In the red corner, the "Backpacker"... In the blue corner, the "Tourist".
Let me ask a question. If you were going to Egypt for the first time, would you not go and see the Pyramids? Of course you would go see them. So you're standing at the foot of the Sphinx and look around to see thousands and thousands of other foreigners. My question is, are you are a tourist or a backpacker? Does it matter you are there on a package tour or you went by yourself overland from Sudan with your backpack?
It seems as long as I have been travelling, I have been hearing the difference between the two. I started out a tourist, plain and simple and not going to deny it. Very soon, however, I realised the beauty of backpacking. The more and more "off the beaten track" and "adventurous" I got, I had people (usually other "backpackers") breathing down my neck stating that I'm not a real backpacker for doing something touristy etc... blah blah blah..
When I was in Bosnia, I was staying in a Sarajevo hostel with the guy I was travelling with, and a couple of people we met. We were sitting in the bar downstairs having a few beers when this American "befriended" us and starting shooting his mouth off about what he has done in Bosnia. We told him we took a tour out to the Sarajevo tunnel and a few other sights etc.. (which was run by one of the hostel staff) He gave us a look "Oh. You did a tour?" He said with a condescending tone. "Yeah I did that with the locals, they took me out there, bought me beer, showed me around. I rather do things with the locals. I am basically a local myself now". My only response was to stand up and walk away without saying a word.
This constant battle over who is better, a tourist or backpacker or traveller (or whatever other word you want to use), is kind of annoying. I travel for my own reasons, because I love it. I go to touristy places and do touristy things yes, but sometimes I end up in places where I am the only foreigner and I get stared at because they haven't seen a person like me before. So does all this make me a tourist or a backpacker? I think they are only words and in the end were all just foreign people travelling through a foreign land by what ever means possible.
As far as what the locals think of me, Im a foreigner so whay would I try not to be. Of course, there is always an element of acting appropriately in the local culture, learning the language and trying not to stand out too much with outlandish clothing but in the end I'm Australian and proud to be so why am I going to pretend I'm not?. I currently live in a very non touristy area in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and because of the way I look, I am a total "gringo". I am starting to get the hang of Portuguese and I dress pretty much the same as most other locals but when I walk around the touristy south zone, I am sometimes looked at with rolled eyes as a gringo. I dont care, it just so happens the south zone is the nicest area in Rio so why wouldnt I go there?
To me none of this matters and I think some people loose sight of why we travel in the first place. If you're travelling to be competitive (i.e. "I've been to more countries than you" or "Ive seen more of this country than you") than that's pretty pathetic to me. I travel for the love of it, whether it be eating a croissant while staring at the Eiffel Tower or having people wanting to touch your white skin because they've never seen something like you before, its all good to me.