Difference Wiki

Backpacker vs. Tourist: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on March 8, 2024
Backpackers seek immersive, budget-friendly travel experiences, often emphasizing flexibility and adventure, while tourists prefer convenience, comfort, and structured itineraries.

Key Differences

Backpackers are characterized by their preference for budget accommodations, such as hostels, and often carry their belongings in a backpack, symbolizing their readiness for adventure and spontaneous travel. Tourists, in contrast, may opt for hotels or resorts, prioritizing comfort and convenience over cost or immersion in local cultures. This distinction highlights different priorities in travel experiences.
The travel duration and flexibility of backpackers tend to be longer and more fluid, allowing for extended stays and last-minute changes to their itinerary based on new discoveries or social encounters. Tourists typically follow a predetermined schedule with limited time at each destination, focusing on major attractions rather than off-the-beaten-path experiences.
Backpackers often seek to immerse themselves in local cultures, participating in local customs, eating local foods, and sometimes volunteering. This approach to travel emphasizes a deeper understanding and experience of a place. Tourists may engage with local cultures but often through the lens of guided tours or curated experiences, which can be less immersive but more accessible and convenient.
The social aspect of travel differs significantly between backpackers and tourists. Backpackers often travel solo or in small groups, frequently interacting with other travelers and locals, forming connections that are an integral part of their travel experience. Tourists, especially those on guided tours, may have less interaction with locals or other travelers outside their group, focusing more on the destinations than the social experience.
The impact on destinations can also vary. Backpackers, with their preference for sustainable and responsible travel practices, may leave a lighter footprint on the environment and local communities. Tourists, particularly in large groups or those favoring luxury accommodations, might contribute more to overtourism and its associated challenges, although this is not always the case.

Comparison Chart


Prefers budget options like hostels
Opt for hotels, resorts for comfort and convenience

Travel Style

Flexible, adventurous
Structured, convenience-oriented


Longer stays, open-ended
Shorter, scheduled visits

Cultural Engagement

Seeks immersive experiences
Prefers guided or curated experiences

Social Interaction

High interaction with locals and travelers
Limited interaction outside the tour group


Tends towards sustainable travel
Potentially higher impact on destinations

Backpacker and Tourist Definitions


Often travels solo or in small groups for extended periods.
He's been a backpacker across Asia for a year.


Travel is usually for a shorter duration and within a set itinerary.
Their tourist visa allowed a stay of up to three weeks.


Someone who prefers spontaneous and flexible travel plans.
As a backpacker, she changed her itinerary to join new friends.


Engages in activities and visits major attractions.
Tourists crowded the museum for the special exhibit.


A traveler who explores with belongings in a backpack, focusing on budget and immersion.
The backpacker stayed in hostels to save money.


Prefers organized tours and comfortable accommodations.
The tourist group stayed at a luxury resort.


A traveler who seeks cultural immersion and experiences.
The backpacker spent months learning local crafts.


A traveler visiting places for pleasure, often with a focus on sightseeing.
The tourists took photos in front of the landmark.


Engages in sustainable travel practices.
She chose eco-friendly tours and accommodations as a backpacker.


May contribute to overtourism but also supports local economies.
The influx of tourists boosted the local market's sales.


A sturdy bag designed for carrying articles on a person's back, having shoulder straps and often mounted on a lightweight frame.


One who travels for pleasure.


A piece of equipment, often containing life-support devices, designed to be used while being carried on the back
A parachute in a backpack.
An astronaut's backpack.


To hike or travel while carrying a backpack.


To carry in a backpack.


A traveler whose luggage consists of a backpack; especially, such a traveler who uses hostels, public transport, and other inexpensive services.


A fan or performer of backpack rap.


One who backpacks; as, two backpackers were mauled by bears in Yellowstone this week.


A hiker who wears a backpack


Can a tourist also be a backpacker?

While the terms imply different travel styles, some travelers may blend aspects of both, depending on their trip.

Why do backpackers prefer hostels?

Hostels offer affordable accommodations and opportunities to meet other travelers, aligning with the backpacker's emphasis on budget and social interaction.

What defines a backpacker?

A traveler who prioritizes budget, flexibility, and cultural immersion, often carrying belongings in a backpack.

Do tourists interact with local cultures less than backpackers?

Tourists may engage with local cultures, often through guided tours or attractions, which might be less immersive than the experiences sought by backpackers.

How does the duration of travel compare between backpackers and tourists?

Backpackers often travel for longer periods and with more open-ended plans, while tourists usually have shorter, more defined trips.

How do backpackers plan their travels compared to tourists?

Backpackers often plan with flexibility, deciding on destinations and activities as they go, while tourists are more likely to have a fixed itinerary planned in advance.

How do tourists typically travel?

Tourists usually travel with convenience and comfort in mind, following structured itineraries and staying in hotels or resorts.

What drives the choice between backpacking and tourism?

Personal travel preferences, budget, interest in cultural immersion, and desired comfort levels drive the choice between backpacking and traditional tourism.

What is the impact of backpacking vs. tourism on destinations?

Backpackers tend to practice more sustainable travel, potentially leaving a lighter footprint, while mass tourism can lead to overtourism and greater environmental impact.

Can backpacking be considered a form of tourism?

Yes, backpacking is a form of tourism, specifically emphasizing budget, adventure, and cultural immersion.

What motivates a backpacker's travel choices?

Adventure, cultural immersion, budget, and flexible itineraries are key motivators for backpackers.

How do backpackers and tourists contribute to overtourism?

While both can contribute to overtourism, tourists, especially in large groups or those preferring popular landmarks, may have a more direct impact. Backpackers might spread out more, seeking less-visited locations.

How does tourism benefit local economies?

Tourism, including both backpackers and traditional tourists, can significantly contribute to local economies through spending on accommodations, attractions, and dining.

Why do some travelers prefer backpacking to traditional tourism?

Some travelers prefer backpacking for the freedom it offers, the opportunity for cultural immersion, and the adventure of exploring destinations in a more spontaneous and budget-friendly manner.

What social experiences differentiate backpackers from tourists?

Backpackers often seek social interactions with other travelers and locals, staying in communal accommodations, while tourists might have less interaction outside their travel companions or tour groups.

What kind of activities are backpackers and tourists likely to engage in?

Backpackers may engage in activities like hiking, local volunteering, or language classes, focusing on immersive experiences. Tourists might prefer sightseeing, guided tours, and leisure activities at popular attractions.

What kind of accommodations do backpackers and tourists prefer?

Backpackers prefer budget accommodations like hostels or guesthouses, while tourists tend to opt for hotels, resorts, or vacation rentals for more comfort and amenities.

Are backpackers more eco-conscious than tourists?

Backpackers are often portrayed as more eco-conscious, seeking sustainable travel options and minimizing their environmental footprint, whereas the impact of tourists can vary widely based on their choices.

How do backpacking and tourism impact the perception of a destination?

Backpackers may help popularize off-the-beaten-path destinations through word-of-mouth and social media, while tourists often flock to well-known attractions, influencing destination popularity.

Can backpacking trips be organized by travel companies?

Yes, there are travel companies that specialize in organizing backpacking trips, offering a blend of the backpacking spirit with some structured elements for those new to the style.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons