You’re sprawled out on the couch in the common area with a bottle of chilled local beer. Back from an epic two-day hike with your new friends, fellow travelers you met on your first day in Chiang Mai, you’re beaming with pride as the discussion centers around how you didn’t see any tourists on the trail. You’re happy to have final met group of “real” travelers. Camille, the French backpacker who hasn’t been home in fifteen months is ranting about how annoying tourists are.
“Aren’t the all-inclusive resorts enough?” you sometimes wonder, detesting the sight of sandals with socks and floppy sun hats in places nowhere near a sunny beach. You wince every time someone asks where you’re from, wishing instead you were mistaken for a local. You couldn’t be more different than the average tourist, looking helplessly lost, phone in hand, while obsessively documenting every minute of your trip with your new selfie stick. You’ve ridden a motorbike for days through the countryside with nothing but a paper map and a calm optimism that you’ll find your way, graciously accepted meals from kind locals along the way. You’ve lasted weeks without internet connectivity, Instagram updates, or facebook check-ins, you’re no tourist.
You can’t seem to understand people who are willing to overpay for everything from a steaming bowl of spicy noodle soup to a warm bed or a cheap-as-dirt trinket the local market. They have no grasp of the richness of the culture, having no interaction with locals and thus return the same as when they left.
You can’t remember when exactly you got caught up in this holier-than-thou attitude that’s so common in the travel community. Travel was supposed to be liberating, freeing you from labels and society’s notions of a successful lifestyle. Instead, you donned a new label, that of “traveler,” polished it with a gloss of arrogance and a misguided sense of superiority. You began to think of it as some kind of standard to aspire to, all the while looking down upon people who chose pre-arranged tours, cushy hotel rooms and familiar culinary comforts over exotic local dishes. You escaped conventional norms, only to be wrapped up in a whole new set of “should-bes.”
Newsflash: it’s time to adjust your expectations.
It’s easy to forget that every traveler, explorer and adventurer was once a tourist. Perhaps now you need your dollar to stretch further to travel more often and for longer so you rough it. But that traveler may have saved for years to be able to afford a nice getaway for their two weeks of vacation a year. It’s presumptuous to think that everyone is looking for the same kind of extreme, adventurous or off-the-beaten-path experience you so desperately crave.
You’re forever looking to escape the masses, but the most historical and breathtaking natural sights in the world deserve the attention of the thousands who visit them every day. Without tourists, many of these amazing sites would fade into the shadows of desolation and obscurity. Surely, you can’t be selfish enough to believe that you alone deserve to enjoy these experiences?
You’ve gotten caught up in this crazy contest to venture the farthest or to be the first to step foot upon some unheard corner of the earth. But you probably aren’t the first and you definitely won’t be the last anywhere, so slow down and share your love of the world with others around you. Let travel instill humility, respect and free your mind from labels and preconceived notions.
Who cares what you call yourself? The world is ours to see, share, discover and appreciate, and there’s no wrong way to do it. The only thing you should commit to is seeing it.