It’s Okay To Be a Tourist

You’ll hear about everywhere, in everything you watch.

“Sure, that place is nice… if you’re a tourist.

When they call something a tourist trap, they’ll telling you it’s popular and it’s on postcards. Stay away, or pay for the view – although it sort of makes sense, as a business model. And then they start putting these places and things down – the cheesesteaks in Philly, the Wharf in San Francisco, the Old Town square in Prague, the Eiffel Tower. It’s meant in earnest, really: all they want you to do is experience the city they – as locals – experience, because it’s probably better and cheaper and more authentic (even if more authentic is a horribly obvious contradiction).

But isn’t all that just as pretentious, just as stuck up, as the guidebook world they’re shaming?

Read: ‘Why Go Guidebook?‘ (by Kolby Solinsky, June 12, 2015)

“This book is anti-traveler in a lot of ways. That was absolutely my intention,” says novelist Alex Garland, in a now-15-year-old interview with Ron Gluckman. “The Beach was meant to be a criticism of this backpacker culture, not a celebration of it.”

Garland has done more since The Beach – a lot more, actually, including directing this year’s District 9, the heralded Deus Ex Machina – but that sand-soaked paperback is his Sun Also Rises. Having it turned into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, having it critically and paternally panned by writers from a generation that thought they did better, and having it eventually develop into a cult classic because of the bristles it first bred, has turned The Beach into a must-have for any of the freshly-degreed clones headed to Thailand and Koh Something-Something.

It also might explain Garland’s own uncomfortableness, both with the book’s haters but also its praise – the ones who love it and live it just don’t get it, he says:

“These people say they aren’t tourists, but travellers and think they are special, more sensitive. It’s stupid. They’re not.”

You can see that quote now bleeding over everything DiCaprio’s character, Richard, says in the film, especially the line he first delivers to Etienne and Francoise to convince them to leave Bangkok for the beach…

“I just feel like everyone tries to do something different, but we always wind up doing the same damn thing,” he says.

And this is the feeling that pushes us to the boundaries and borders of everything. It’s sentences like that that have us peeling the labels off our beer, that have us biting our nails and tapping our feet on things below the table, that make your tie tighter and have you sweating through the armpit seams of a white dress shirt. It’s this stuff that makes you buy the plane ticket, that gets you on the ride, that unclogs the clump in your heart and stomach.

‘Make it Count’ by Casey Neistat

This is great, of course. It’s important to chase things and to get them. It’s just as important to chase things and fail, too.

You shouldn’t stick to the main squares and the expensive streets. You shouldn’t just stay in hotels or eat your lunches at McDonald’s, and you should probably try a coffee in somewhere other than the Mermaid’s green hut.

But there’s also nothing wrong with going the other way, too. It’s okay to be a tourist: to speak English in Paris, as long as you’re polite; to have a North American-sized Americano in Rome; to do a zip-line or climb the Eiffel Tower or stand in line for a museum.

Do what you want. That may include the crap above.

Fact is, if you’re a tourist and you’re pretending to be a local just so you can have an authentic experience… well, that’s not very authentic, either.

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