You are faced with many choices when travelling. What to do, what to eat, what to visit; all of these are questions that you will need to answer on a daily basis. The most basic of all the questions you will face when adventuring through the world, and what will greatly impact your experience while travelling, is this: are you a tourist or are you a traveller?
You might be a bit confused – what’s the difference? Aren’t they both the same thing? The answer is both yes and no. You can be a tourist while being a traveller, but it’s harder to be a traveller while being a tourist. So which one do you want to be? It’s a question you should definitely consider before any trip.
Being a tourist has certain connotations to it. When you think of touristic hotspots, you think of beautiful nature and historic sites – museums, ancient ruins, pristine beaches of forests, iconic buildings and constructions. But you also tend to think of crowds, a hectic environment, waiting in line, and people with fanny packs and cameras hanging around their necks bumping into you. Sometimes it’s difficult to reconcile the two because they are so contradictory.
On the one hand, touristic hotspots exist because they are worth visiting. They have a charm and allure that attracts people from all over the world to them and that’s a great thing to have as a city or region. Tourism is a huge benefit for an economy and, in many places, it is a crucial driving force behind the economy. On the other hand though, tourism brings tourists are often loud, obnoxious, and rude individuals that make locals and fellow travellers frustrated and cranky, taking all of the excitement and joy out of a day of exploration.
If you talk to locals in the great cities of the world and in the greatest tourist destinations, you will hear a lot of the same thing – they avoid their attractions like the plague because they can’t handle the tourists. The only times they do visit are when tourist season is over, the crowds have dissipated, and the serenity, calm, and beauty of their iconic sites has returned. This is the case in every city that’s worth visiting and if you think about your city, I bet you’ve cursed a tourist at one time or another too.
This is because tourists have a different attitude towards the place they are visiting. Because their time is generally finite, they try to jampack their trip with every tourist attraction possible. They are rushed, camera-happy, and generally inconsiderate folks because they try their best to appreciate the place they’re visiting in the most complete way they can in the few days they have available. They don’t have the luxury of living in that beautiful place and so they want to experience it to the fullest while they can. That’s why the line for entering the Louvre and seeing the Mona Lisa is as ridiculous as it is. That’s why crowds form and push and shove and leave behind their garbage at what should be the most pristine of sites. As stereotypical as it might be, that’s why tourists are disliked by locals everywhere. Even though they might have the best intentions and all they want to do is see what you might take for granted in your city, they do it in such an abrupt and individualistic way that they become a nuisance.
A traveller has learned to evolve past the touristic tendencies that live in all of us. A traveller is patient and kind and knows to leave behind their giant backpack or fanny pack and to try as much as possible to look like and act like a local. A traveller lives in the moment and experiences more through their senses and less through their camera’s lens. And a traveller recognizes that they can’t do it all in a day. They plan their time accordingly and they make the most of a trip while understanding that sometimes you need to take a step back in order to fully experience the place you are visiting. It’s ok if not every day is full of activities and tourist attractions. Sometimes the joy of travelling is found within a coffee and a croissant or a glass of wine or a good book on a park bench. Sometimes you just need to be instead of do.
So the challenge as a traveller is to remain just that, a traveller. There’s a very fine line between becoming a tourist that a local somewhere is cursing for budging in line or for littering and being a traveller that blends into the culture while taking it all in. It’s difficult to remain an appreciative traveller when your trip is quick and rushed and you want to see and do everything. But it’s important to recognize that the choice is there and that it needs to be consciously made every day during your trip.
It’s ok to be a tourist sometimes. Sometimes it’s necessary, especially when you’re in a new place for the first time. You want to see all of those tourist attractions that are iconic of that place and you want to get the cheesy photos that everyone has in Times Square, or holding up the Tower of Pisa, or putting your finger on top of the Pyramids at Giza. And that’s totally ok. But remember that that’s not all there is to your trip. And sometimes the experience is so much more valuable if you do it as a traveller that blends in and not a tourist that sticks out. Remember to be respectful of those around you and stay considerate of the great places you are visiting. It will make all the difference to the locals and to your fellow travellers. And it will provide you with a much calmer, more relaxed, and more enjoyable experience as well.
Written by: Sonia Motisca
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