I never took a gap year. I never even did that summer inter-railing around Europe that appears to be a right of passage for those in their late teens. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, or that I didn’t have a passion for travel. It’s just that, I prioritised other things. Work, university and my home life. All of a sudden I was married and in my mid-twenties with responsibilities and it all seemed a little too late.
I had my two week holiday, and that would have to do.
But that burning desire to explore places and see things didn’t ever really go away – it was just pushed right to the bottom of my stomach, the flickers of escapism ignored in favour of another weekend working or saving money or something else. But, when I finally did reorganise my life and my priorities, did that make me “just a tourist”?
I actually don’t care.
The word tourist gets a pretty bad press. It’s characterised by hordes of hungry people on their annual two week break, with clicking cameras jumping in and out of tour buses to just grab that shot, or the selfie and move on to the next thing in the guidebook. These tourists can go home and tell their friends that they saw the Eiffel Tower and they took photos next to Big Ben and move on with their lives satisfied that they’ve ticked something off the bucket list.
The same goes for the phrase holidaymaker. Booking that beach break, maybe checking in to an all inclusive hotel and never leaving the resort for two weeks. Taking a stack of books and sunscreen and breathing in the warm sea air, the shoulders finally starting to relax and the stress of modern living disappearing with every cut price cocktail.
There is nothing wrong with travelling on these terms, and I’ve got no problem being labelled a tourist or a holidaymaker. Because after all, maybe that is what I am.
Oh the snobbery
As I’ve started to city break around the world, I’ve come under some criticism for labelling myself a traveller (as it turns out, I don’t think I’ve ever labelled myself as such, but because I write about travel I can expect some level of criticism to come my way). I’ve never backpacked – unless you count that 10 days I spent camping with the Guides in Sweden. I’m not on the road full time, I’m fitting in my travel experiences in between my job and my home life.
But what is the problem with that? If I’m travelling to a new city, I’m pretty much ok with seeing the amazing places that you see in the pictures – the Sagrada Familia, Checkpoint Charlie, The Vatican. If I’ve going to a place, why wouldn’t I want to see them? When you’ve only got a weekend in a destination, I might not get to uncover all those hidden gems that the real travellers talk about – but does that make me any less of a person? A traveller?
Tourism is big business, it’s a huge industry too – but so is the idea of real travel. Not everyone can afford to be on the road full time, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get to experience the world in the way they can and want to.I don't care whether I'm a traveller or a tourist - I'm seeing the world in my own way. Click To Tweet
Making memories is what counts
Some of my best travel memories are not from interactions with locals, of finding that unknown backstreet cafe or ticking off places that you’ll never find in any book. They are of laughter with my Mum in a hotel in New York ordering room service when we probably shouldn’t have been out exploring the Big Apple. It’s walking into the Sacré-Cœur after a particularly bad crepe and feeling the prick of tears in my eyes as the choir started to sing.
Holding my husband’s hand as we made wishes in the Trevi Fountain. Standing in Park Güell thinking that I was on top of the world. Lazing in the Mexican sun three days after marrying the love of my life.
All these experiences are valid. I’ve travelled. I’ve been a tourist. I’ve been on holiday. Label me what you like, I’ve had some bloody good times.
We love our labels
And yes, we really do love our labels. We like to fit people into neat little boxes in every area of our life. Are you a Mum? Are you married? What do you do for a living? Even when I’ve started to reveal that I write about travel, people I meet imagine that I am long term on the road if I am a travel writer. That makes me giggle a little, because I write for people just like me. People trying to live their passion around their full time commitments.
When I’m queueing for a ticket to a major tourist attraction, my camera round my neck and map in hand I blend seamlessly into the crowd of others that want to get a glimpse of something beautiful. And we are all labelled the same – even though you really cannot tell anything about a person just because they’ve got a map and a camera. You can’t really know who I am and what brings me joy in discovering this world.
Perhaps it wouldn’t matter so much if the label tourist wasn’t used with such disdain. Why do we hate them so? The definition of tourist is a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure. Isn’t that what we are really all doing?
More people are travelling, and I’m delighted
Perhaps the issue comes with the fact that tourism is impossibly on the rise. More and more people are able to visit destinations that were otherwise inaccessible, due in part to the rise in low-cost airfares, but also the internet. Blogs like these, that encourage a travelling mindset and provide guidance and tips and photography that might make you book a trip.
I love that more people are getting to see more of the world. And maybe they start with Paris and not a Baltic state capital. It doesn’t invalidate their adventure.
So call me what you like. Call me a tourist, a holidaymaker, a traveller or that annoying girl with the camera. I don’t care whether I’m a traveller or a tourist – I’m just seeing the world in my own way. And you should too!