In Defence of Being a Tourist

"That's for tourists..."

"It's too touristy..."

"Only tourists do that..."

...said the tourist to the other tourists.

I don't think there's a word that's said with as much derision as the word tourist (well... that, and the word hipster). And I think that the two words also have another thing in common; just as no one really considers themselves a hipster, no one really identifies themselves as a tourist either.

Maybe it's due to the fact that no one exists entirely in the state of being a "tourist" - it's something that is, by its very definition, transitory. One moment you are, and for the vast majority of your life - you are not. Perhaps that's why the word is said with such mocking. It's an easy group to attack, and no one really considers themselves to be a part of it. But the reality of it is - if you're interested in travelling, no matter how few attractions you visit, or non-hotel accommodations you stay in, you are, while travelling... a tourist (gasp!!).

This is okay. Take a deep breath. There's nothing inherently 'wrong' with this. You weren't born in India. You don't speak Indonesian and you'll vomit for days just by looking at the local tap water for too long. Unless you've checked the box that you're travelling for work or study, you're touring. Become comfortable with that.

Now, I know, really, what people are referring to when they say something is 'touristy'. What they really mean is that an experience, a site, an event, etc somehow... inauthentic. Disingenuous. Manufactured. Not 'real'. An assembly-line experience. And it's completely fair to try and avoid some of those experiences.

But is visiting the Eiffel Tower, Hiking the Great Wall or bathing in the Blue Lagoon a waste of time because too many people have gone before you? Just because something is touristy (i.e. has been commodified to some extent) doesn't mean it's not worth doing or seeing. No, it isn't ideal to be fighting for room to walk around Machu Picchu, but the last person to have an authentic experience there was Hiram Bingham.

It's true that some of the most magical experiences while travelling come from veering-off the beaten path. But the beaten path is well-trod for a reason and there's some magic in shared experiences too. There's still magic in standing on the Acropolis at dusk, or walking the grounds of Versailles or waiting for Old Faithful to erupt - yet again. No, you won't be alone when these things happen - but everyone should, if they have the means, experience them. And the commodification of these experiences (which can be done tastefully and with restraint) does make them more accessible (i.e. affordable) for more people.

So don't discount the magic that's still in the world, even though it's been going around for a while... some of it is still worth doing and no one will force you to wear a fanny-pack if you finally admit you're a tourist.

Feature Photograph of the Week - Through the Walls of Bab El Mechouar

 Out for a morning stroll in the port of Essaouira, Morocco.

Out for a morning stroll in the port of Essaouira, Morocco.