If you regularly do any travel research or travel blog reading, you may be aware of the ‘tourist vs traveler” mindset that has been quietly infiltrating our community, masquerading itself as a positive movement. There are a number of offending influencers who outwardly tout the benefits of more fully immersing themselves in the local culture, while also subtly shaming anyone who travels more conventionally. The praise for their style of travel is completely based on how NOT like a tourist they are. Of course if you talk about how great it is to not be a tourist, you are obviously implying that the opposite – being a tourist – is bad. These globetrotters like to write about “avoiding tourist traps,” getting “off the beaten path,” and experiencing the “real” location. Their writing is often condescending and haughty.
Now there are definitely some great things that can happen when you venture off the “tourist” path; but why do we need to talk about it like it’s the only worthwhile way to travel? Why do we feel the need to throw “tourists” under the [tour] bus? Why do we have to say that one way is more authentic than the other? When we say one way is better, who gets hurt by the unspoken “than” that follows?
What’s worse is that this mindset appears to be contagious. It is so easy when you start researching your first trip to get sucked in and start to believe that being a tourist is somehow suboptimal. In an effort to appear impressive, we might make certain travel-related choices that are not what we truly want, and then further spread the myth that we made that choice because the alternative wasn’t the cool thing to do.
If you’ve never been outside your home country, then something like the Eiffel Tower is impressive and exciting (well, unless you’re from Paris). You shouldn’t skip something that has inherent value just because it’s been seen by millions of travelers. It’s popularity doesn’t make it more ugly, boring, or less historical. So what if the surrounding businesses cater more to foreigners than locals? So what if everyone around you is from somewhere else? So what if it’s been photographed millions of times? Does that make a landmark unworthy of attention? It’s popular to visit for a reason. Find those reasons and enjoy them!
(Of course, conservation of fragile locations that are being harmed by too many visitors is a different matter entirely, and not what I’m talking about today. Please research before you go.)
So why is this happening? I’m not a researcher, but I have some ideas. In our internet-connected society, there is a constant psychological need to stand out and do new things to gain attention. This is a normal part of human nature. But what comes from this is an unspoken competition for travel writers, bloggers, and photographers to go to extremes in order to not be like anyone else who has traveled before them (traveling is easier than ever, so that’s going to be a pretty monumental task). In trying to make a name for ourselves, we may forget that getting attention or praise is not what travel is about. We should never travel in hopes of getting likes, blog posts, sponsorships, or fame.
I admit to having some of these thoughts crawling further to the front of my mind over the last few years (“Should I really book a trip to Italy? Everyone’s already blogged Italy to death!”). But it’s not mentally healthy to make decisions this way, and it won’t help me have more fun or be more likeable. Nobody likes a snobby traveler! I just never want to let outside influences determine how I live my life. Sometimes it’s hard, because it seems to happen without you noticing. So I think I will need to make continuous efforts to make sure that Kevin and I are going where we want to, how we want to, and not doing it to look impressive.
The most recent trip we booked is for 1.5 years from now to Italy (so subject to change until it gets closer). We’re planning to see all the most touristy spots, and I couldn’t be more excited! I’m going to take pictures of pasta and the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Trevi Fountain, and I’m not going to feel bad about it. Because I’ll be having the time of my life with my husband visiting a country that is special to us.