My fierce dislike of tourists began in Rio de Janeiro, December 2012. The guidebooks had promised a land of milk and honey, where jungle and beach meet to the tune of midnight samba parties – all with a glass of post-party Açaí to cure that nasty Brazilian hangover. True. But nowhere had I read about the swarming tourists, half-day queues, $50 per night backpackers and photograph-taking busloads. Nowhere did the guidebooks suggest that the city had been overtaken by pre-World Cup tourism.
The five hours spent standing in a queue in the baking Rio heat – just to catch a 10-minute cable car up to Sugar Loaf Mountain – solidified my tourist ‘racism’; as did the equally long queue to see Christ Redeemer’s feet in low-lying cloud. Lest I speak about Copacabana Beach – with its dark and dirty sand and sprawled out dozens. A place where I just managed to press myself between limbs and sweat and umbrellas and towels: a truly forgettable experience.
Rio turned out to be a cop-out, a sell out, a fake.
It was only after some time on the road that I came to realise: Rio wasn’t the problem. It was tourists; tourists were the problem. And everywhere I travelled, I came across these people who literally ruined the authenticity of my travel experience.
You see – tourists and travellers are at odds. Tourists are the people who collect in large, herd-like groups, who take no more initiative than what is needed. Tourists, like locusts, descend on a new destination, eat, take from local resource and leave. They’re the people who are sightseers and not activity seekers or story-makers. They want attractions and not experiences. They’re constantly at their cameras, forgetting to take the time to smell and see and hear what’s going on around them. They travel as conveniently and as comfortably as possible – without breaking a sweat or lifting a finger. They’re the people who buy magnets and “I love Pisa” T-shirts…
…And to travellers – like me – they’re an utter nightmare.
In my three years away from home, I’ve come to realise that travelling to Paris doesn’t mean going to the top of the Eiffel Tower or getting a photograph at the Arc de Triomphe. For me, travelling to Paris means ordering frog’s legs at a local, side street café or asking an accordion player how Paris has changed in the last 30 years. That’s travelling.
And it was the same when I travelled to Sweden: I’ll always look back on stroking my first elk, learning how to ice skate, streaking in the first snow fall and learning how to make köttbuller (Swedish meatballs).
I’ve come to realise that travelling to Paris doesn’t mean going to the top of the Eiffel Tower
It’s a sad thing that the tourism industry has boxed people into a one-size fits all mentality of travel. For so long, I went to those tourist attractions because I felt guilty about being in a city without doing the “tourist thing”. And although iconic monuments like the Eiffel Tower have put places like Paris on the map, they don’t have to be the centre of a traveller’s experience.
In fact, they don’t have to be a part of the travel experience at all.