Lately, a lot of people have been asking me for travel advice. Not much of a surprise, really, what with me being a travel agent and all. My specialty is currently cruises, but I’ve been doing travel for a very long time, so I’ve gathered quite a bit of information outside of my niche. That’s good, because the questions I’ve been getting recently haven’t been cruise-related.
People are talking about general travel, both here in the States and abroad. As always, there are bubbles of civil unrest that it’s probably wisest to avoid, but there’s also this weird half-snobbery happening. I don’t think it’s new. People are avoiding seeing things and going certain places because, they tell me, “I don’t want to look like a tourist.” The phrase has popped up a lot lately and I finally figured out how to address it by defining two distinct terms. Here’s the good news; You can still go check out all of those places without having to look like a tourist.
The word “tourist” can bring a lot of negative connotations to mind. They’re ignorant, they’re buffoons, they’re easy marks for pickpockets and scammers. I know people who are missing out on sights in their own home cities because they don’t want to be caught looking up. But it’s not tourists that look up. It’s tourists that are so busy viewing the world through their cameras that they walk into strangers. Tourists are the ones who get their hair braided the second they set foot on a beach on the Bahamas because they think it really is “the island style.” Tourists walk into a cafe on St. Maarten that is clearly French and ask loudly for nachos.
Travelers are a whole different breed. Travelers can politely decline any and all offers of taxis, tours, trinkets and, yes, hair-braiding respectfully and without fear. Travelers know the difference between French and Spanish when they see it (and know not to even look for it on an island that’s Dutch and French to begin with). Travelers can navigate those “locals-only” zones comfortably because they’ve done their research. And travelers would never miss seeing the backwards stars on the ceiling of Grand Central Station because they were afraid to look up.
So it’s cool if you don’t want to be a tourist. I’d actually prefer it if you weren’t. Even if you’re going to a new place for the first time, when you go there, be a traveler instead. Experience the place and the people and the food. Pull your face out of your phone or your tablet. Look around with your eyes, not just your viewfinder. Savour the experiences with all of your senses. And never, ever be afraid to look up.
Crickett Lancaster is the owner of the home-based agency Go Away! in Brooklyn, NY. She’s an avid knitter, a karaoke fiend, and loves the freedom of being able to work in her pajamas if she so chooses. She occasionally posts travel-related rants and reviews at http://www.crickett.net, and can also be found on Facebook or email.