There is something to be said for being anonymous in an unfamiliar place. No one knows your name, or where you’re from, or what your personality is like. You can be anyone you want to be.
There are some who argue that there is an important distinction between a tourist and a traveler, and if you’re going off the stereotype of a tourist as a rude and disruptive foreigner with a camera dangling from their neck and a fanny pack strapped to their waist, then maybe there is. But if you’re a visitor to a foreign country that you have never been to before, then I say the difference is arbitrary. As long as you’re having a great time, then what does it matter?
In just about all of my travel experiences, I have embraced being a tourist. Don’t avoid important sites just because they’re popular and where all the tourists congregate. Don’t refrain from taking photographs just because you don’t want to stand out as a tourist. Don’t deprive yourself of ordering a dish you’ll enjoy when you go out to eat in fear of it being too touristy. Traveling is meant to be enjoyed, and ultimately your experience is entirely what you make of it.
Say you visit a tropical island and it rains the whole time you’re there- that doesn’t mean the whole trip is ruined. You improvise and find other ways to make it work. I think the best travel experiences are the ones that we plan ahead enough for that we don’t miss out on anything important, but we’re able to embrace spontaneity as well. Whatever you call yourself, here are some reasons why being a tourist is awesome.
- You can meet other tourists
One of best parts of traveling to a new place, in my opinion, is meeting other tourists experiencing the place for the first time too. It gives you an immediate connection. I have made some wonderful friends through tour groups- friends that, years later, I keep in touch with. You’re all there for basically the same reason: to learn about a new place and have a good time doing it. So don’t feel ashamed for traveling around in a tour group; if you embrace your tourist status, then I guarantee you’ll meet some interesting people and you won’t run out of things to talk about with them.
- You can learn about new cultures
When you visit a foreign country or even just somewhere in your home country that you’ve never been before, you’ll be wearing your otherness like a flashy badge. As soon as you open your mouth to speak, your accent will give away your foreignness. If you don’t know the language or don’t speak it will, that will be another sign. When you stop to take a picture of a famous landmark, that’s another giveaway. Don’t try to hide it. It is perfectly okay to be a student. Rather than trying to blend in and pretend you know more than you do, why not embrace your foreign identity and open yourself to learning about new cultures? If you’re able to converse in a foreign language, then it shows that you are making an effort to adapt to that culture, but it’s also okay to admit you’re unfamiliar with the culture and use it as an opportunity to learn something new. Let the locals be the teachers, and you be the zealous student.
- You can let your curiosity guide you
Let your curiosity drive you, rather than a desire to blend in, and you will be happier for it. I promise you. If you want to see what McDonald’s is like in China, try it. If you really like that tee shirt you saw in your hotel gift shop, then get it. If you want to toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain like all the other tourists, go ahead. Don’t let your fear of standing out keep you from having fun- that’s what a vacation should be about. Just do what peaks your interest and forget about the rest.
- You won’t miss out on the important sites
No one goes to Paris for the first time and refuses to visit the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame because they’re too “touristy.” If you have the chance to get off the beaten path while you’re in a new place, then you will no doubt come upon unexpected joys and have an even richer and more satisfying experience, but don’t let your desire to do untraditional things keep you from visiting the main tourist destinations. They’re popular for a reason, so you can bet they’re worth seeing.