Since when did being an "obvious tourist" become such a bad thing?
When you look up recommendations for destinations you’re about to visit, at some point you’ve probably come across this kind of advice: Ditch the usual touristy places and check out underrated gems instead. As a travel writer, even I find myself guilty of trying to adhere to this every now and then.
Is this influenced by the constant ridiculing of “basic types” on social media? Possibly. Or perhaps the pressure to come across as original in every destination you visit? Also quite likely. While travelling remains to be an aspirational hobby or lifestyle, it has also become democratised through the years. So, how is one supposed to stand out and say that they had a “cool and unique” experience in a foreign place that thousands (or even millions) of other people have been to?
For some, the solution seems to be this: Avoid doing what many other foreign visitors do as if your life (or at least, your credibility as a traveller) depends on it. Try out the lesser-known activities that only locals know about — or, heaven forbid, you’ll get branded as a basic tourist.
(L-R): Nami Island in South Korea; Trevi Fountain in Rome | Image credit: VDCM image via Canva Pro; hocus-focus via Canva Pro
Why do touristy things get a bad rep?
For some, it’s the crowdedness that makes for a turn-off. How can one fully appreciate a site if there’s a high chance of having to deal with a throng of other tourists? There is also the idea that coming across as an obvious tourist is something to be ashamed of. After all, you’ve probably heard several stories about foreign visitors breaching rules, or being insensitive to the culture.
For others, it’s the apparent “lack of authenticity” that supposedly happens when a place becomes a little too popular among tourists. Compared to spots that are considered well-kept secrets among locals, most touristy places get flak for only showing things at a surface level. Now, I’m not here to say which is better because, at the end of the day, your preferences are entirely up to you. But I’m here to tell you to at least give the touristy places a shot — especially if it’s your first visit!
(L-R): Eiffel Tower in Paris; Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo | Image credit: RossHelen via Canva Pro; Sean Pavone via Canva Pro
The way I see it, the best way to travel is to try out these outrightly touristy things first before getting down to the underrated stuff. Think of it as similar to learning a new skill; wouldn’t you have to start out by learning the basics? Well, the same goes for when getting to know a destination that you haven’t been to before.
Going for the “basic” choices can be good for you as a traveller
Honestly, most touristy places actually make for a fun, convenient, and informative introduction to a destination. After all, these are specifically set up to cater to travellers who are visiting for the first time. Exploring the popular attractions does not necessarily make your experience shallow or basic, just because you’re going where everyone else is going. And with mass tourism now resuming in most parts of the globe, perhaps it’s about time we accept that such crowds are part of the experience.
Touristy things are touristy because they’re fun and/or interesting; most likely something you wouldn’t find in your own country. Some of these might seem overdone, but they’re often culturally significant, or at the very least, lovely sights to behold. Even the most mainstream activities and sites can offer you an authentic insight into the destination and its people.
(L-R): Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; Angkor Wat in Cambodia | Image credit: nomadsoulphotos via Canva Pro; violinconcertno3 via Canva Pro
Anyone who dismisses all such tourist attractions right off the bat is trying to be unique in the most annoying way possible. (And do you really want to be that type of travel buddy?) Because whether you like it or not, a part of you will always be a tourist whenever you’re in a foreign destination.
If anything, being a basic tourist all comes down to this: embracing the fact that you’re escaping the humdrum of your everyday life. By being proud and unapologetic that you’re obviously not a local, you’d also be keeping an open mind to trying out new experiences and seeing what your destination has to offer. And isn’t that the whole point of travelling?
While travelling “like a local” will always be something I’m an advocate for, I’d say it’s better saved for your second or third visit. At the end of the day, you could go to a destination over and over again — but you will never be able to replicate the novelty that comes with exploring it for the very first time. It would be a wasted opportunity if you didn’t make the most out of it.
And hey, so what if you come off as a basic tourist? Life’s too short to not be out there living your best travel life.
Featured image credit: givagaphotos via Canva Pro