Erik Cohen: Which of 4 Types of Tourists Are You?

“上车睡觉, 下车尿尿.”

This rhyming refrain is used to describe the ways of package tourists: Sleep on the bus; pee off the bus. Indeed, that was what I found myself doing when travelling overseas in my teenage years. And then my family started travelling free-and-easy. What easy?!

But travelling need not be placed in such a broad dichotomy. Erik Cohen (1972) outlined 4 types of tourists long before flying became affordable. Read the descriptions and see if you belong in one!

Organized Mass Tourist

You buy “a package-tour as if it were just another commodity.” Your itinerary is “fixed in advance, and all [your] stops are well-prepared and guided.” You prefer all decisions to be made for you, and travel should provide comforts familiar to you.

Individual Mass Tourist

You retain “a certain amount of control over [your] time and itinerary and [am] not bound to a group.” But your “excursions do not bring [you] much further afield than do those of the organized mass tourist.” You experience more novelty, but within “well-charted territory.”


You try to “get off the beaten track as much as possible”, and dare to “leave [your] “environmental bubble” much more than the previous two types.” But you still look for “comfortable accommodations and reliable means of transportation,” and do not “immerse… completely in [your] host society.”


You shun “any kind of connection with the tourist establishment” and consider “the tourist experience phony.” You have “no fixed itinerary or timetable or well-defined goals of travel.” You try to “live the way the people [you visit] live”, “keeping only the most basic and essential of [your] customs.”

Can you particularly identify with one of Erik Cohen’s types? If you haven’t realized, the types progress on a scale from familiarity to novelty. Most of us, I believe, belong in the middle categories. Perhaps one could say that the modern world, seeking more thrill, is tending down the scale. It’s not “in” to buy package tours now, in the age of Airbnb and couchsurfing.

Erik Cohen Typology

Is this dog an explorer, a drifter, or an organized mass tourist left behind? [Photo: Taiwan, 2011]

Yet is the pursuit of novelty really the “correct” way to travel? In our fantasies we often think that other people aren’t “doing it right”, and so we draw up lists of people we should never travel (again) with. Should we, however, throw all commitments behind and indulge an all-new life for a year? Should we fault those who travel only to escape their alienating work lives?

I think there’s a bit of each type in each of us, and finding out the motivations behind them can help us plan and enjoy our future trips better.

Questions to Ponder

Do you find yourself frowning at any of these types? Why?
Have you exhibited traits that fit in one of your non-dominant types?
Thinking of your last trip, do you wish there was more familiarity or novelty?

For more reflections, follow me on Instagram @socioempath!

Erik Cohen – Toward A Sociology of International Tourism (1972)

Socio Empath

Hi, my name is Eugene. I am a Sociology graduate from the National University of Singapore. This blog is an invitation: To see our selves as colored by cultures, and to brighten the colors of our society. I seek to help you create freedom in everyday life, with empathy and the sociological imagination.

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