Sure. It certainly has its benefits, and I can’t argue that some places are fundamentally easier to travel for a number of reasons. But that’s a whole other topic!

However, I don’t think that homeliness and familiarity are reasons to say it’s not true travel. If you can be a traveller in your home country, you sure as heck can be one thousands of miles away!

On the other hand, travellers I met from places like Austria, Germany, and Sweden, could argue that the language barrier alone was sufficient to make Australasia that much more daring to visit. While many European travellers I met spoke impeccable English and knew lots about British culture (sometimes more than me!), it is still a different culture to their own. Thus, them travelling to these far off countries, no matter how similar they are to another European country, means that they are branching out to new experiences even more so than me, a Brit. And vice versa, funnily enough many of those claiming that it was not real travelling, were either British, American, or Canadian.

In short, are Australia and New Zealand not challenging enough to explore as a native English-speaker?

snowy mountain peaks new zealand

Where Should I Go To Be A Real Traveller?

So, I thought about those who hold the view that some countries make you more of a real traveller than others, and tried to understand what linked them together. The most common trait I found is that people who think it’s too easy to travel in some countries have been to more remote and out-there locations. They’ve advanced beyond culture shock into the unknown. They are a Supreme Level Traveller. Whether that’s getting off the beaten track or visiting nations that are uncommon in the traveller circle.

Either way, I feel as though this might supply a sense of superiority, and so they somewhat look down on “travelling” to the nations in the Southern Hemisphere that are too alike their home country.

So this leaves a gaping big gap. If I shouldn’t travel here or there to be a real traveller, where should I go instead? Is anywhere going to give me a true travel experience? And more importantly, why does it matter?

It could be argued that pushing oneself out of your comfort zone is the essence of a traveller, and you don’t get that eating McDonald’s and spending your time exactly as you would at home. But comfort zones are different for each of us. Travel is about a personal journey, as well as a physical one, it’s a wee bit obnoxious to dismiss one form of travel just because it doesn’t suit your standards!

passport travel quote

A Slippery Slope

It got me thinking if this is an isolated opinion about English-speaking countries.

If a Spanish-speaking native visited Mexico would the situation be similar? It seems to me that exoticness is a very subjective matter. Going further out of your comfort zone in terms of experiencing new cultures and climates appears to win points in the travel game. To me, that shouldn’t be so.

Of course, not everyone thinks like this. Rather a minority of the comments I’ve experienced have insinuated this attitude, but it’s one that bothers me nonetheless. And in a spiral of thoughts I subsequently find myself FOMO-ing about my lack of travel experiences.

Ultimately, no matter where you go, people are still people. Yes, we can experience culture shock and feel far removed from our comfort zone, but being in those destinations is no more “real” a travel experience than being somewhere just around the corner form your hometown.

Are Holidays And Organised Tours For Real Travellers?

In short, yes. Here’s why.


2 types of traveller cartoon

Cartoon by Sarah Cooper

Holidays are just as important as other forms of travel.

In fact, research is showing that holidays are essential for your health. If that’s not what travelling is about, I don’t know what is.

Sure, you might not get to see and do as much on a holiday. You might choose to ditch the museum for a mojito, but what’s wrong with that?

There are many different types of holiday. You can enjoy the same experiences and sights of long-term travel but in a condensed timeframe. A cultural city-break tour in Europe over a long weekend is just as much a travel experience as a month backpacking through that exact same country. You can still gain the benefits of travel from a holiday, regardless of how you do it.

And don’t use the Brits behaving badly argument here, because that’s only the bad examples you hear about.

It’s true that certain nationalities (ahem) have a reputation for holidaying abroad. Primarily in Mediterranean countries where the sun is hot and the drinks and flowing Brits can be seen as loud and brutish on their holidays.

While I don’t doubt these instances of Brits behaving badly, this isn’t a true reflection on a whole nation of travel-lovers. For the most part, people visiting as part of a holiday want to enjoy their surroundings and experience the destination for its value, not just its cheap booze.

Tour Groups

I’ve loved the few tour groups I’ve been on. In fact often they have additional hidden gems to explore that set them apart. They promote getting off the usual tourist trails and immersing oneself in a country which surely is an argument in favour of real travelling!

Trips with the Kiwi Experience and Stray Asia are a great way to get introduced to a new country. Better still, they’re the perfect way to make friends if you’re going solo! I don’t think I met a single person on a group tour who’d say there weren’t real travellers just because they had a guide.

On the contrary, I know several hard-core travel fans who swear by group tours to all sorts of destinations. With an abundance of companies to choose from such as G Adventures and Intrepid Travel, you can choose the tour that suits your travel style best without compromising quality of experience.

real traveller quote stickers

Who Gets To Decide If I’m A Real Traveller?

No one else but yourself.

In the words of the Yazoo song – Only You!

Anyone who thinks they can decide for another person is gonna have some pretty stuck up opinions. Don’t listen to those people. Travel to places that call to you. Travel in a way that is most comfortable for you.

I’ll throw in my usual caveat that there are of course some travel choices that are reprehensible. Animal cruelty, environmental damage, morally unacceptable endorsements. You know the drill, don’t do those things – use your common sense people!

Additionally, there are certain destinations that one might be advised against visiting. But that’s all a matter of personal judgement. I’m by no means saying you should avoid visit places based on scaremongering, but simply use your better judgement with your safety and health as a priority.

travel quote aldous huxley

So, Who Are The Real Travellers?

Real travel is whatever you decide it to be. If you like to see new countries by backpacking on a shoestring through the wilderness, go ahead. Or if you like the comforts of a holiday in bitesize chunks, that’s fine! If you like joining forces with like-minded world-explorers on a tour, that’s awesome.

You can see where I’m going with this. Travel methods and destinations are entirely subjective. What is exotic and exciting to one person is not necessarily so for someone else.

Travel doesn’t even have to mean going abroad. It can be as simple as exploring your own neighbourhood.

“Travel is a mindset, not a destination.”

I’m so tired of the travel judgement seen across social media. Sure, there are places I wouldn’t choose to visit or prioritise, but that doesn’t mean someone else is wrong for going there. You do you, right?

Postcard travel quote for real travellers

There’s No Room For Judgement In The Travel Community

Whether you’re a traveller or a tourist, staying close to home or finding a remote corner: we’re all united with the same passion. Travel. Seeing the world. Experiencing something different from everyday life.

There really is no place for judging others on their choice of destination or what they choose to call themselves. Let’s support each other and take inspiration from all forms of travel.

The instances I’ve recounted here are very rare occurrences. I would hate for anyone to think they’ll be vehemently judged for their travel choices. Far from it. Most travel-lovers will champion your decision to see the world regardless of where you’re going, and so they should!

It’s important to remember humility when we share travel stories. We are so fortunate to explore places around the world, and our passport privileges should not be taking lightly. Although you’ve had the chance to see new and exciting destinations, others might not ever have the chance.

In travel, there is a lot to be said for gratitude, respect, and acceptance. Being a kind person is more important than the stamps in your passport. These are the foundations to being a great traveller, not where you’ve been or how you got there.

Happy travels to all!


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  • Reply
    09/10/2019 at 3:06 pm

    I love these posts, I’ve read some of your other posts on this topic. This theme comes back in so many things in life – that people seem to have the need to set up rules for everything and define things that can’t be defined, since they mean different things to different people! I came across this attitude in minimalism for example. There is this exactly same attitude that “you’re not a true minimalist if….” There are so many people who want to make themselves so much holier than thou (in whatever context it may be) and it makes me so angry.

    • Reply
      09/11/2019 at 4:11 am

      Oh thank you so much Susanne, I really appreciate it! That’s so true, it does seem like some people like to get involved in others’ business without justification and claim to know better. It’s really frustrating and I hope it changes!

  • Reply
    09/25/2019 at 2:58 pm

    Ohhh Suzy you are singing my tune! I cannt believe someone told you that you wasnt really travelling. What a judgemental arse! It makes me so sad that there is this judgement. Some people are not in the position to be going here there and everywhere, but it doesnt make them any less of a travel lover! Its crazy! Thank you for this post, its added even more thoughts to my own opinions around this xx

    • Reply
      09/29/2019 at 2:41 pm

      I know right?! I was far too polite to be like “err excuse me?!” haha. So glad you enjoyed it, I loved how your post looked deeper at staycations within this issue, it’s so important to remind oneself that you can keep doing whatever makes ya happy!

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