I’ve always said that everyone has his or her own trip. And while that’s partly about seeing things with your own eyes, it’s also largely about how you choose to visit the places you go. The more travellers I meet, the more I’m struck by the often huge differences in the way they travel.
While some people are happy with a quick package tour, others want to spend a month travelling the back roads, while still others want to circumnavigate the globe. So with all the options out there, it might be fun to list the different types of traveller and ask: what kind of traveller are you?
Here are the major types of travellers, as I see them.
The one-stop shopper
Thanks to the modern work week and the travel industry that caters to it, most travellers these days belong to this group. They book a one-week getaway to a foreign city or beach resort, unpack their bags and enjoy themselves on site for the next seven days. If they want to see the local attractions, they take day trips. Sounds a bit cut and dried, but it’s all the time many people can spare, and since that’s what the travel agencies sell, that’s what they buy.
The upside One-stop shopping is simple and convenient: you buy a package vacation, show up at the airport, and it’s all taken care of. It can also be great value if you keep an eye out for a cheap package deal, like the one I got to Beijing in 2014.
The downside The biggest problem with this style of travel is that it’s limiting. At best, it’s a brief introduction to the country you’re visiting; at worst, it’s a week spent in a gated compound without even a good look at how people in that country really live.
This is my style of travel: rather than going one place, I want to go several places. I take out the map and figure out how many destinations I can string together affordably to make a trip that’s more a kaleidoscope than an oil painting. And if I’m taking a cruise, I add a stop or two on the way there and the way back, just to add a little value. It’s about always wanting to see what’s over the next hill — but it’s also about getting extra value from each trip.
The upside You see more of the world than those who spend all their time in one or two places. There’s never a dull moment — good for people with attention deficit disorder. Plus, you get lots of good photo ops.
The downside When you keep moving on, you don’t get to see everything there is to see in one place. And moving from place to place does add some extra cost and extra work — another train trip, another hotel, another guidebook …
Some people love to travel, and some people just love to cruise. They like the excitement of picking new ships, new itineraries, new specialty restaurants — it’s a fun way to travel. And it’s simple: for one price, you get a floating hotel room that goes to a different port every day, with a good meal in a nice restaurant at the end of the day. There’s even free entertainment after dinner, and the cruise lines are adding new attractions all the time.
The upside Cruising is a convenient, low-impact way of seeing a lot of different places, and great for baby boomers, as I wrote here. You unpack once and you’re set for a week — or two, or several — with all your needs catered to until you go home. And if you shop wisely, it can cost less than visiting your destinations separately: see here.
The downside You’re on a ship with a couple of thousand other people, so there are going to be crowds. More importantly, you’ve got just one day in each port, two if you’re lucky, so you really only get a taste. Some people consider cruises a travel sampler: pick the places you like and return later.
The luxury lover
These are people who like to travel first-class, no matter where they go. They’re drawn to famous spots like Paris, Monte Carlo and Mustique. And when they get there, they’re more interested in the hotel and the food than the historic sights and museums outside their door. To luxury lovers, a good glass of wine on a balcony with a spectacular view is the ultimate trip.
The upside With this kind of travel, everything is taken care of, so there’s a chance to truly relax and recover from a stressful job (and if you can afford this type of travel, you probably have one). And if you book the right places, you get some great food.
The downside If you spend your whole trip in a luxury resort, you’re unlikely to see much of the country you’re visiting, and what you see may be on a tour that shows you a sanitized version of life there. You won’t be meeting the locals, either — the only people you’ll meet will be other five-star travellers.
For a foodie, there’s only one good reason to travel: to try all the delicious dishes in other parts of the world. Foodies visit China for the Peking duck, Vienna for the Sacher torte, the Riviera for the bouillabaisse .. the list goes on. If food is your passion, the world is your oyster, so to speak. Foodies often appreciate great hotels, so you may find them among the ranks of the luxury lovers.
The upside There’s no end to the culinary treasures in this wide world, so foodies will never go hungry for a new adventure. And visiting local restaurants is a good way of learning about local culture.
The downside This type of travel can be hard on the budget, not to mention the waistline. That aside, you can end up missing some great experiences in order to get to the right restaurant for dinner — but then, you may not care.
These are people who go to one destination and stay there — for weeks. This group includes my friend Marie-France, from the Big Travel Nut blog, who sometimes sets up camp in a city and makes it her home for a while. A lot of travellers in this group are looking for a good place to spend their retirement. Others just like to relax and soak in the atmosphere of their destination without having to pick up their bags and catch another train or plane every few days.
The upside Spending a lot of time in one place lets you discover the things most tourists don’t see on a short visit — the hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants, the less-visited historical sights. And if you stay long enough, you get to feel like you’re a native son or daughter, at least for a moment or two.
The downside Staying in one spot means you get to see one spot — period. You can take day trips, but they generally take in only the local area, so there’s a whole country out there that you’re missing.
These are what homesteaders become if they look hard enough. They find a place that’s warm and welcoming and fits their budget, and they spend their winters there every year. Most snowbirds are looking for an escape from winter, but a lot of them come to make the spot they’ve chosen a second home. If they like it enough, some even take the next step and move into another category: the expat. And then they’re not travellers any more.
The upside Spending several months every year in one destination allows you to become a part of the community. As well, it’s restful: once you move in for the season, you can settle into daily life and spend time on your hobbies, or learning the language.
The downside Like homesteaders, snowbirds miss out on a lot of the sights in their adopted country, unless they take frequent side trips. They’re treading the fine line between travelling and just living.
These are the people who want to reach the end of the earth, just to see what’s there. They fly to Nepal to tackle Mount Everest, visit British Columbia to go sea kayaking with killer whales, and go up the river in Borneo to stay in native longhouses (that was me 25 years ago). These travellers are out for adventure, but also for knowledge: they want to see things for themselves.
The upside Trekkers see parts of the world that most people never set eyes on, and make stories they can tell for the rest of their lives. As well, they learn a lot — new skills, new languages, and usually a few survival tactics.
The downside After doing things like this, regular travel can seem just plain boring. Trekkers can end up being addicted to the adventure — or getting eaten by a crocodile.
One step beyond the trekker is the globetrotter. These are people who don’t just want to see the ends of the earth – they want to see it all. They take round-the-world trips, and spend years travelling through whole regions, sampling every country along the way. With a round-the-world and circle Pacific trip under my belt, I’m an honorary member of this group too. Luckily, I like my Toronto home – except for those winters …
The upside It’s a rare privilege to see the whole world in your lifetime – or even a large part of it. You get a new perspective on human culture, and a great appreciation of the world, its beauty, and sometimes its tragedies.
The downside It’s hard to have a normal career when you’re off travelling for months and months. In fact, it can be hard to adjust to life back home when you come back from the world’s beauty spots. Could be why some globetrotters never come home.
That covers most of the major travel styles I’ve seen, though I’m sure there are many others. There’s almost no end to the different ways people approach travelling, and there’s no right or wrong way to travel — though I certainly prefer the ways that let you learn about the places you visit rather than just partying there.
So what kind of traveller are you? If you recognize yourself in one of the categories — or perhaps two or three — it might make you think again about how and why you travel. And if that helps you get more out of your travels, my work here is done.