When Did “Tourist” Become a Bad Word?

Sometime in the past ten years (maybe more) “tourist” has become a bad word. Everyone wants to be a traveler. They all want to claim their wanderlust and no one is a lowly “tourist.” Although articles like these never come out and say it, they imply that being a tourist is somehow dirty and less than. Being a traveler implies that you are independent, culturally aware, and “deep.” This makes a tourist, conversely, someone who can’t stand to be alone, is oblivious, and is shallow.

I am sure people would deny that they ever thought of a tourist as something less-than or laughable, but I call bullshit. This “traveler,” distinction is yet one more way for people to act “holier-than-thou,” to those around them.

“Oh, I am not a tourist I am a traveler.” 

I’ll admit. I used to think of myself as a traveler. I also used to look down with slight mocking disdain at tourists. I drank the kool-aid. I was a cool kid. Whatever. I was absurd and judgmental towards others who simply had a different lifestyle than me without any real reason.

Now that I am a mother I definitely do more tourism with my kid. It is easier to stay on the beaten path and I can rarely get my husband away from his job for more than a weekend. This makes classic tourism more appealing. It is accessible to me, concerning time, money, and freedom. I go to major cities for a weekend. I check out the major sites. I eat the typical food. I go to the major tourist sites. I look at popular architecture. I rarely have time to “make a connection with the locals.” (For me, making a connection requires a few weeks in some place, at least, I have never been the type to show up at an event and start talking to strangers.)

And you know what? I like it. I like getting a small taste of the history and culture of a place. You know what else? I don’t feel guilty and that I am somehow less-than a traveler who can spend every week going to a new place and would never be caught dead being goofy at popular sites. I feel happy that I get to travel at all. I feel lucky that I have interesting places within my reach. I feel like I have wonderful… vacations.

I have come to determine that I never really hated tourists. I hated tourists who went to countries specifically to exploit them. And you know what? I have met quite a few “travelers” who also go to countries with the intention to exploit them. To live cheaply and give nothing to the locals in return. To act like an ass. A king. An entitled brat. Both tourists and travelers approach countries with that entitled mentality, and that is something that irritates me.

But tourist or traveler? You do you.


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