Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Travel Talk: Why It's 100% Okay to "Look Like a Tourist"


Last Saturday, I took my camera out with me on a jaunt around Walthamstow. It was sunny, the sky was beautiful, and I thought I'd see some nice things to photograph. "Hey!" my neighbor yelled to me as I returned from my morning out. "You look like a tourist with your camera!" he shouted with a grin. "I am!" I shot back, laughing. "I'm a tourist of Walthamstow!" I smiled as I shut my front door.

But it made me think: since when did the word "tourist" get such a bad rap? When "tourist" meant stopping at the bottom of the escalator to look for signs; when "tourist" meant blocking large portions of the sidewalk to gawp at something ahead; when "tourist" meant brandishing a selfie-stick in the National Portrait Gallery - that's when.

Recently, I've noticed an emphasis on being a "traveller" rather than a "tourist". But who am I kidding? When I travel, I'm a tourist. I'm a guest in a country. More often than not, I don't know the language, except for a very mispronounced, "Hello!", "Please", "Thank you" and the ever-so-important "Toilet". In fact, the definition for a tourist (according to the online dictionary) is "a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure." There you go.

There's this obsession with "blending in with the locals" (how often have you heard that phrase, right?). And I get it. I try not to draw attention to myself when I'm being a tourist. I wear what I'd normally wear at home (unless the country's customs dictate otherwise, of course) and carry the same bag I'd carry at home. None of this "travel bag" or "travel shoes" business. But no matter how hard I try, I'll never fully "blend in". I intrinsically look different, sound different, act differently.

I'll never forget the time I was walking through Midtown Manhattan in New York, and a guy tried to sell me tickets to the Empire State Building. I was wearing the same clothes as everyone else on the street, yet he singled me out for some reason. "Do I look like a tourist?" I asked. "Yes," he replied, without any hesitation. I remember feeling a little mortified, then shrugging it off. So what?

If being a "traveller" means speaking softly rather than loudly, observing cultural traditions and customs, visiting local haunts as well as famous landmarks, well then, sure, I'm a traveller. But can't tourists do those things too?

Since when did it become so wrong to crane your neck up at the sight of the Eiffel Tower and stop to appreciate it for more than 2 minutes? Or take photos of XXL olives at the Mercado in Madrid? Or squeal at the sight of baby monkeys jumping from tree to tree in Sri Lanka (but not too loudly because, as I learned, that scares the sh*t out of them)? Listen: I can't remember a time that I've walked across Waterloo bridge without taking a photo of Southbank. And I've lived in London for nearly 10 years.

Heck, I wasn't joking when I told my neighbor that I was a tourist of Walthamstow - sure, I live there, but I don't know it all that well yet. I'm still in the process of discovery. And that's what I think tourism is. Discovery. Discovering.

Why is that such a bad thing?

I'm off to be a tourist in Bordeaux in a few months' time. I'll be snapping photos, speaking broken French (only to be saved by John's flawless French language skills, thank goodness!), and pointing at ... things. Lots of things.

Tourists, ftw.
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44 comments

  1. Agreed! Being a tourist is not a bad thing and I think 'travellers' that look down their noses at 'tourists' are being a little snobby!
    Lots of love,
    Angie
    SilverSpoon London

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    1. Yay! So glad you agree, Angie! Loved hearing your perspective on this. xx

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  2. Completely agree here! There's a connotation that travellers are 'better' than tourists, that they're experiencing countries and culture deeper than tourists ever could, and that's just plain wrong. It's a weird little label. Pretty happy being a tourist in my own country too :)

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    1. YUP, YUP, YUP. I'm a tourist, through and through!

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  3. In our old neighborhood I used to walk around with my camera but since we were next to a college people always asked if I was a photography student and I would just say yes as it was easier than the whole no but why the hell cannot I not just want pictures of where I live response I wanted to say!

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    1. Oh man, and I bet your neighborhood was so picturesque too!

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  4. Interesting post, I think however hard we seek to blend in we're inevitably going to look like tourists sometimes. With me, it's my pale skin on my first few days on holiday that gives it away!

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    1. Haha, me too, Suze! I stick out like a sore thumb in tropical climates ...!

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  5. I feel like some long-term "travelers" have somewhat fetishized what it is they do and have made it so that their way is the only authentic way. Or at least that's what they want everyone to think and feel. I get it - no one wants to be the loud, obnoxious American standing in the middle of the Louvre causing a commotion. Or the person targeted by pickpockets and thieves because you so obviously don't belong. On the flip side, these "travelers" will mock and disparage people who don't travel which is ridiculous too. I'm not opposed to being a tourist; I *am* opposed to being an asshole.

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    1. Your first sentence is exactly what I was trying to get at, Becky! And I totally agree - be a tourist. Just don't be an a**hole. Ha! There are always some ...

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  6. I do kind of get the whole traveller/tourist thing - I know some people who go abroad, don't see anything apart from their hotel room and the pool, complain about the different culture and moan if they can't have a roast dinner. Aside from those people who should just at home, it doesn't really matter what we're labelled as. We all love to visit new places and see the world however we do it!

    I've lived in London for my entire 29 years on earth and I still take photos wherever I go too! :)

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    1. Some great points, Ayla! Thank you so much for reading and sharing!

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  7. I don't think there's anything wrong with being a tourist, although I will always be annoyed when a big group of them get in my way as I try to navigate London. In smaller groups they're no problem!

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  8. Being a tourist is a great thing when, as you said, you focus on the discovery aspect. Nobody knows everything about any place. Even a town you've lived in all your life is going to change around you. It's not being a tourist that's good or bad, but individual behavior. It can be annoying to stick out to the locals though, especially the ones who try to snow you by charging a billion dollars for a taxi ride just b/c you aren't from there and may not know any better. That to me is worse than a person gaping in awe at a monument or two.

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    1. As always, you've gotten to the point in a much more succinct way than I ever could, Gianni! It's all down to individual behavior. And I've been scammed wayyyyy too many times on those cabs ...!

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    2. My mother STILL brings up the man who tried to charge us a billion dollars for a cab ride when all we had to do was buy a metro ticket for just over a euro to get to our hotel, which was like 3 stops away. We'll be having a conversation, and out of nowhere she'll be like "I just remembered that taxi driver in Paris. That made me SO MAD!" XD

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  9. I completely agree with everything you said I this post! I'm a huge fan of being a tourist even in my own city!

    http://thecourtneydiaries.com

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    1. Yay! Glad we're on the same page, Courtney! :D

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  10. Sorry Jaime - I disagree (well, with the title of your post at least).

    Yes, there are those who wear the "traveller not tourist" badge, and take delight in pointing out "the difference".

    And, yes, it is nothing more than snobbery - and actually says a lot about the person making the statement - they are easily avoided though.

    But it is never a good idea, in some places, to look like a visitor; to look unsure of your surroundings. There are hoards of petty thieves (and this includes other "travellers" too) just looking for their next victim.

    That's why thieves hang around attractions that are popular with tourists/travellers/call them what you like.

    It is nearly impossible to "blend in" - but you should always try.

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing your opinion, Iain! I was about to write a lengthier post explaining my position again, but I think we've recognized that we're basically on the same page via Facebook. :) :) :) Happy travels, as always! :)

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    2. For sure Jaime. And it would appear that my use of agitated hyperbole was to the detriment of my spelling. Hoards? ;)

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  11. I totally agree, you should dress however you want because "becoming like the locals" shouldn't be your goal. Your goal should be to learn about the country, and enjoy being in a new place. But for me, I try avoiding looking like a "tourist" because they tend to get targeted for crime and fraud a lot. And also, a lot of tourists tend to be a bit disruptive; they don't really make an effort to respect the culture of the country they're visiting, so I guess that's where the desire to "blend in with the locals" comes from as well.

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    1. I agree with you too, Farrah! I think - and maybe I didn't articulate it effectively enough - that the point I was trying to make was that the cultural snobbery perpetuated by so many travel writers, journalists, and others surrounding tourism versus travel is all a bit silly. Of course we shouldn't make ourselves targets for pickpockets, but I feel like the word "tourist" has been used lately as a term intended to mock those who are effectively travelling for fun and for pleasure - I hope that makes sense! Thanks so much for reading and for commenting :)

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  12. I'm with you - after all there's a reason that the place/item became popular enough to get the tourist label!

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    1. Yup! That's exactly what I was getting at. :)

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  13. Such an interesting post, Jaime! I've never really differentiated between a traveller and a tourist - in my head they're essentially the same thing. The only difference I can see is that travellers such as backpackers get to be tourists for longer because they're travelling around for a longer period of time and might get to visit more places!

    Personally I always worry a little about blending in whilst abroad, but purely beause I'm paranoid about getting mugged or pickpocketed! But as far as being a tourist goes, I'm not ashamed. What's wrong with wanting to visit new cities, discover new cultures and broaden your horizons? Seems like we need to reclaim the positive connotation to the label 'tourist'!

    Great post. It really got me thinking!

    Sophie :-)

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    1. I've never thought about it that way, Sophie (re: traveller vs tourist) but I think you've got a great point there! I wonder if I'd still consider myself a "tourist" if I decided to visit Sri Lanka for 3 months, for example (AKA my dream come true)? Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

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  14. 100% agree with everything you wrote!

    The weirdest thing happens to me when I travel though: whatever city/country I'm visiting, people always seem to think I'm a local and stop me to ask for directions. It's happened to me in London (where I still consider myself a tourist, as I don't live there!), Canada and even New York once. Apparently I do seem to "blend in" with the locals without even trying. Which is weird, because I'm as much of a tourist as the next person. :)

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    1. Ha! It just means that you are super cool :) I must take you with me when I'm travelling! :D :D :D

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  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Haha - your ability to blend in just means you're too cool! :)

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  16. Love this post, Jaime - and some really interesting comments too! I agree that looking down on "tourists" helps no-one, but neither does travelling and expecting all the comforts and structures of home. Both extremes give a bad rap! But I will proudly take my one millionth photo of St Pauls, or stop to stare at a beautiful cathedral on holiday, because I never want to lose my sense of excitement. If that makes me a "tourist", so be it :D

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    1. :) Thanks, Jessi! Totally agree that both extremes = two thumbs down. I'm so glad that you're like me in taking photos of St. Paul's (ALWAYS!) and any other landmarks whilst you're on holiday! It's that sense of excitement that I think is totally okay (and even wonderful!) to express.

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  17. I often find myself a tourist in my own city, whether in London or Bombay... sometimes, it's the only way to uncover all those hidden gems and really discover ithe culture and heritage, even if you'e been living there forever.

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    1. I have *loved* your photos and posts from India, Ayushi! So dying to visit ... and be a tourist there!

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  18. Yes!!! Why hide what you are. I see a traveller as an explorer and I'm not that. I want to learn and see new thing but I also want to see what all other 'tourists' want to.

    K.

    p.s. love yur rug, it is beautiful.

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    1. So glad you agree, Kelsey! There's no reason why to shy away from tourist attractions if you want to see them! I've been to Paris a few times now but I still always want to see the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower every time I visit.

      And thank you re: the rug! I love it too, though I don't think the placement there does it justice haha! I will have to find a new room for it.

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  19. I am a tourist at heart and proud of it too. I want to see the creme de la creme of what a place has to offer, as well as discovering the hidden gems. I want to take photographs to remember my experience by, and I want to blog about it too. No shame, and I am most definitely not sorry.

    Kara

    ❤️

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    1. Whoop whoop!!! So glad you get it, Kara! xoxo

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  20. My ex used to hate it when I brought out my camera in London or in Philippines, he always blubbed about the fact that I looked like a tourist (maybe that's why he's an ex). That said, I feel like in a sense most of us will always be tourists at heart because there's always something to discover!

    Honey x The Girl Next Shore

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    1. HA! Definitely the reason why he's your ex. ;) Totally agree with you, Honey. xx

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  21. I love this post, I still sometimes act like a tourist in London! x

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  22. Totally concur here! There's an implication that explorers are "better" than vacationers, that they're encountering nations and society more profound than travelers ever could, and that is outright off-base. It's a strange little mark. Quite cheerful being a traveler in my own particular nation excessively :)
    India vacation

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