If you’ve gone on 0 trips or 7000 you know that you don’t want to be a “tourist” you want to be a “traveller” and you want to seek out “authentic experiences” you want to see “the real ____________”. I’ve heard that everywhere I’ve lived and travelled too. “Dublin’s not really Ireland” or “Rome is a typical destination for a North American” (still don’t know what that means, it’s the capital and a historic city so probably lots of people go there not just North Americans??). I am here to say bullshit. Look the truth is, yes if you live somewhere for a while it will feel different then stopping by for a week or two, and the longer you live there the more your perspective will change. Yes if you learn the language you will have a deeper experience. These things are true. But if you’re travelling somewhere, even if you’re living there, stop looking for authentic experiences. You are having an authentic experience right now. Even if you eschew all the traditional tourist things, you’re still a tourist. At least that’s how I see it. In my years of trying to be an “authentic traveller” I have yet to have someone come up to me and say “wow Stephanie, good job, you’re a traveller and not a tourist”. What’s more I’ve spent a lot of time trying to please other travellers and impress them with the tales of m authentic travels and you know what? That certain type of person is never happy because there’s always someone who’s been somewhere more “interesting” or done something more adventurous, or been too more countries or whatever the case may be. And you know what that’s true. Because whatever you do there will someone who has done something different.
Seeking so-called “authentic” experiences often means that one, particularly a Westerner, is attempting to be an arbitrator of another culture and what defines their culture. If Spain, for instance, and I’m just using this as an example, decides to ban bull fighting or the running of the bulls in the near future it is not the job of me, or anyone else to say that they should keep the tradition because it’s, well, a tradition. What’s more, what’s often described as the “real __________” is the countryside, the rural places that have remained more homogeneous (or have been seen to remain homogeneous, in reality these places are disappearing fast as well) . It implies that the more multi-cultural cities, the thriving multi-ethnic places don’t really represent a certain country. That things should stay a certain way or else lose their charm. It treats people and cultures as museum pieces that can be preserved for you and your entertainment. It doesn’t allow countries or communities to change as they see fit. Many times on my travels I’ve hear ” oh there’s a Starbucks/McDonalds/ other American corporation that can be used to describe everything that’s wrong with the world in every city” and that’s more or less true. I’m not here to say Starbucks or McDonalds are good or should be everywhere but I mean, I like Starbucks festive drinks and sometimes you just need a Big Mac but I digress. I would argue, and will readily admit if I’m wrong, that cultures are strong enough to survive a McDonalds popping up on the corner. I’m not here defending McDonalds and there are real conversations to be had about gentrification and the harm it does, just to say that maybe a lot of handwringing when we see someone from another country enjoying a 6 euro coffee is out of place. Look, I’m not immune. There was a little cafe in Valencia that was what I would describe as a typical Valencian old man bar/cafe. The kind where everything is kind of orange and brown, there’s probably a fan in the corner and a cigarette machine from the 18th century or so, they give you a coffee for a euro and they seem angry when they do it. If you’ve been to Spain you know what I’m talking about. Last time I went to Valencia it had turned into a brightly coloured, stylish looking place. I felt kind of sad. But guess what? I don’t live there anymore and I don’t own that business. If that makes them more money, or makes them happier or caters to tourists then hey, that’s their choice.
All of this is a long winded way to say, let’s get rid of this elusive idea of a “traveller” because who even knows what that means?When I’m travelling from now on I’m going to be a tourist. So let’s embrace it (respectfully of course), enjoy the Eiffel Tower it’s iconic and pretty damn cool. See Big Ben or the many churches around Europe. Take some cheesy pictures, stop worrying what everyone thinks of you. You have the privilege of being able to travel to a new place, enjoy it, without wondering if it’s good enough, real enough, true enough. Readers will know that I’m concerned with travelling ethically and that stands, I think we need to be informed about where we go and what we do when we’re there. But if you’ve done that then just enjoy yourself, do your trip your way and enjoy yourself. You get to travel!
Disagree? Let me know in the comments.
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