I’ve often heard the refrain “It’s so touristy there” when talking about a location. It’s usually said by someone who insists that the only way to travel is to “live like a local.” The more I think about it, the more I don’t understand what people have against those who act like tourists when they travel.
If someone’s never been to New York City before and is only going to be there for three days, what’s wrong with looking at Times Square or Rockefeller Center? Do we expect people not to visit the sights that brought them to a city in the first place? That would be like going to the Grand Canyon and never looking at it, or not seeing the Eiffel Tower when going to Paris.
When we went to New Orleans, we went to Jackson Square, stood in line for beignets at Cafe du Monde, went on a riverboat ride and visited Preservation Hall to listen to some jazz. All of those things would be considered “touristy” but it didn’t make them any less fun.
Honestly, I’m not even sure what traveling like a local means. Do I have to stay at an Airbnb 45 minutes outside the city and take the bus everywhere, shop at the nearby supermarket and cook all my meals in my apartment? I could have just stayed at home if I wanted to do that. People don’t want to act like locals when they’re on vacation. What some people want is to “feel like a local.” This idealized vision of acting like you live there by checking out a local coffeehouse or bar and spending time going for a walk in the park.
Is this actually what locals do? Who knows, but it’s what we’d like to think they do. It’s more likely they do exactly what we do when at home. Go to work, come home, eat dinner and then surf the net or watch Netflix and go to bed, to repeat over and over, while all the time planning and dreaming about their next vacation.
Part of the point of traveling is getting away from your routine. Traveling to see these iconic places you’ve only seen in pictures or videos before. Sure, they’re crowded with throngs of people who had the same idea you did but you can’t help that.
The only thing I can say is while it’s OK to be a tourist, try not to act too much like a tourist. That means if you’re visiting Manhattan, don’t make a dead stop to look at a map while walking on a busy sidewalk, and whatever you do, don’t eat at a chain restaurant you have in your hometown like Olive Garden or Applebees.
However, if you’re traveling outside your home country, stopping by a major chain is acceptable. 7-Elevens in Japan are crazy awesome and McDonald’s has different menus around the world, as we got a taste of when they brought the worldwide favorites menu items to the US for a limited time.
I guess I’m trying to say not to let anyone tell you how to travel. Do the things that make you happy and don’t listen to anyone saying you’re doing it wrong. Sure, it pays to do some planning in advance so you don’t spend all day looking for what to do or finding out when visiting Paris that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays (true story). Getting away from the major tourist areas for at least a bit will help you get a little more of the local vibe but don’t stress over that you’re not acting like a local, because you’re not. You’re on vacation.
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