Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Tourists"

Lump this one in with "hipsters", "jocks", and "nerds".

The more you read about travel and talk to travelers, the more you'll hear people hate on "tourists."  Paul Otteson, in a book called "The World Awaits" that I will not recommend (read Vagabonding instead), does a pretty thorough job of hating on tourists:
"The tourist takes tours; guided groups of like-minded folks enjoy the convenience and relaxation of having it done for them."
"The tourist goes to tourist places, eats at tourist restaurants, and stays at tourist hotels."
"Tourists go to places when they are supposed to go."
"Tourists never quite know where they are."
"Tourists always move as if they were attached to an invisible leash."
... and on and on.

There's always a little caveat in these rants, if you let them go on long enough, like "oh well sometimes it's okay to be a tourist, if..." and a few experiences about how they were a tourist once in Bali because it was the only thing to do, or because they were with their family, or whatever.  I think the feeling we're supposed to get is not that it's a sin to be a tourist, but that being a tourist is a bad thing generally caused by ignorance or immaturity, kind of like picking your nose or saying bad words because you don't know what they mean.

But talking about "being a good traveler and not a tourist" only accomplishes three things:
1. lets us "enlightened travelers" feel superior to the unwashed masses
2. makes us revere and cower before those who are "better travelers" than we
3. makes us always worry "am I being a good traveler now?"
Two of these are bad feelings.  One feels good but is ultimately destructive.  So let's stop talking about it.

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