THE BLOG
13/05/2014 12:16 BST | Updated 12/07/2014 06:59 BST

Travellers and Tourists: What Is This Superiority Complex?

You're flight leaves next week to take you away from the daily muddle and grind, to transport you to faraway lands (in the mind, but maybe not in miles), to lovingly fly you to eternal sunshine and infinite cocktails. You need the break. You need to spend a week relaxing, not rushing. Then...

"That's so clichéd," says so-and-so in accounts, "I much prefer to get under the skin of a place."

What does that even mean? I imagine a flustered soul trying to burrow beneath Spanish sands, lifting up a manhole cover and peering into the sewers in Lisbon, or blindly running away from the tourist information desk in any given location, complete with flailing arms.

Getting under the skin of a place. Sure, if we're looking at this literally, then relaxing on a beach, mojito in hand, is certainly just perching on the surface.

I understand and agree with the notion that there's no point going abroad anywhere if you're just going to treat it like home. Where's the sense in that? Eating the same food everyday and refusing to try anything new? Might as well have stayed at home.

What I don't understand is this recent need to judge people on the way they travel; on the way they relax; on the way they like to experience the world. I'm sure many people would love to go trekking for three weeks through the jungles of Borneo (and many wouldn't), but the reality is that these days people just don't have the time. A week here and there is often the only snippets of time people can snatch from work, from childcare, from their responsibilities.

There seems to be a rising influx of tourists with a superiority complex. They brush off the term tourist as being too shallow for them. They are travellers, not tourists. They feel the world, they don't just see it. They explore with all senses.

I'm not so naïve as to think that there aren't differences in travel styles. There are huge differences. Spending months sleeping in yurts through Mongolia is completely different to a week partying in Ibiza. But, as far as I'm concerned, if you're in a country that's not your native country, then you're a tourist.

Throughout the years, many a different quote and explanation dividing tourists and travellers have arisen, like this old nugget: "The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see." People like labels, we like to be able to categorise things to make sense of them, but it is not always a good thing. Meanings get attached to labels and preconceptions begin to grow, and huge divides open up between two seemingly similar terms.

Which in turn taps into the competitive nature of humans. Who can travel the farthest off the beaten track? Who can spend longer in the arse-end of nowhere? Who can see the fewest tourist attractions? Because, according to the die-hard tourist-haters, someone who lived with Gorillas in the Ugandan mountains is a much better traveller (and, therefore, person) than someone who spent two weeks eating their way through Italy.

There seems to be a hierarchy of trips, ranging from "Wow, that's awesome" (boating down the Amazon, for example - the more outlandish the better) to completely unacceptable (lounging on a beach in the Costa del Sol).

Neither one is better than the other. They're just different. Whilst one person may revel in the idea of listening to the waves splash against their sun lounger for a week, another person might shudder at the thought. Likewise, one person might salivate at the thought of living amongst an African tribe, whilst another might not fancy that at all.

Just as well, really. The Mongolian steppes would soon become crowded if everyone liked to travel in the same way. And the Amazonian boats would get pretty cosy, too.

Difference is good. Judging people is not good. As long as people are out there exploring what this world has to offer - be it in the bars of Ibiza, or in the Australian outback, we should be happy. As long as no one is behaving badly in any of the places they visit, then we should encourage people to travel freely, however and wherever they want to.

We should quit labelling others and allow them to get on with what they are doing. We'd want them to do the same for us, right? Not everyone enjoys the same thing and if the last thing you want to do is climb a volcano in Costa Rica, then don't do it. Just like if you don't want to queue up to climb the Eiffel Tower, don't.

Spend more time thinking about what you want to get out of a trip and what you are going to give back to the place you visit than worrying about what other people are doing with their limited vacation time, and hope they do the same.

Getting under the skin of a place is, well, fine, but the surface needs exploring, too.