12 Mar Letting Yourself Be A Tourist
I started traveling at 21, later than I would have liked, but young, none-the-less. But because I traveled a good deal, I caught up pretty quickly, now at nearly 30 countries, and more coming soon. And while I fell in love with traveling and caught the travel bug, I also brought something else back. I brought back the traveler vs. tourist prejudice.
Because my first experience abroad was living in Prague was, I really looked at myself as being a “traveler” because I was moving slowly, staying for a long time, really moving through the city like a local. And because I saw myself as an insider, I was separate from the “tourists.” I didn’t go on tours because I knew where I was going. I used public transportation like I used to walk between my house and my car, I ate at restaurants where the owner or bartender would nod to me and greet me like a local.
And, let me tell you, that felt good. It was amazing that I was in a city, a new city, where people knew me, and I felt comfortable walking alone and night while carrying my laptop, a place where I could give directions to some obscure place for which I have my own nickname. But I can’t always spent months in a place, though I wish I could. And I’ve started being more “touristy,” though I haven’t wanted to at all. At first, for the few few trips I was obsessed with maintaining a “traveler” status and avoiding tourists at all costs. I kept thinking down on “tourists,” and the people I labelled that way. I wanted to be better than them, to prove I was truly a citizen of the world, if only to myself.
What “Travelers” Never Do
- Stand in a long line consisting of tourists.
- Carry a backpack as a day bag.
- Oggle at buildings or monuments.
- Converse more than necessary with non-locals
- Go on tours.
- Take selfies or typical tourist photos.
When I read books, blogs, or watched movies, everyone seemed to be reinforcing my unfair distinction between traveler and tourist. Whether it was a U.S. City, well-traveled European Capital, or obscure South American village, the goal was to find the “real” location. And while there are certainly very touristy locations, like places that sell “authentic” Eiffel Tower miniatures made in China, and I am, and always have been, willing to bypass places like that, it’s hard to stay away from everything touristy. But more importantly, how do you decide what is too touristy? Or, who decides? In my opinion, it should be down to the traveler (tourist?) to decide where, and how they travel. But that’s not always the case. People, mostly the “travelers” consistently put down “tourists” for not having the same goal of avoiding anything remotely commercial or touristy. They look at “tourists” as being less because they leave home to see the Eiffel Tower, ride on a gondola, or pose in front of Machu Picchu.
And the reason I felt similarly, besides just living in Prague, viewing the huge tour groups clogging “my” sidewalk, speaking loudly and interrupting “my” piece and quiet, and rushing through “my” favorite, beautiful, historic city without giving it its due attention. I felt like they weren’t taking travel seriously or weren’t doing it for the right reasons.
But I saw that apart from trying to speak the language, eating new food in small, out of the way restaurants, and trying to blend in, I really wasn’t any different than the “tourists” I was hating. And I started seeing how the lines were really blurred. How can we separate travel for only slight differences? And, in some aspects, can the “real traveler” is impossible to do. How can you qualify what is the “real Paris” or “real Istanbul?” Both of those cities have huge tourism industries which, more the most part, decide what you see.
And if it’s something more remote, like extremely rural Africa, or Southeast Asian jungle, more than likely you’re not the first to have been there or are completely alone in your travels. You might be with a guide, or have some sort of help, guidebook, map, something. And while that kind of traveling is admirable and something not to be taken likely, is that experience more valuable, memorable, or meaningful than the “tourist’s” experience at the leaning tower of Pisa?
So what it really comes down to, and I’ve said this before, whatever it’s called, just keep traveling. If you’re happy, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and experiencing new things, who cares what it’s called? It shouldn’t matter what other people, travelers or tourists, are doing if they don’t affect you. If you don’t like huge, loud, tour groups, ignore them, go the other way. If you don’t want to see the Eiffel Tower, then don’t. But don’t put down other people’s experiences. They’re experience has nothing to do with how, when, and where you travel, and it especially shouldn’t be up to you to say why someone else’s experience doesn’t mean as much as yours.
All I know is that I love traveling. I like finding new things, the “real city” whether it’s my interpretation of “real” or the actual. And I’m not going to avoid things because someone else tells me it’s wrong or not authentic. Just remember, while I preach that you should be yourself, do what makes you happy, how you want to, just remember to be respectful and humble, and try to blend into your surroundings. Just do it out of respect, not because some “traveler” will think less of you.
What do you think? Have you felt this way? Do you still?