Traveling is wonderful. When you travel you experience unique things, meet amazing people, see outstanding places. Everyone has their own reasons for traveling and everyone’s reasons are just as valuable as the other’s. Although my personal reasons are getting to know foreign cultures, languages and people, I don’t deliberately avoid other travellers on the road. Yet, there’s something about some of these encounters that really gets me every time: the competitive traveller syndrome.

What’s the competitive traveller syndrome?

You know that guy at a hostel who states out loud that he’s done Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa? The dude who’s been white water rafting in the Zambezi, has seen the big five in Kruger, has quad biked the dunes of Swakopmund and has sat in the Devil’s pool of Victoria Falls? Or that diplomat who doesn’t care for such touristic things? That ex bank clerk who has decided to do an around-the-world trip and is now ticking off countries on his list? That social studies student who volunteers wherever he goes and just doesn’t see the point in having fun? That long-distance cyclist who looks at you (a fellow long-distance cyclist) with that “oh, so you’re not really a cyclist” look, just because you’ve crossed Bolivia by bus (guess twice if this just happened to me!). Yep, that’s what I call the competitive traveller syndrome.

10 types of competitive travellers

The competitive traveller syndrome is the urge to make it clear through every single detail that your way of traveling is the real deal. It’s that tendency to belittle everyone else’s experiences and efforts, regardless of their personal achievements and individual comfort zones. It’s the need to show others that you’re more in-the-know, more sophisticated, more adventurous, more considerate. And this can apply to anything: countries visited, money used (either very much or very little), kilometers hitchhiked or cycled, most extreme or most authentic experiences, anything. But the most important feature of the competitive traveller is that he manages to make your (wonderful) experiences seem worthless, if you waste your energy listening to him. Here are my 10 (stereo)types of competitive travellers.

Note! The thing I dislike is the element of competition, not the styles of traveling.

1. The penniless traveller

This is the guy who never spends money on anything, yet has been traveling for years all over the world. He manages to always get everything for free and never ever bothers to spend a dime on anything, except maybe on cigarettes and beer. Usually, the moneyless traveller who loudly states he travels without money, has money. He just doesn’t want to use it because it’s not necessary. People are kind enough to always help him out (pitying him in belief that he is poor), yet this guy hardly ever questions what he could do for his helpers in return. He’s also the guy who wouldn’t help anyone else out without a personal benefit.

Competition asset: skill to travel penniless.

2. The filthy rich traveller

This is the person who eats at Michelin star restaurants, reserves the best seats at the Vienna National Opera, stays at Hilton, Copacabana Palace or a luxurious bamboo houses, goes on champagne tasting tours, cruises on yachts in the Caribbean and buys beautiful furniture and clothing from Mexico to send back home. This is the one who competes with his peers about who has been in the most luxurious conditions which require most money. Other people’s stories about having been to the Maledives aren’t worth anything because “you didn’t go on a private plane?” Someone who has always done it bigger and better.

Competition asset: has done things that require heaps of money.

3. The country ticking traveller

There’s always that someone who not only loves counting the countries he has been to, but also goes to countries for having been to as many as possible. The country ticking traveller is possibly on an around-the-world trip and is eager to visit every possible place on earth. Great. But what’s not so great is his attitude towards others who have seen less. This person has often spent less than a week in each country, and the main point for him is having been there. The more exotic the visited countries are, the more extra points he gets in his mind.

Competition asset: amount of countries visited.

4. The kilometer counting traveller

This dude usually travels either by bicycle, motorcycle or hitchhiking. It’s especially important for him to have done more kilometers than his peers, and the more extreme the countries and the conditions, the more valuable the experience. He will definitely let you know if he has cycled the Andes or hitchhiked in the Kongo. No doubt about it. Although you both enjoy the way you travel, he won’t understand getting on a bus if you’ve set out cycling or hitchhiking. This person is usually an orthodox puritan in whatever it is he has decided to do. And if you’re not, you’re really not worth the conversation.

Competition asset: amount of kilometers done.

5. The authentic traveller

This person either travels to the same place every year or to local African communities for voluntary work and doesn’t Couchsurf,, because it’s just so commercial. He’ll by all means get himself into the house of a local Beduin in Jordan, to a refugee camp in Lebanon or to a crisis area in Palestine. He’ll try out all food he’s given and never state a bad word about another culture. He’s understanding and respective, and doesn’t care for touristic things. And, most importantly, he believes he’s the only one to have meaningful connections with the local culture. Others are just enjoying themselves.

Competition asset: authentic experiences.

6. The experience hunting traveller

This is the person who will do a horse safari in Spain, an open-water diver certificate in Thailand, shark-cage diving in South Africa, tandem skydive in the Argentinian Patagonia and go gorilla hunting in Uganda. This person has done it all, at least once, and is sure to have his picture taken in each possible occasion. It’s the person who will change his Facebook profile pic to that mask-on-the-face-and-regulator-in-the-mouth pic after just one dive and who will be sure to let everyone around know all the crazy things he’s done. He’ll quite easily outnumber everyone else, because that’s the whole idea of it.

Competition asset: having tried everything.

7. The minimalist traveller

This is usually a hitchhiker, a cyclist, a handicrafts selling hippie or an outdoor lover. The whole idea of a minimalist traveller is to travel with as little things as possible and show the whole world that he’s not attached to those material things. He believes all materia is evil, and he’s a living proof that you can survive without it. No one says that this person actually enjoys being without all commodities (e.g. internet), yet that’s not the point – the point is that he’s able to. Whatever you carry with you that he doesn’t, is useless. Mind you, this dude has often spent a fortune on light-weight gear and has a home packed with things.

Competition asset: traveling without commodities.

8. The freakin’ cool traveller

This dude has climbed the El Cap, lived as a surf bum in Morocco, toured Europe in an old VW van and done countless yoga retreats in India. He’s full of tattoos and has been traveling continuously for more than six years. He considers himself a citizen of the world, because everywhere is home for him (he usually only mingles with other Westerners). This is the guy who’ll give you that “oh, you’re not a real traveller” -look as soon as he hears you’ve actually studied something else than acupuncture, African plant medicine or fire spinning. The cool traveller has been out of the system for longer than he can remember.

Competition asset: long time traveling, too cool to be true.

9. The online traveller (aka digital nomad)

This person has travelled vastly and now makes money programming, writing or blogging about “how I quit my job to travel” or about “how to live on 20 USD per day”. He gets free deals from hotels and hostels, and sits comfortably on a beach chair, writing about solo travel on his Mac with a Mai Tai in his hand. Especially digitally, he comes by as the real traveller, although the truth is often harsh — to tell about all those experiences he has to sit down for hours. The digital nomad won’t share anyone his tricks on living the dream – unless you’re willing to pay. The point is not always the travel, it’s telling people about it online.

Competition asset: a life that sounds like a dream.

10. The sophisticated traveller

This individual has definitely been to the Guggenheim in Bilbao and the MoMa in New York. He has stayed in an Italian Villa still owned by the Family Medici, speaks fluent French and knows everything about the history of the Chinese empire. He cannot digest how anyone can travel without knowing the history of a country thoroughly. He would never even consider going to the Middle East without having studied the Quran, and theoretically knows everything about Machu Picchu and the Egyptian pyramids. This is the person who will shine with his knowledge. Not to teach you, but to show you he knows.

Competition asset: knows everything about everything.

And…the traveller

This person will loudly claim himself to be a traveller (as opposed to a tourist). He needs to make sure he’s not just seen as a random passerby, although he’s usually completely surrounded by like-minded peers in hip’n’cool “traveller’s paradises”. He goes to Goa, Krabi and Costa Rica, and wakes up with expensive lattes and smoothie bowls on the porch of a beautiful beach front bungalows. Yet, what exactly is it that separates him from the stereotypical tourist? The size of his budget? The fact that he enjoys beaches more than museums? He’s traveled long and cheap, yet doesn’t necessarily know a thing about the local culture.

And you know what? Who cares!


Any other competitive traveller types you can think of? Please comment.

Written by Sissi Korhonen
Exploring, interpreting and understanding cultures through local languages and people. An advocate for intercultural communication as a basis for diversity acceptance and human equality.