Everyone who travels does so with a slightly different purpose in mind than the next traveler. Some of us want to experience the world and everything about it; others focus on a niche, or a specific category, that interests them, whether it be culture, food, languages, relaxation, etc. There has been a bit of an intellectual war as to the difference between “travelers” and “tourists,” and some independent travelers get offended at being labeled a tourist. Really, a tourist is a traveler, and essentially, all travelers are tourists, to some extent. This is not a cute guide to different kinds of travelers defining such things as the “obnoxious tourist” and the “stupid American.”
The definition of traveler is straightforward:
Traveler – One who travels; In many cases, it is one who travels often.
I’ve compiled many terms here for the different kinds of travelers that exist; some are legit phrases, others are neologisms, and since that’s not a common word in itself, here’s the definition:
Neologism – A neologism are coined words and phrases, usually used by a group of people sharing similar interests. A word/phrase is generally a neologism until it enters more common usage. They tend to be new in the language’s lexicon, formed primarily through linguistic creativity rather than having been borrowed from another language.
So, which kind of traveler are you? (You may be more than one!)
Business Traveler – Travels on their company’s dime to one or more destinations with some frequency; business travelers take in a bit of culture and language understanding as they continually return to the same or similar destinations.
Backpacker – Usually denotes budget, independent, and international travelers, especially when two of the three are true. Backpackers received the name from the way that many of them travel, probably longer distances, with their backpack which has most of their necessities. Several stereotypes of backpackers include riding public transportation, the use of hostel accommodations, longer travel lengths, and a greater interest in the culture of the locals.
Tourist – This is the majority of adult travelers, when not vacationing. Tourists may be couples, families, or just a person or two who visit locations and like to take in history, culture, local food, etc. Tourists are stereotyped to be more naive, purchasing expensive guidebooks, visiting the most famous of attractions, and perhaps suckered into purchasing souvenirs at a high price and with no relevance to the place (t-shirts, key chains, etc.).
Vacationer – These people usually travel only to vacation. They might be couples, families, or just a person or two who want to go somewhere to get pampered for a short time before returning to their normal lives. May set aside a little time (an hour or three) to take in some culture, but probably not.
Nomad – A nomad is the long-term traveler, generally with no set destinations, end date, or plans. Nomadic travelers are wanderers, not interested in society’s general career ladder and not afraid to be alone, as they tend to travel independently. Nomads are basically extreme backpackers.
Flashpacker – A term used to describe a traveler with more disposable income; flashpackers tend to carry more electronics, stay in decent accommodations, and take taxis, though they share some characteristics of regular backpackers such as the intrigue for the local culture and lifestyle, longer travel length, and perhaps an open-ended itinerary.
Groupie(s) – Those, typically in their late teens to early 30’s, who like to travel in groups of their friends, but with an intention to simply party, relax, and/or blow money at the destination. Think Vegas-style bachelor/bachelorette trips.
Gap-Packer – A type of backpacker who may tour several countries in one, single adventure during a school/work hiatus, such as a gap year.
Budget Traveler – Similar to a backpacker, a budget traveler is a traveler who is budget-conscious; they may stay in economy accommodations or hostels, eat cheap meals, and fly during off-peak seasons, among other things. Budget travelers differ from backpackers in the sense that they may not necessarily be staying for a long period of time, they lean towards budget hotels/motels rather than hostels, and usually their trip is not open-ended.
Voluntourist – A neologism for volunteer travelers. Voluntourists enjoy traveling to different cities and countries that have been hard-hit, such as natural disaster areas, third-world destinations, war zones, etc. These travelers often receive little or no compensation, and often pay for their own lodging, food, and transportation, just to help a struggling area or group of people. Voluntourists may also be those that travel to donate time and energy to saving and protecting land and animals.
Pampadour – To a greater extent than the flashpacker, a pampadour is a luxury traveler; he/she travels the world for the indulgence, pampering themselves in every way possible throughout. Generally fashion-conscious and professional, they may steer clear of “troubling” areas, like places catering to kids, families, adventure, etc. Differs from a vacationer in the sense that luxury probably awaits for the pampadour once they return home.
Adventure Traveler – Adventure travelers travel to destinations with the specific purpose of active physical participation and exploration of new experiences. This is the traveler who climbs ever-higher mountains and rafts ever-whiter rapids.
Ecotourist – Similar to voluntourists, ecotourists are eco-conscious individuals who travel primarily to observe or preserve; they may go to observe wildlife as a study aid or preserve an endangered species actively.
Please note that these are not exact definitions, but rather what each term/word has come to mean to the travel community. There are sure to be several other words/phrases that could and should be added to this list, but these are definitely significant (and all I could come up with ;) ). If you think of any more that should be added, or disagree on the definition, please comment below!