Dropping the ”T” Bomb: The Stigma of the Tourist
Everyone has been a tourist at least once in their lifetime, though most seasoned travellers don’t care to admit it. In fact, if you class yourself as a man or woman of the world, chances are you shudder at the idea of being branded the dirty ‘T’ word.
A tourist is, by definition, ”a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure.” Isn’t that nice? A person on tour purely for the simple pleasure of doing so. How has this simple and, for want of a better word, nice breed of people been transformed so heavily? Well, true, the increasing ease of worldwide travel means that there are a lot more people out there to get annoyed at. Living in Amsterdam, I’m not innocent of ranting about tourists mindlessly walking into the cycle lanes, filling up the coffee shops and polluting the general area with debauchery and idiocy. Locals hate tourists because it is an influx of people getting in your way and hiking up the cost of living.
But when travellers hate tourists it’s a different story altogether. The local dislike is due to inconvenience. Nothing more. But when tourists are sneered at by that cliche well travelled soul, it’s due to nothing more but another kind of elitism, that of the travel snob.
As much as I would love to condemn this snobbery, I can’t entirely do it without a sense of hypocrisy. I myself have been guilty of travel elitism. I cringe when people get the huge maps out in the middle of the street, I give disapproving looks to LADS! LADS! LADS! on tour in their neon sunglasses and v neck vests, and I roll my eyes at people who are so intent and excited about meeting people from their own country abroad. But why?
Reflection and seeing this snobbery first hand from somebody else brings it all home to me. Travel isn’t about trying to impress people with how cultured you are, or how much you’re willing to break from the typical tourist trail, it’s an individual feat. So what if you want to follow Lonely Planet’s top 10 Must See’s in every country? Personally I would like to see more than the guidebook tells me is out there, but this doesn’t mean that sticking to that list is wrong.
These guidebook bible tourists are the most hated amongst the travel snobs. The ones that are super excited from start to finish, up at the crack of dawn and back as the sun sets. They do everything, go everywhere. Tours galore with a million photographs straight on to Facebook. They travel quickly and pack so much in, never really immersing themselves in culture, but getting tasters along the way. What is the problem with the ultimate tourist? The reluctance to get off the beaten track, perhaps? The – admittedly sometimes irritating – uber excitement? Of course! How dare they?! Strike them down for having fun, goddammit.
This is the problem with travel. It breeds this elitism, ironically in the most freedom granting and mind expanding activity you could probably undertake. It breeds a sense of superiority that’s not based on the numbers in your bank account, but on your country checklist. “Oh, you’ve only ever been outside your home country once?! Ha…” Everyone has met that annoying travel elitist. Over drinks in a hostel all they want to talk about is that time they volunteered at a school in Tanzania, or when they learned to dive in Thailand or when they toured Australia in a beat up camper van… They exude originality and a sense of adventure and daring, but there’s nothing original about these people. They may not swear by the guide book, but chances are they’ve been treading that same old beaten path just the same as you.
This actively deters people from embarking on the trip of a lifetime. They make it sound hard, scary, something that requires a lot of guts. Of course there are things that you can do that are all of those things and more, but the basis of travel is the tourist: visiting a place you’ve never been before for pleasure. This doesn’t need to include cultural enlightenment or a journey that brings you to the edge of what you think you can cope with, it just means getting out there, seeing the world and enjoying it. I correct my opening statement. Everyone has been a tourist? Everybody is a tourist – and there is nothing wrong with that.