The difference between tourist and traveler is often rightly emphasized. But what is the difference? All or almost everyone would like to be a traveler, although often in order to travel, unfortunately, you have to be a tourist. Not that being a tourist always has a negative connotation, in fact, there are tourists who are cultured and respectful of the places they visit and who do not pollute the environment, but certainly, between the two there are still differences.

The traveler doesn’t exactly plan a destination, but allows himself or herself to be carried away by events, without booking anything, sleeps wherever they happen to be and moves from place to place using the means of transport that the local people use.

Another substantial difference is that the traveler has no time limit: he knows when he leaves the place where he resides but does not know when he will return. The traveler's itinerary can be brief, but it can also last his whole life. To understand more deeply the differences between the traveler and the tourist, because sometimes it is a very fine line, I am reminded of the figure of Bruce Chatwin, the English writer who had a very singular but adventurous life. Chatwin, despite not being able to visit all the countries of the world, as he would have liked, is the one who traveled to get to know places and people, but also to discover himself. Emblematic is his masterpiece: In Patagonia.1

In some ways, Chatwin was an emulator of Charles Darwin. Although the two, in character and personality, were very different from each other, if we look more deeply they had some things in common, first the desire for discovery and then the pleasure of following their instincts. Perhaps it is no coincidence that they were both English but they were born in very different places, less than 200 km apart: Darwin in Shrewsbury and Chatwin in Sheffield, although they belonged to very different ages. Darwin was born in 1809, in Victorian times, Chatwin in 1940. Darwin lived to a good age, dying 1882, at the age of 73, while Chatwin died when he was only 49 in 1989 in Nice, moreover he was extremely sick. Both came from middle-class families; Chatwin's father was an English naval officer, Darwin's father, Robert, was a wealthy doctor, but it was Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus, also a doctor, who became famous for first outlining the evolutionary theories that later developed his nephew Charles2,3. Both Bruce and Charles, as children proved to be both very eccentric and intelligent, curious and imaginative. If Darwin had not traveled around the world in his great imagination, perhaps his mind would never have developed the evolutionary theories that, given the times when he spread them, were scientifically revolutionary.

Chatwin wrote that when man becomes sedentary, in his frustration he also becomes violent and destructive, but if he travels he becomes a free man, ideas which he shared with Darwin’s philosophies. The early Hominids roamed around the African savanna but at one point became increasingly sedentary to feel more secure, and less fragile. They took refuge, first in caves and then in stable houses. It was a necessity, it is true, but while before they were more creative and led a life in empathy with nature, they were free from many constraints. Darwin said even their children built huts in trees or along the banks of rivers to enjoy the pleasure of being immersed in nature. But civilization brought them back to social order, and that could traumatize them.

Darwin probably agreed to make his long journey around the world on the brigantine Beagle4 to savor the pleasure of freedom, and likewise, Chatwin, exploring South America and many other places in the world, Afghanistan, Australia, India, and several African countries. Many of his books are introspective accounts of his adventures and never described in detail. Chatwin away from civilization found humanity and the joy of living. Chatwin said that the Biblical Abel, the good brother, was nomadic, while Cain had established himself in a city he had built with his own hands, was a fratricide.

Chatwin greatly admired Arthur Rimbaud, the cursed poet who at sixteen fled home and then began to undertake a solitary, visionary and above all savage wandering. Chatwin was not interested in fantasy, but in the reality of events. In fact, he did not like Jules Verne, but Jack London. He was also obsessed with the figure of Paul Gauguin, especially for the life he chose in Tahiti far from civilization when the island was still wild and was not the touristic destination it later became. For Chatwin nomadism was an instinctive, irrational, but liberating force, probably inherited from our ancestors when they moved from one point of the African savanna to another.

For Chatwin, man's unhappiness arises from the monotony of city life which inevitably leads to apathy and restlessness. Finally, there is one very interesting thing that Chatwin says, and that is that phenomena such as, for example, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or smoking a joint, very fashionable during his youth, at best, were a fictitious demand for freedom. According to him, freedom is elsewhere, not in the stadiums or in consumerism.

Chatwin was a very reserved and apparently always a very quiet man, similar to Darwin, in fact, there are not many significant differences between the two. Both followed their instincts. Darwin had begun to study medicine before becoming the promulgator of evolutionary theories but then changed his mind: corpses made an impression on him. He went on to study theology, without much enthusiasm, in fact, it makes one smile when thinking of Darwin as an Anglican theologian. His lifestyle, before taking refuge and isolating himself from virtually everyone in his Down House home, until his death in 1842, had nothing to do with theology. Darwin never lectured and he never personally participated in debates and discussions about evolution. In this sense, it cannot be said that he was an ambitious man and his confidentiality was emblematic.

Both Darwin and Chatwin were fascinated by Patagonia, among other things a place and yet not a place where there is nothing defined and in which only silence can be contemplated. In Patagonia, Chatwin's most famous book, is not in fact a guide as someone, who has not read it, might think. It is not even a travel book, but the twist of an inner struggle of the writer in the obsessive pursuit of freedom. Darwin's Patagonia where he remained longer during his traveling with the Beagle, demonstrates the sustainability of his theories and was also a place where he could free his thoughts from the prejudices of his time.


Chatwin, B. 1977. In Patagonia. London, MacMillan.
Darwin, C. 1859. The origin of species by means on natural selection. London, John Murray.
Darwin, C. 1871. The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. London, John Murray.
Moorehead, A. 1969. Darwin and the Beagle. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Penguin Books Ltd.