Differences between expats and travelers

You spot them both in the street. It’s Saturday.

The expat is walking with confidence; you wouldn’t realize that he* is actually lost. He is walking with a smile on his face and along the way, he has picked up some little cultural quirks. He’s not even aware of the fact that he’s doing it. He asks for help, using mostly body language and waits at the bus stop, for the next bus to arrive.  He’ll find his way.


A girl* is walking past. She is trying to make sense of her map. I’m almost certain that it’s the wrong way around, but hey, I’m just observing.  Her schedule is tight: She’s got places to go and people to see. Everything has been planned to the minute, and she’s getting frustrated. She signals for a taxi to stop, because he’ll be able to get her to the address, written on the back of one of her many tourist flyers…She’s called, a traveler.

There are a lot of differences between expats and travelers.


1. Going with it vs Planning

He has a broad idea of things to do, but he will take lemons and make lemonade. He’s got a lot of time (even though a lot of expats don’t use it as well as they should), and instead of having a list from TripAdvisor, he keeps his ears open and listens to recommendations from the people around him.

A traveler has a limited amount of time. Every second counts, and therefore, it’s easier to do research beforehand and follow the plan

2. More Adventurous (Risk takers) vs Comfort zone

The expat likes to take risks. After all, he left his home country, everything he knew, for the unknown. He gave up the privilege to spend Christmas at home as well as the luxury of understanding people. He took a step, and had no idea where it would lead to. It takes courage not to run back home at the first setback.

3. Friendly, more adaptable to culture vs their own way of doing things     

The expat is a lot more flexible and adaptable than the traveler. The expat is aware of the fact that he is the visitor in another country, and he has to adapt to their way of doing things.

The traveler is used to her routine, so she sees no reason why she needs to change for other people. She’s frustrated pretty quickly, because she expects things to go according to the way it is in her home country. She’s not too fond of changes.


4. Less snobs, your group of friends is as dynamic as ever

As the year goes by, the expat makes friends. Lots of them. One as dynamic as the other. The main thing they have in common, is the fact that they:

  1. Moved abroad
  2. Get homesick
  3. Like to explore

It doesn’t matter as much where people are from or what they are doing here. It’s more about the fact that you are her now, and that’s all that matters


Travelers can come across as being a bit more pretentious. They choose who to hang out with, with a bit more care…….


5. Expats know they don’t know, Travelers “know”

The expat is the one who will tell you all about the city that you are about to visit. He’ll refer to the fact that there’s just way too much to do, and that you’ll never have enough time to see it all.

The traveler will tell you how she got everything done in a few days… she was actually bored by the end of her trip. They’ll tell you “everything you need to know”

You don’t know what you don’t know, Ms. Traveler…


6. Think about life vs not to

The expat is the one who is moving to a different country, a new life. He has time to ponder about life, to think about the things that matter and the things that don’t…


It’s very different that being on vacation. You see the world around it, you see the beauty in it, and on impulse, you might decide that you want to move there too… Know that traveling through a country and living in it, would be 2 different experiences. Know that you’ll have a job, do dishes and pay bills, just as you did back home. This time, you might just find it a bit more difficult to communicate to those around you.


This is a generalization to the extreme of the differences between expats and travelers. You might  know some travelers who are more adventurous than some of your expat friends. True. Expats just tend to be, according to the stereotype.

* The fact that the guy is an expat, and the girl is the traveler, has nothing to do with genders, but it is merely to make it easier to distinguish between the two people.

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