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Dave and Jan's travels:
Tourists and travellers

So there you are. You're on the ferry, you've just met someone and the opening conversational skirmishes are underway. If they ask how long you're away for, then beware! You may be in the presence of a traveller

Travellers are acutely aware of the distinction between themselves and tourists. The traveller is on the road for at least nine months, is frequently penniless (although a surprising minority have an Amex card secreted inside their batik backpack), and even if not, would never spend money on an organised tour, video or lecture. Age range: mostly 18-27, but a few going up to 50 or 60.

By contrast, the tourist is on the road for a short period of time, carries an array of electronic wizardry and is either in a party, or at the helm of a 5-ton motorised caravan that makes our house look like a dog kennel. Age range: 30+, median around 55.

The travellers are awfully sniffy about the tourists. The more broadminded might concede that it's not a bad way to go for the aged and infirm, but otherwise tourists are looked down on as people unlikely to ever know what the local scene is "all about". The tourists, on the other hand, are often blissfully unaware of their second class status,which can occasionally make for some richly entertaining collisions.

Throughout South-East Asia, the contrast is particularly stark, as the travellers ride in crummy buses, live on banana pancakes and haggle in the local markets. Some of this behavior seems a little over the top. Anyone who has $1,000 to spend on a round-the-world air ticket really doesn't need to spoil their day bickering with a local farmer over the equivalent of 30 cents. A sad thing is the way that for these people, money becomes the end rather than the means. Conversation always comes down to how much things cost, never how good they are.

Another thing: the reality is that the tour-guided tourist usually ends up learning more about history and culture. The reason is simple: no amount of solemn contemplation of a ruined fort is going to yield as much insight as a researched lecture delivered by a local history student with good English.

On the other hand, tourists who do nine cities in seven days probably aren't going to get much beyond airconditioned buses and souvenir shops. Taken to the extreme, you end up with the oddness that is Alaskan boat people. Also, it is undeniable that the traveller does get to meet a lot more of the local people, and for many, those meetings are the point of the trip.

So where do we figure in this spectrum? The reader who's struggled this far will notice the uncharacteristic attempt to be impartial in the prose above. That's because I think we are probably travellers with tourist tendencies: we tend to be acutely aware of the price of things, but occasionally splurge big time. But we do have one built-in saving grace: as British passport holders, we aren't allowed to discuss anything as vulgar as money.