One of the things that always strikes me when I’m traveling is how often I hear other travellers expressing their distain for things because they are ‘touristy’.
First of all, I didn’t think ‘touristy’ was a real word. Turns out it is; here’s what a quick Google search tells me:
“relating to, appealing to, or visited by tourists (often used to suggest tawdriness or lack of authenticity).”
I’ll be the first to admit that I often avoid things that many would deem touristy while I’m traveling. However, that’s just a personal decision made on a case-by-case basis. What I don’t feel comfortable with is objectively criticising things / places / activities because they are touristy.
Many people I’ve met during my stints on the road use the word ‘touristy’ with an incredible amount of negative connotation and often talk condescendingly about people who partake in these touristy things (in some cases even to their face).
Here are some reasons why I don’t approve of this:
- Most of us tend to recommend touristy things to to travellers visiting our own countries and towns.
- A number of touristy things are touristy because they’re ridiculously awesome. Machu Picchu and Victoria Falls are just two such places I know from my own experience.
- Everyone has different levels of comfort when it comes to going off the beaten track. Yes, I encourage people to push themselves, but it’s not fair to criticise others for failing to meet your own standards.
- Tourism is a business and one that a lot of countries depend on. You can’t criticise people for trying to make a living in their own country, especially in places where people are poor and economic opportunities are limited.
- Related to the previous point, who are we, as travellers, to pass judgement over what is or is not ‘authentic’ in countries that we know little about? Cultures and communities don’t have to (and often don’t) live up to the fanciful pictures we have of them in our mind.
I should say that the majority of travellers I’ve taken the time to know are wonderful people. The views I’m describing are minority ones and there’s nothing wrong with not being a fan of stereotypical souvenirs and large crowds of tourists.
But everyone in those crowds are humans too and deserve our respect, regardless of how they choose to travel. They’re also probably contributing more to the local community and economy by spending money on those ‘touristy’ things some of us don’t like.
Touristy souvenir stores in Stone Town’s Old Fort.
Before leaving for Zambia I was super excited for all the amazing blog posts I would be inspired to write while I was working there. Now having been back in New Zealand for over a week, with no blog posts written, one might expect an enthralling, tell-all essay to cover what was been an incredible trip. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
All I can muster is a series of bullet-pointed thoughts that were at the forefront of my mind during different parts of my trip:
- Poor people aren’t all lazy, but neither are they all hard workers. I met some both the laziest people I’ve ever seen and the hardest working people I’ve ever seen while in Zambia – they were all ‘poor’ and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future, almost entirely because of the environment they lived in.
- It’s so easy to take for granted the computer literacy we have developed from growing up with them all our lives. Even if ambitious attempts to bring digital tech to the hundreds of millions of world’s poor succeed, the lack of intuitive computer (not cell phone) skills amongst most of the developing world’s youth means the benefits flowing from rapidly advancing computer technology will continue to be source of global inequality for at least another generation.
- There are a myriad different kinds of poverty. The needs of and challenges facing people living on <US$1.25 vary wildly from doing so in a rural village, to those in a minor city, and to those in a large city. I think most anti-poverty campaigns could do a better job of appreciating this.
- Land cruisers may have become a lightning rod for criticism of large, out-of-touch development NGOs, but after seeing the quality of roads in parts of Zambia (despite massive and ongoing road building efforts) and the difficulty of access to many communities where NGOs work, it’s clear they’d often be (at times literally) wallowing in the mud without them.
- Perspective is a tricky issue, and it’s difficult to be able to properly and simultaneously grasp the big and small picture. I met a lot of people (including myself at times) who would use global or national statistics to paint pictures of unrealistic optimism, and a lot of people who would despairingly just throw their hands in the air at the seemingly stagnant and hopeless situation in their locale.
Hopefully I’ll be able to draw more on my time in Zambia in the future, but this is it for now. I also hope that getting this post on the board gives me some momentum to write more regularly.