In the dictionary a tourist is defined as a person who is traveling, especially for pleasure. Whereas a traveler is defined as a person who travels or has traveled in distant places or foreign lands.
So if we take the terms literally I guess that means some of us travel regardless of whether we intend to have fun or not. I can't say that is really correct. I do travel for enjoyment but I also travel to learn and experience new things and new cultures. I have always believed that a person should learn something during every trip. My daughters, granddaughters, nieces and nephews and former Girl Scouts will verify that when I would ask at the end of a day or trip “so what did you learn?”
Some say that travelers carry a towel and toilet paper while tourists expect neatly folded fluffy towels and toilet paper. Other people say travelers experience a culture while tourists generally just observe cultures. Many feel that anyone that travels in groups or on organized tours and stops to see “important” historical sites is a tourist. The same people usually consider a backpacker with an endless travel time frame as a traveler, even though the “backpacker” may stop at a historical site too.
"Tourists don't know where they've been, travelers don't know where they're going." ~Paul Theroux
That “tour group/backpacker” theory really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Sometimes do to time constraints like “jobs and lack of PTO time” people travel on an organized tour to maximize their limited time. It certainly doesn’t mean they don’t know where they are going or have been. And most people do have some idea where they would like to end up. It also doesn’t mean they can’t connect with locals during their limited time.
As for the “important” historical sites, I don’t know anyone that would pass up an opportunity to climb the Great Wall of China just to avoid a “tourist” or “traveler” label!
In the end the debate and label will continue “tourist or traveler?” In my mind it doesn’t really matter which you are or aren’t as long as you are having a good time and making memories, oh ya and learning something new too!