When did ‘tourist’ become such a negative word? Lately I’ve been hearing lots of buzz in the travel community frowning upon ‘tourists’. While I agree that we can always learn more about being culturally sensitive and make an effort to find authentic restaurants and activities, I also think, everyone should travel their own way. I don’t want anyone telling me how to travel, so I wouldn’t try and impose on others. In my opinion, the important thing is to be traveling in the first place.
This got me to thinking about times when it is wonderful to be a tourist. A perfect example was last week in Dublin for the Bloomsday celebration. Every year on June 16th in Dublin there is a celebration in honor of James Joyce’s famous book Ulysses. The celebration includes public readings, walking tours, intricate costumes, and of course a pint or two in the local literary pubs. I got to experience an hour of it during a lunch break from work – but I was more observing the festival than participating in it.
Tourists were the ones participating. People from all over the world had heard about the Bloomsday celebration in Dublin, and they came to the sunny Irish capital (yes, it’s been sunny for the last week!) to visit places mentioned in the novel and meet people who also share a love of Joyce. During my lunch break I took a stroll past Davy Byrne’s pub, where Leopold Bloom famously stops for ‘a glass of burgundy and a gorgonzola sandwich’. All over town this was the lunch special of the day – and it was the tourists who were enjoying it! As I went back to work in the afternoon, the readings, concerts, and walking tours continued. Horse-drawn carriages brought festival participants from one location to the next. Women in white dresses, seersucker jackets, and parasols strolled throughout Temple Bar. Men had a reason to break out their best suits, hats, and handkerchiefs.
On June 16th this year, I wished I was a tourist. They joined right in with the local devoted Joyce fans, students, and families who had taken the day off work to celebrate one of Dublin’s most famous citizens. As a tourist you are always less self aware, more willing to try new things, to get lost, and even to be a bit silly in joining in with the local festivities. In the future I hope to see less criticism of how people travel, and more encouragement for travelers to expand their horizons when it comes to seeking out culture abroad.