Life & Stuff Travel Advice

In defense of the ‘Tourist’

I don’t want to go to touristy places.

I want to visit like a local.

I hate Eiffel Tower because it’s too touristy!

Tourists in Amsterdam - Amy McPherson
Do we really hate tourist attractions and touristy places, or are we just selfish and want to experience it all by ourselves?

Ok, admit it, even the seasoned travellers, how many times have you said these yourselves? I know I have. For years I have been thinking about this. What defines ‘tourist attractions’ and why many of us are suddenly so against it.

What’s wrong with tourist destinations?

Just read what’s been written lately in the publications and blogs: we are all writing about ‘getting the local experience’ and ‘don’t be a tourist’. There’s a push for authentic activities and it seems that we all want to avoid having our photos taken with the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal.

We are all urging our readers “don’t go there! Do this instead!” However there’s one thing, many of us frequent and experienced travellers forget – we were there once too.

What we all have to realise, is that all these travel snobbery really has no justification other than the fact that we are just selfish (yes, I said it). We want to have the whole experience to ourselves, and when we find out that millions of people have also seen and touched the same monuments or stepped into the same courtyards, we start labelling them ‘too touristy’.

We seem to have forgotten, once upon a time these ‘touristy’ places used to be exotic too, to many out there still trying to find the courage to take on their first trip, they still are!

We are lucky we live in a world where it is relatively fast to get to places, relatively easy for many us to move around and it is possible to us to access remote areas. In the old days, taking holidays is only reserved for the wealthy, or explorers who travel for particular purposes – to find new land, to search for new herbs and spices or simply to satisfy the curiosity of what’s beyond the horizon.

Someone, at one point in time, would have come back from one of their trips, and told someone: “hey, I saw this magnificent palace in the city of Beijing, you must visit when you are there!”

Words also travel and as our world continue to develop better transportation and increase the speed of communication, it is almost impossible in today’s age to go somewhere where no one has ever heard of. The world, is hence smaller, and mass tourism means nothing ‘magnificent’ is left untouched by the millions of curious tourists around the world.

The idea of travelling comes with associations with tourist destinations. You wouldn’t just one day think to yourself “I’d like to go here” without a reason. There are many reasons that can be attached to why we travel: to visit a friend, to find my family roots, to experience somewhere warm/cold, to go skiing – but most likely, our first ever reason to want to travel, is because we saw or read about an attraction that made us want to go.

And there are reasons why attractions are attractions. It is because they are attractive, magnificent, form a testimony to history or culture and is perhaps associated with an important figure. Or, it is just there, amidst the landscape that is simply hard to avoid.

All in all, you cannot deny their beauty and significance, the only thing we all hate of course, is the crowd. But then again, if it attracted you in the first place, why would you think you would be the only one that wants to visit?

We are just complaining now because we must be among the millions that also want to visit.

Buckingham_Palace_Tourists - Amy McPherson
Ok, I know. This is probably one of the worst things about London, but who can blame them? You are there for the same reason – and you would have told a different story if you were the only person there, right?

Whether you like it or not, we are all tourists

The word ‘tourist’ seems to have a bad ring to it these days. Apparently it is bad to be a tourist, yet according to the Oxford dictionary, the word ‘tourist’ simply means:

A person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure:

So that means, every one of us, visiting anywhere beyond where we normally live and work – is a tourist and there is no escaping the fact that, no matter how you label yourself on the road, those who live and work in the destination where you travel will always see you as a tourist.

Unless, you are like some of us, who like to move homes around the world once in a while, to actually live and work in a place, to have to worry about bills and rent notices. Unless you are willing to spend a considerable amount of time stationed among the locals, speak their language and to work and socialise among them – you’ll be treated like a tourist, and you will always be the tourist.

So, you see, whether you like it or not, we are all tourists. The only different you can make, is your attitude. Are you willing to be the tourist that are actually interested in the local people? Do you have respect for their customs and language? Are you actively looking beyond the attractions to at least attempt to see the souls of the places?

So, I’ve changed my mind

Over the years I’ve struggled with this, as I wanted to think that I travelled differently to other tourists, that I saw more spirit to the places I see and speak to more of the people I meet. I used to think the fact that I would chose to stay in residential areas than in the attraction centre, the fact that I’d rather walk and take public transport than to join a group coach with a tour guide made me somehow different to a tourist, that I was better at this than they are, that I am getting a better experience… those of you who have travelled extensively knows what I mean here – I used to be that person that would tell you: “Forget the Eiffel Tower. You need to see the real Paris.”

I have since changed. I now have a different attitude to all these ‘tourist’ connotations and realised that whatever I do when I travel are simply my own choice, it has nothing to do with who gets a better experience. The idea of travel is to fulfil our own dreams and experience something completely different, and the fact that someone has made that step to get out of their comfort zone, even if it’s by means of hopping on a tour bus, is still something that is very exciting to those who doesn’t regularly travel, and that I should not judge their decision because not everyone is as independent and gun-ho as I am.

I have come to the conclusion that it is more about the attitude you take with you abroad that matters for I have met independent travellers who are just as ignorant and blasé about their destinations as what we would normally label ‘dumb tourists’ as, and have met those on coach tours, who are able to grow an appreciation for the foreign experiences, and have the respect for local culture and people as any seasoned traveller.

Berlin - Amy McPherson
This is Berlin – with no a soul in sight. All it took was to walk a few blocks away from all the tourist attractions (once I’ve visited them) and here I am, alone with this funky statue. See, it is possible :)

What now then?

Embrace the tourist in you, for you are already making the first step to experience the world beyond your own neighbourhood. Visit the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, the Big Ben and the Sydney Opera House – visit them and appreciate them – and then, make sure you step away from the crowds and explore the side streets and meet a local or two.

And while you travel, be aware of what you don’t like about other ‘tourists’ and refrain yourself from doing the same thing. Be considerate of other tourists around you, after all, it really isn’t about the touristy places but the actions and behaviour of irresponsible tourists that have ruined the reputation for ‘tourists’ in general (isn’t it the same with races/religions and social classes?). So don’t make the same mistakes yourselves.

What matters more, is that you are willing to look into other parts of a place rather than just take your photos and go. Make friends, enjoy being questioned about where you are from – because, I believe to travel, to be a tourist, is the way to world peace.

Cheesy, I know, but once we have friends everywhere, once we understand each other’s cultures religions and ways of life, once we find out all of us really just want the same things and be able to pay the bills, and the fact that we all hate our governments – who would want to go to war?

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