What Makes a Traveler?

by Gray Cargill on October 8, 2010

United plane taking off

Do you consider yourself a traveler?  If so, why?  What is your definition of a traveler? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of a traveler is “One that travels.”  (Shouldn’t that be “one who travels,” Merriam-Webster?) Other than a potential grammar issue, this is not a surprising definition.  However, it’s also kind of vague.  Do they mean a person is only a traveler while they are actually traveling?  Or can one be a traveler in between travels, too?  For instance, what about those of us who have nine-to-five jobs?  Do we only count as travelers for the handful of weeks per year we are able to travel?

I don’t know about you, but I think I would take a little offense to think that the only people who are considered travelers are nomads, who are constantly on the move.  What about the “round the world” travelers who travel constantly, but only for a few months or years before settling down in one place again?  What about people who travel all the time–but for work? Do they count?

Carnival Glory

Being unsatisfied with Merriam-Webster’s definition of a traveler, I dug around the Internet a bit more.  The Free Dictionary defines a traveler as “One who travels or has traveled, as to distant places.”  Aha!  Now we’re talking.  I like this definition better, as it’s more inclusive.  As long as you’ve ever been anywhere other than where you are now, you’re a traveler.  Of course, there’s still the issue of “to distant places”.  How distant is distant, Free Dictionary?  Is there a radius involved?  Can you be a traveler if you only travel domestically?  Or if your primary travels are within a day’s drive of where you live?

The truth is, I don’t think we can let a dictionary define who we are or who we consider ourselves to be.  Only we can do that.  I sometimes see a bit of insecurity among travel bloggers who aren’t on a round-the-world trip and who aren’t nomads.  (Although how much of it is insecurity versus travel envy I sometimes wonder. . . .) I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately, because a) I have travel envy myself, and b) for financial reasons, I might have to cut back on my travel next year, and I’ve been agonizing a bit about how to be a travel blogger if I’m not traveling as much.  Suze Guese touched on this subject recently in her post titled Quantifying and Qualifying Bragging and Travel.  What really gelled my feelings for me was when I saw Candice Walsh’s comment on that post. She wrote:

I know exactly what you’re talking about, met a douchebag who did the same not too long ago. I said I was a travel blogger and he scoffed when I told him the low number of places I’ve been. I’d rather count experiences than countries, wouldn’t you? Arg.

When I read Candice’s comment, I was indignant on her behalf.  How dare someone dismiss her like that, when she’s pouring her heart and soul into the travel world every week, week in and week out, via her blog?   There are any number of reasons someone who loves to travel can’t actually be traveling for a period of time, not the least of which are family, finances, job, and health.  And in fact, some of us don’t want to be nomads or go on a lengthy round-the-world trip, living out of a backpack for months on end.  So I’ve come to feel that if I have to cut down on the number of trips I take next year (it might drive me insane, since I pretty much live to travel, but) it won’t make me any less a traveler.

To me, the dictionary definitions of “traveler” are missing a crucial component: Passion for travel.  So ask yourself this:  Do you love dreaming and planning for travel?  Do you read as much as you can about other places and cultures?  Do you travel as often as you can afford to, given your circumstances?  Then in my eyes, you’re a traveler.

I’m sure others would define it differently, and that’s okay; I’m not going to let someone else’s definition change the way I view myself. What about you?  How do you define a traveler?  Does your definition hinge on frequency or scope of travel, on the number of countries visited, on destination, or is it more about having a passion for travel?  Or some other criteria?  Do you think your definition is a fair one?

Nancie (Ladyexpat) October 25, 2010 at 11:29 am

There seems to be this “all or nothing” mentality in the travel blogging community these days. I get the feeling that many think you can only call yourself a traveler if you are on the road full-time and better yet making a living from your travels as well. I don’t buy into that mentality. I’m like you. I don’t want to travel full-time. I want to live in another country full time, and have done so for ten years, but that doesn’t mean constant travel. I travel five months out of the year. I am definitely a traveler, as you are.

Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 9:38 pm

I’d agree you are too. Thanks, Nancie.

GRRRL TRAVELER October 13, 2010 at 3:15 am

We all make the mistake of creating definitions for ourselves so that we can belong. Unfortunately, we judge others by it as well. Guilty. It took me a while to discover you “are” when you FEEL yourself to “be”. I went thru this years back with being an artist vs. calling myself one.

There are so many definitions of traveler– diff niches, i.e. What’s a solo traveler? … It’s hard not to feel like you have to fit a label of expectations in order to fit in. My def of traveler: someone who journeys, explores a culture, lifestyle, belief ore reality different from their own.

When I shot reality shows- entering a person’s home to being on sets was traveling to me. Attending local art/culture/music events… traveling. Moving to live/work abroad… traveling.

Anonymous October 13, 2010 at 11:05 am

Ahh…here you’ve touched upon a new aspect of it. WHY we come up with labels and definitions: To belong–and then we project that onto others as well. You’d think we’d outgrow that after high school, wouldn’t you?

Lisa E October 12, 2010 at 2:55 am

I”ve never done a RTW trip nor do I consider myself a perpetual nomad. I tend to go once (or twice) a year and usually for 4-5 weeks. But I am definitely a “traveler” and have been for a while. I agree that there isn’t one standard definition; perhaps we all have our own–the one that works best for us. My personal belief is the following…

A traveler is someone who has a desire to discover what’s beyond the horizon, a need to connect with the core of a culture and its people and a passion for experiencing those unique moments of magic and serendipity that tend to occur when you’re on the road and somewhere unfamiliar. It’s not about how long you go for or where you go (I had a pretty cool ‘travel’ style experience right in NY State recently); it’s more about the mindset that you have re: where, why and how you’re going and the way you experience it when you’re actually there. Having said this, I do think it–travel–works best when you step into a culture that’s different enough from your own.

Travel, to me, is a philosophy and a path of sorts, which some of us choose to follow because we have a deep need to. Who we are makes us do it…and at the same time, doing it makes us who we are.

Anonymous October 12, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Beautifully said, Lisa. Thank you.

lilmissdisney October 11, 2010 at 10:57 pm

I completely agree that passion is the key. Someone could travel for their job almost everyday and still not consider themselves a traveler. Many travel once a year for vacation but don’t call themselves travelers.

My traveling has been put on hold recently for uncontrollable reasons but I still consider myself a traveler. I am still traveling even though I am not physically traveling at this time, if that makes any sense. Traveling for me goes beyond just planning my trips. I am always planning, dreaming, preparing and learning about places to travel, even during the inbetween when i’m not travelling. It is my passion.

Anonymous October 12, 2010 at 12:29 am

Yes, that’s it exactly, and it does make sense to me. When one has a passion for travel, there’s a certain mental and spiritual preparation that takes place in between the travel itself that goes beyond planning for a specific trip. Thanks for sharing, lilmissdisney.

Laura October 10, 2010 at 9:18 pm

I agree with ShannonOD. After all, I think we are all travelers in our own way.

Anonymous October 11, 2010 at 2:04 am

Except for people who genuinely do not ever, have not ever, and have no plans to ever travel. Although even then, you could get philosophical and say we’re all travelers through life. :-)

Anonymous October 10, 2010 at 9:00 pm

It really comes down to the issues with labeling – we as a society feel the need to classify and quantify everything our world, but it’s so ambiguous. I’ve been to dozens of countries at this point but that doesn’t mean anything more or less than someone who maybe lived for a year in London for work – they’re still a traveler. I feel like there’s so much focus on who did what and for how long instead of sharing experiences, ideas and lessons that are gleaned from our travels, whenever and however they were achieved.

Anonymous October 11, 2010 at 1:56 am

Good point about labeling and classifying, Shannon. It’s probably a control thing. If we feel we can classify things, we *think* we can understand them, and thus control them. (Which is a nice little myth we convince ourselves of.)

Sabina October 10, 2010 at 4:24 pm

I think you made an excellent point about the definitions of traveler lacking the word “passion.” That is a huge element of what makes a traveler a traveler, it’s true. It doesn’t matter to me whether anyone is a traveler or tourist, or whatever. If they want to be called a traveler, that’s fine with me. I’m always called a tourist by locals when I’m out of the country, and I know that’s because that’s a word they know. I don’t think they really know the word “traveler,” and they certainly don’t make the distinction between traveler and tourist, business traveler, etc. when we’re on foreign soil. Maybe we shouldn’t worry about the distinction either.

Anonymous October 11, 2010 at 2:02 am

You and Shannon seem to be on the same beat, Sabina, in terms of people coming up with comfortable labels for others in order to feel they understand them (as locals do when they label you “tourist”). I really do feel passion is the key for our self-identity, though, which is probably going to be different than how others label us. Passion, and perhaps focus. Because we’re all multifaceted beings who have many interests and could define ourselves in many different ways. Our self-identities are constantly changing, though, and are being influenced by whatever our current focus (or passion) is. Might be travel, might be our profession, might be our relationship to another person, or a myriad of other things.

Anonymous October 8, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Thanks for the mention. Candice’s comment was one of my favorites on that post. Agreed on your conclusions about “travelers”. There shouldn’t be a snobbery to travel, but there is. Just talked to my sister about this because her friend said she wasn’t having a travel experience by going to Italy. Really? Enough is enough.

Anonymous October 8, 2010 at 11:13 pm

No, thank you, Suzy. “Italy isn’t a travel experience”? Good grief. Why is it that we human beings are so judgmental? Not just of each other, but of things and experiences? I think that kind of sucks a lot of the joy out of life.

Anonymous October 8, 2010 at 6:31 pm

I have to admit that I think this conversation is just really overblown. As you said, who cares how others define us, so why should we care either? This is just like that traveler/tourist debate. As far as I’m concerned, if people can find the courage or interest to explore anything outside their daily routines, then that’s great. Seeking out new experiences, regardless of where in the world those experiences take place, is better than not doing it at all. Why define those who do so?

Anonymous October 8, 2010 at 10:50 pm

“Seeking out new experiences”…yes. That’s the crux, too, and it shouldn’t matter the scope of those new experiences as long as they stretch us a bit and help us grow beyond our daily routines.

Amanda Williams October 8, 2010 at 5:53 pm

I couldn’t have said it better myself! I think trying to assign a single definition to the word “traveler” is essentially impossible. So many people travel in so many different ways. But I think you hit the nail on the head by saying that travel is really all about passion — so true!

Anonymous October 8, 2010 at 10:48 pm

And as Theo said, so true about many things, not just travel.

Theo October 8, 2010 at 5:31 pm

I couldn’t agree more, passion, that’s what defines a traveller. And if I may it is also what defines other things such as a cook for instance. I’m sure we’ve all had meals of the level of cafeteria food made by someone who really doesn’t like to cook… But then there are times when a cook with love & passion comes along and puts together a meal, loaf of bread or a pie.. That’s a cook. Quality, love and passion same goes for travelers.

Anonymous October 8, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Good point. Sometime people are good at things, but in a sort of “rote” way. But it really makes a difference when they are passionate about what they’re doing. I’m very good at my day job, for instance, but I don’t feel any passion for it.

Carlo Alcos October 8, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Easier said than done, but I don’t think we should be wasting energy on worrying how other people define/pigeonhole us. What is a traveler? I guess anyone who calls themselves a traveler. I’m working on it everyday to stop my judging people. How great would it be to truly just let others be (so long as they’re not causing suffering for anyone else) and keep the focus on ourselves? It’s a long journey, but one worth taking I think.

Anonymous October 8, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Agreed, Carlos. And the reason I was thinking about this was because I wondered why I consider myself a traveler when I can only travel a few times a year. And that set the mind wandering….

Candicewalsh October 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Thanks for the shout-out! I got a little enraged just rereading that comment, hahaha. I couldn’t agree with you more, there’s no correct way to define a traveller and I hate the pretention from people who travel ALL the time. I like living in east coast of Canada, and I’ll come and go as I please.

Anonymous October 8, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Candice, comfort yourself with the notion that there are people out there who travel all the time who probably don’t appreciate it as much as you do when you travel.

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