Maybe it’s because I’m somewhat new to the blogging field or because I have connected with social media communities where I read a lot more travel blogs than I used to, but recently I’ve seen a lot of the “Don’t travel like a tourist” and “How to not be a (insert any judgmental word here) while travelling” type posts. And honestly, it’s starting to piss me off.
I love to travel.
I love it so much that I have sacrificed a lot to choose it over many other things. The money and time I put towards it could be used for a house, relationships, material belongings, a career I love — the list goes on. I could have more if I did not travel, but I choose this.
The only thing I love more than I love travel–aside from the husband obvs–is seeing other people travel. It always inspires me and fills me with joy to see a person newly fall in love with travel or continue their current love of it. It’s a huge reason why we started this blog, as a way to connect with and inspire other travelers. So when I see posts about how/why/who not to/should not travel, it really bothers me.
To some degree, I get it. If you go to a new city and never leave the Hyatt except to get in a cab to go to Pizza Hut, perhaps you’re missing part of the experience. But even if that’s the case, so what?
As a New Yorker, I dutifully hate going to Times Square as much as all other New Yorkers, and if someone was visiting and asked what they should do I would highly recommend against it. However, if your dream is to visit New York and see Times Square, than by all means spend every waking minute there and ENJOY IT.
There have been times in my life where I loved traveling off the beaten path, and at times still do. But the truth is that the older I get, the less tolerance I have for the discomforts and insecurities that come with that kind of travel. This doesn’t make me a bad traveler, and it does not take away from what I love about it, it’s just a different kind of travel.
The thing is, we are all tourists.
Like it or not, if you are traveling to a different place as a visitor to tour said place, then you are actually by definition a tourist. To travel is to travel like a tourist. It’s fun to play local and meet people who live there, I love those experiences, but when they don’t happen I do not feel like my trip was a waste. You will not be able to “travel like a local” because locals are locals – they live their, and are not travelling. The statement is a complete contradiction.
Experiencing things locals enjoy as a tourist? Definitely! I highly recommend it if you are into it. However after over a decade of travelling, I can attest to the fact that almost all of my experiences of travelling like a local were when I was simply travelling and stumbled into a local happening. They are not generally things you can seek out. When we made friends in Kep, it was purely coincidence because we were in the right place at the right time. That time we had drinks with senior management at the hotel we were staying at in Phu Quoc? It was because we started chatting in the walkway.
The golden rule to traveling is the same as most everything – don’t be an asshole. That’s it. You’re not rude? You say please and thank you and excuse me? Great, you’re doing it right. There, we clarified it. (Smiles and an open mind don’t hurt either, for your enjoyment as much as that of the culture you’re visiting).
There is another, unmentioned real benefit to travelling like a tourist.
Tourist attractions are often tourist attractions because they worth visiting. Historical ruins? These will be busy, expect crowds. If you don’t want crowds, head out early or in the high heat of the day. Chinatown in Bangkok? Super touristy, but the food is AWESOME, and many of the restaurants have been there for generations. Who cares that you’re eating with other tourists if the food is this good? Yes, these sites, food joints, and neighborhoods are often commercialized with the growing crowds, but they are often still valuable for what brought them the crowds in the first places.
What you get out of travel is like everything in life, it’s what you put into it.
It is different for everybody, and how awesome is that? Why do you think there are so many successful travel blogs and tour companies? It’s not necessarily because they are offering something different, but because it’s interesting to hear so many voices from so many different perspectives. What you bring to the story is you – not where you are or what you’re doing because, let’s face it, there are not a lot of opportunities left for original content. It’s been done. But it’s never been done by you, and that’s why it’s interesting.
I hate the thought that people miss out on travel because they don’t know how or don’t want to do it wrong. In case you needed permission to eat at Hard Rock Cafes because you just don’t like new foods or see only the popular sites because you are afraid of exploring beyond – I am here to give it to you.
So travel like a tourist, if that’s your thing. Or however the hell you want. And if anyone tells you to get off the tour bus and back into the streets and you don’t want to — then don’t! This is your journey, ENJOY IT…or don’t, it’s your trip.