Monday, December 7, 2015

There, I Said It: Feel Free to Be a Tourist

Much has been said and written on the subject of being, I quote, "a traveller, not a tourist". Tourists, purportedly, beat the beaten paths to death, take selfies with the Big Ben, eat on Las Ramblas, probably speak only one language and in general don't know shit about life.

Whereas, you know, true Travellers go only where the locals go. Travellers don't book tours or use travel agents. Travellers speak twenty languages, find the best latte without uttering a word of English, and would never, ever, EVER set foot in a McDonald's lest they be considered tourists. That's, like, so gross!

What a load of bullshit.

It has always rubbed me the wrong way how people would recoil from doing things by themselves. Going to movies alone? Horror. Travelling by themselves? Unthinkable. I'd like to claim that I never understood why, but I do. Solitude, for the unaccustomed and little self-aware, can be uncomfortable and scary. Solitude is a skill, and so is solo travel, which I am absolutely in love with. I prefer travelling solo, and I also have a strong aversion to others telling me what to do and how to do it when I travel.

This crude, cruel and unnecessary distinction between tourists and travellers illustrates the same idea: that somehow one way of doing things is better than the other, is better than another. That you absolutely need to defy the mainstream to get the most out of your trip or vacation. That if you stick to the well-known, conventional even, you are automatically a lesser individual - less adventurous, less resourceful, less open.

And let me tell you to screw that. Do what you feel like, be it when travelling and otherwise. (Don't litter though.) I just can't stress it enough: please do what you truly, really want to do when you are on a trip. You don't have to go to that major art gallery just because the guidebook told you it was "a must-see". You don't have to go out of your way to find a quirky place for lunch when you're next to a wide avenue full of places that don't shutter mid-day. You are under no obligation to visit any museum, any sight, any park. You really aren't.

Yet, when we get ready to travel, that's what we are conditioned to do. Make a list of places according to what everyone else said we should do, and go see them. This isn't to say we don't enjoy what we end up seeing. But I have a feeling that too many people on the road feel pressured to do certain things instead of undertaking some activity that they could quite possibly enjoy way more.

What is the point of riding the tourist bus if you are more inclined to go sketch the sea on the beach while getting drunk on beer at one o'clock in the afternoon?

What is the point of touring trendy cafes when you'd rather just have a big steak and chill in your hotel after dinner?

Who has the right to tell you to go visit that church, no matter how splendid its Neo-Gothic apses may be, when you enjoy shopping at local markets and haggle for cheap vintage posters instead?

How have we become so complacent to let anyone, ANYONE, tell us what to occupy ourselves with when we travel? How have we let others, who know so very little of our habits, passions and preferences, to decide what is fashionable and what is not for us to do when we go away on a plane? Why, why would we listen without consulting our own ideas first?

Here is a sweeping generalization of the day: there are no tourists nor travellers. There are people who either decide to go at their own pace and discover things that matter to them most or those who are lured, lulled, tricked into following someone else's path. That's the difference. The pre-defined path may be hipster or Lonely Planet, it really matters not. The pre-defined path is the one that may not be as awesome as the one you may choose to take if you just pause to listen and ask yourself what you, in all earnest, would like to do on your trip.

Please sleep in till noon if you want to. Please go on a pub crawl if you feel like it. Please drop everything else and visit art museums for hours and days. Please eat lobster for breakfast and sandwiches for dinner if that's what you're into. Forget convention and forget trends. Do. What. The. Fuck. You. Want.

And here's hoping that every travel will be an unforgettable one for you this way.