There is often an aversion to the word ‘tourist’. Being a tourist seems to be associated with unadventurous travel and predictable pursuits. Nowadays, avid travellers appear to want to immerse themselves in the local culture of the places they visit, rather than merely scratching the surface and following the hoards of crowds.
It does not seem to be enough to simply ‘just go and see stuff’. Something new, something extraordinary, something hidden is being sought; somewhere only the locals go to, somewhere to experience the ‘real’ face of a city where there is no pretense or tourist tack.
But at the end of the day, despite the different styles of travel chosen, aren’t we all still tourists?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a tourist is: “A person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure.”
This term certainly covers a wide spectrum. If this definition is anything to go by, travellers are tourists whether they are taking a trip to well-known museums and art galleries or trekking through a jungle.
Personally I do not have a problem with embracing the word tourist. I am perfectly happy following the tourist trail. In fact, it is usually impossible to avoid this and trying to avoid it can lead to missing some great sights.
However, I always try to steer clear of tourist traps. I do not like those tacky gift shops or overly expensive restaurants. I will walk out of the main tourist area to get cheaper and better food. I really do not like big crowds, but can handle them if it means visiting somewhere amazing.
I also like to try to fit into a place. There is nothing worse than standing out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately, I always seem to get lost and end up gormlessly pondering over a street map. I most definitely was not chic in Paris.
I never consciously seek to avoid touristy areas and stay clear of the tourist trail. I decide where I want to go based on my tastes and choices and accept that, usually, if there is any value and interest to a sight – and it is in the high season – then it is going to be busy.
But getting off the beaten track can be refreshing, as are those spontaneous decisions which lead to unforgettable experiences.
Getting off the beaten track can mean simply getting out into the suburbs.
A few years ago my sister was living in Gran Canaria for the summer with her boyfriend at the time. I was invited to visit for a week and stayed in a house located in a quiet and picturesque residential area, far away from all of the resorts.
The place, the food, the people, the general atmosphere – it all felt more real. There was a quiet little beach which always had locals surfing. I remember being taken to a little restaurant up in the mountains which was basically a home with a couple of tables outside. Here we had some amazingly tasty Canarian potatoes, with the distinctive spicy mojo sauce, along with some Spanish olives.
Another time, I and two friends were staying in the resort of Protaras in Cyprus for ten days. A few days in we were getting fed up of lazing around on the beach and decided to hire a car and drive out to see some other parts of the island.
It was probably the best part of the trip, getting to find lots of peaceful spots. Like this little church…
Or this picturesque fishing village…
Being open-minded and flexible is the best way to be when travelling. But travelling the way you want to travel and seeing what you want to see, without worrying about not following the crowd or being labelled as a lazy traveller sticking to the tourist trail, is the most important thing.
Are you okay following the tourist trail, or do you prefer getting off the beaten track?