When You Venture Overseas, Are You a Tourist, a Traveller or Something Else?

Four people visiting the same country can have very different experiences depending on their attitude to the sojourn

In this modern world of cheap and safe flights, many people venture outside of their home towns for holidays or life experiences.

There are four types of wanderers who make these expeditions: tourists, travellers, temporary residents, and semi-permanent migrants.

In your own life, you’ve probably played the part of one or more of these, at different times.

Photo by wang xi on Unsplash


When you’re being a tourist, you head to a destination that happens to be overseas. The experience however largely involves trying to recreate the creature comforts of home — but with better weather.

Places like Cancun, Fiji and Bali come to mind first, but it could be any place very much on the “tourist trail” such as Rome or Paris.

Whilst overseas, you may stay on cruise ships, resorts or 5-star accommodation.

Your interactions with people will primarily be in English (or your own native tongue), and the food you eat will be the same as that back home.

You may get a slight peak at the local culture (often customised for your enjoyment) — such as viewing key local sights, watching traditional dance performances or visit a “real” local artisan village.

Usually only spending a couple of weeks there, it’s a great way to unwind and spend time together with your travel partners.

Photo by Atikh Bana on Unsplash


When being a traveller, you try to experience the country you’re visiting on its own terms.

You may learn a bit of the local language; and get out among the locals by using public transport, eating at the same restaurants, and visiting shopping centres.

In terms of destination — you’d typically also venture a little off the beaten track and visit tier 2 or 3 cities, and perhaps small villages.

Similar to tourists, you often also hit the main sights of a destination, but might well be on the road for a longer period of time — often months or even a year. You never truly get settled into a day to day routine however, as you’re often moving from one place to the next.

I met a Dutchman on a bicycle (cliche I know), about 200 kilometres from Alice Springs in outback Australia.

He’d started cycling from Sydney 2,800KM away, and basically camped along the roadside each day. He was cycling all the way back to the Netherlands (with a couple of flights to cross the sea between Darwin and Singapore), and skip Afghanistan and Iraq. Hardcore.

Photo by Elias Castillo on Unsplash


Unlike the above two types who are effectively taking time out from their daily grind, expats establish a routine in the new place — but with a clear view that it is not forever. Perhaps you’ve moved to Buenos Aires for a few months to learn Spanish, have moved to San Francisco to go to college, or are on a work project in New Zealand.

You may get to know a place well enough to have a small social network established, and have had to interact with various local bureaucratic processes (getting local ID, submitting tax returns or establishing electricity, water or other utility connections).

If you’re in this category — you’d typically stay at least several months, or maybe even a couple of years in a place.

I’ve worked with a few people like this. One fellow I knew worked for a multi-national company and over the last 17 years had spent no more than 2–3 years in each country before transferring to the next.

He maintained a small apartment in his home town — in case everything went to hell; but other than that — never obtained a secondary citizenship or even a car in each place, thereby avoiding the establishment of any roots.

Photo by Blake Guidry on Unsplash

Semi-permanent migrants

You have come to a new place and will be there for the foreseeable future.

You will have a permanent job, and perhaps purchase a car to drive or property to live in — very much involved in the daily grind. You are very much anchored to the new place and are a stakeholder in society and the community.

The new place is effectively at home.

I had a relative who did this. Moved to Australia for about 15 years where he studied, got married and had children. When his parents got older and wearier- he moved “back home” to be with them, and once that situation played out, moved back to Australia.

So what type of wanderer are you? Have I missed any key categories you think ought to be included? Let me know in your comments below.

An observer of history, human development, geopolitics, society, and the future

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