When being a tourist is a good thing

When being a tourist is a good thing
My great friend, Crystal, gracefully enjoying being a tourist in her current city, Colonial Williamsburg.

Somehow, quite mysteriously, the word tourist has acquired a bit of a bitter aftertaste. Admittedly, I am as guilty as the next guy for striking down any notion of the idea that I might possibly enjoy being a tourist sometimes.  I’d actually probably rather stay home than get caught doing anything that could potentially be labeled as “touristy.” Far be it for anyone to catch me enjoying a nice Mexican lunch in Old Town, San Diego.  But why?  Where has this anti-tourist phenomenon come from?  How have we managed to self inflict this somewhat silly stigma upon a relatively innocent word?  I felt the need to investigate.
So when any good mystery presents itself, what is there to do?  Open up my iPad and look up the definition of the word “tourist” on my iPad dictionary, of course.  The definition is short and sweet: “A person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure.” A wholesome and respectable definition if I’ve ever heard one.  But this makes the negative connotations of “touristy” even more perplexing, as by this definition, rejecting going somewhere touristy is essentially the same thing as rejecting the act of going somewhere for pleasure.  Geez.  Weird.
But then I take a moment to think about touristy places, as in places bursting at the seams with tourists. Disneyland calls to mind.  Or Venice perhaps? And then my heart drops a little as I forget about the beautiful canals and bridges, and Main Street, and I am instead overwhelmed with images of hoards of people in t-shirts and sneakers. Not romantic.
So ok, I get it now. Lots of tourists – not so great. But going back to the definition again, “…visiting a place for pleasure,” is pretty great. So, why wait until you get to Disneyland to be a tourist, where you do have to join hoards of thousands of other tourists in your pursuit of pleasure, when you can just do that at home?
Once I went two years in San Diego without going to the beach a single time. Shameful, I know. My home is currently Bologna, Italy. Living abroad has bestowed on me an important gift – the opportunity (and excuse) to be a tourist in my own home, when I return to my previous homes in San Diego, Pittsburgh, and New York every summer.   In my pursuance of pleasure, I will be a tourist nearly 100% of the time when I return to America this summer. Without a set routine bogging me down anymore, I am free to pursue pleasure by seeking out those activities that not only define the city in the eyes of the world, but also those special activities that I have found that define the cities for me and me alone, like eating most of my meals at The Mission when I’m in San Diego, or having yogurt at the top of Bloomingdales in Manhattan.  And I also plan, without shame, to pursue those most stereotypical activities.  The first thing I want to do when I get to San Diego is go to the beach. In New York I’m counting the days until I get to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And in Pittsburgh, the incline.
Which brings me to my most important point: what’s life without a little curiosity and fun? Don’t wait till you’re on vacation. But please, if you can, maybe ditch the t-shirt and sneakers just this once?


  1. Richard Ryan says:

    Peg, nice. My protest against the negative connotation of “tourist” is by telling people that Estela and I are good tourists. We go interesting places and help local economies, and we are polite and respectful. Love, Dad

  2. Crystal says:

    I think part of the connotation of “tourist-y” is the “I’m too cool for that” factor. Stop judging how cool you are compared to others and just do what makes you happy! Don’t be afraid of being cliche.

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