Is ‘Touristy’ Bad?

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.

 

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Touristy souvenir stores in Stone Town’s Old Fort.

‘Cavia porcellus’

Guinea Pig

Also known as the guinea pig, this first post is essentially one of these humble creatures. Testing the waters, if you will. Surely I can get away with not writing anything insightful, right?

I’m not sure exactly how this blog is going to turn out, but I think that’s part of the reason I’m interested in giving it a go. At this stage I’m planning to write about things to do with international development, politics, travel, and social change. I’m certainly not an expert on any of them, so I wouldn’t recommend letting this blog replace Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary as your unchallengeable fountains of enlightenment. I’m likely to resort to poor humour and other such ploys to distract you from my ignorance regarding many topics.

In some twisted fantasy of mine I would be like Peter or Valentine Wiggin in Ender’s Game, using a pseudonym to write political commentary that shapes global affairs and discourse. This is obviously not an attempt to realise that. Posts will likely be irregular and occasionally relevant.

From April – September this year I will be working for a social enterprise in Zambia and traveling around the region, and in October I’ll be beginning a Master’s degree at the University of Oxford. These endeavours, I hope, will provide some initial fodder for me to write about, should I choose to persist with this adventure. I also plan to draw on other blogs on these topics and some of the thoughts and experiences I’ve had with them over the last couple of years.

If you have any ideas, comments, suggestions, or entertaining jokes about this blog please reach out to me. Thank you for reading!

Photo credit: Hope For Gorilla via photopin cc