Tourist, touristy?

Since when have the words, tourist and touristy, become "bad" words. Probably 98% of those of us who travel to Europe and visit this site are tourists, and that is so even if some attempt to "blend in," an impossibility usually.
I see people saying they want to avoid "touristy" places. These places became touristy because there is something there that is interesting and worthwhile to see or do and are visited by locals in their own countries.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1333 posts

Joan,

I think that Tourist and Touristy had become bad due to more people having the ability to travel. At one time travel was only available for the rich. That isnt the case now. Also, i think alot of places want the $$$ from tourism with out (w/o) the hassles, like traffic, crime, pollution and most likely changes in their daily lives.

if tourist want to blend in and if that does something for them, then go for it. But it wont take long for a tourist to do something to let everyone know theyre not a local.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2432 posts

Not every touristy place is connected to culture and history, I think that's part of the misuse/misunderstanding. There are plenty of sights that were built (not restored) with the goal of appealing to tourists - like Disneyland. On the other hand, Cinque Terre is touristy for a reason: it's beautful and people seek out beauty.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9085 posts

Easy, a tourist is someone whom you're better than.

I agree that most destinations in Europe that attract tourists hordes are usually pretty interesting places and somewhat worth the attention they receive. But there's also quite a few that owe their supposed singular status more to familiarity and extensive publicity than to having inheirently superior qualities. For example, I would never argue that the towns of the Romantic Road in Germany are not attractive and worth a stop if you're in the area. But this is just one of a about a hundred Fierenstrassen that criss-cross the country, almost all of which link together attractive towns. But I guess the term "Romantic Road" is just much easier to market than "German Half Timber Road", "the Romanesque Road", "Road of the Enlightenment", "Literary Road" or "Orange Route" (linking together towns with a link to William the Silent of the House of Orange-Nassau... see how much explanation that took? But the word "Romantic" sells itself).

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

Indeed, most of us are visiting as tourists, and the whole “tourist versus traveler” debate is sort of an absurd idea, often used by folks with pretentious intent. Still, there are lots of people on this Helpline that travel frequently to the same place or many places and spend basically zero time in tourist areas doing touristy things. Perhaps they did the tourist sites on their first couple of visits, but after twenty visits to Paris, as an example, they’re just there to basically live the good life in a great city for a while each year. They’re not really tourists in my book...more like visitors. As for the impossibility of blending in, I would bet most everyone here would have a hard time picking out some of these same folks as an American, a Canadian, or a tourist…just a hunch. Having said all of this, who cares? One should just go on vacation and have a good time, even if he’s all bunged up over these terms and whether or not he’ll will blend in. Let’s face it, you can’t always blend in anyway, even if you try your damnedest. When you’re the only white or black guy in an big Asian city, you’re going to stick out, even if you’re all up with your fashion. Happy travels.

Posted by Alex
Longmont, CO, USA
339 posts

When I use the word touristy it is usually in reference to a restaurant or cafe. When I travel to Vienna for instance, I like to seek out a local restaurant/cafe that is not frequented by tourists. This is not to try to blend in, but mainly in an attempt to get food and drink where the locals go (usually at a better price and quality). That does not mean by any means that I always avoid tourist frequented cafes and restaurants, some in Vienna like Cafe Central or Figlmueller's are just something you have to experience at least once.

Posted by George
Canada
814 posts

When we were in Cinque Terre in 1990, we literally had the place to ourselves. We returned in 2005 to find the place OVERRUN with tourists and the tranquility of the trails and towns lost to the hoardes - good or bad, well, we've never gone back.

Posted by Marbleskies
USA
275 posts

Joan,

During the summer months is Gettysburg overflowing with tourist because it is too touristy?
Or is Hershey too touristy and overflowed by tourist?

Having fun with you. You live in a favorite place where our family enjoyed spending many a summer evening at Little Drummer Boy campground.

Enjoy your travels!

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3296 posts

I think that there are sites that attract tourists--Loch Ness, with it's beautiful countryside, historic castle towns including the lovely village of Drumnadroichit, wonderful trails, etc. And then there is touristy sites--Nessieland! Part of it comes down to your perception of what you want for your money. If you think that the Loch Ness Monster is a hoot, you may cough up the money to go to Nessieland, a business that was clearly developed for tourists. Now, the boat rides on Loch Ness are also for tourists whether I call them touristy probably depends on the value I think that I got. Was it a cheesy search for the Loch Ness Monster? Or was it an interesting commentary on the history, geology, biology, and culture of the Loch. That last point can, of course, include talk about Nessie.

The Wisconsin Dells has been a tourist destination since the late 1800's which is when the boat rides started. Then after WWII we got the Ducks, and Tommy Bartlett, and Jellystone Park. And then came the fudge shops and the souvenir shops. Then came the Water Parks--outdoor and then indoor! So, what started as a location to visit in the summer time to see the scenic Wisconsin River became a winter destination to relax and enjoy water rides.

I think it's a bit of an evolutionary thing.

Pam (Formerly from Madison.)

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7819 posts

I really find it silly when someone says " I am going to Paris for the first time.. what should I see,, don't want to see any touristy sites"..

Duh.. yeah, you probably do.. but they are not tourist TRAPS.. ( sights that have no significance other then to fleece visitor out of money ) ..

I can understand not wanting to be in crowds.. and I understand wanting to just relax and go off the beaten path a bit.. but are you really meaning you want to go to Paris for the first time and not see the Louvre, Orsay, Arc, EiffelTower , Notre Dame, the Siene, the Latin Quarter , the Marais, etc etc.. all great places but , yup .. tourists will be at all of them.

I find the people who try and make the distinction that they are "travellers" and like to "like like locals" a bit pretentious.. ( yeah, sure I know what the locals are doing, and you do not want to do that on holiday.. take kids to dentist, go to work, pick up drycleaning.. they are not all waltzing around with baquettes and wearing berets and living in garret apartments in Montmarte and painting, lol

We are lucky . we are on holiday.. and we get to spend time enjoying some of the most amazing historical sites in the world.. and we don't have to do it on our work lunch hours!

Posted by Frank II
USA
4376 posts

As stated earlier, this whole "Traveler vs Tourist" debate is absurd. If you're visiting a place for non-business purposes, and you don't live there, the travel industry refers to you as a tourist.

I read a lot of travel blogs and all these so called "Travelers," mostly fairly young, put down tourists saying they would never take a tour, or use a guide, or make plans. However, they all follow the same guidelines, follow the same itinerary (Lonely Planet around the world map,) go to the same places,stay in the same hostels, and go out drinking every night because that is how they meet real locals. They do that because they are all taught the same thing about being a "traveler."

I remember reading one article written by a "traveler" suggesting that everyone skip Rome altogether because there were too many tourists.

When I cross a border, I'm often asked the reason for my visit, I say I am a "tourist." Easily understood, no further questions

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9085 posts

Ah, the Lonely Planet hipster "travelers"... yes, I've seen that crowd. They remind me of that 21 year old we all knew who thought he/she was being sophisticated because they drank wine (white zinfandel) but didn't have a clue.

I'll say this... now that Mr. Steves isn't pushing that pretensious "Travel as a Political Act" crap anymore, his followers (that I've run into) generally seem much more laid-back and perfectly happy just to be tourists enjoying Europe.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2432 posts

There seems to be a tilt on this thread that younger people are the only ones who come off as pretentious about travel; my experience shows otherwise.

Sometimes I am a tourist, more often I do research for my work. Mostly I travel as a person trying to understand better my place in the world. Being in contact with the history and social/political contexts of my fellow humans makes me a better person and reduces misunderstanding about how the rest of the world functions.

So, not only can travel be a political act, it can be a pilgrimage.

Posted by Thomas
Vienna, Austria
502 posts

"Hipster travelers". I ran into one the other day (complete with pork pie hat) but didn't know the term. He was in Vienna "to check out the vibe."

Posted by Emily
Vienna, Austria
294 posts

I wonder if he found the vibe he was looking for. I have been here for over 7 years and still looking...

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9085 posts

So, next question. What exactly do people mean when they say "authentic"? We sometimes read stuff like "I want to see an authentic German town/Swiss village/Dutch windmill", or "I'm going to Paris, I would like to eat an authentic French restaurant." or "I want to go to an authentic French café where there's an Edith Piaf-type singer". Are there fake German towns... in Germany? Or fake French restaurants... in France? Or the Edith Piaf thing, do they want to indulge in an outdated cultural cliché kept alive only for the benefit of tourists but not feel like a tourist experiencing it? Are towns like Zürich, Bern and Geneva not "authentically Swiss" because their incredibly prosperous economies, where the majority of Swiss people live, are not based on cheese production and jodeling? Why are successful Alpine resorts like Grindelwald, St. Moritz, Kitzbühl, Davos, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Cortina, and Ischl not "authentic mountain towns" when they cater very well to the modern realities of winter sports and mountain climbing?

PS- Karen, that is an AWESOME vibe.

PPS- Next time someone self-conciously identifies themselves as a "traveller", my next question is going to be, "What, you're a pikey?"

Posted by Lo
Tucson
643 posts

Merriam-Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/) says the terms are synonymous. More specifically, a traveler is: "someone who is traveling or who travels often" and/or "one that goes on a trip or journey." A tourist is: "a person who travels to a place for pleasure" and/or "one that makes a tour for pleasure or culture." Personally, we are tourists who wish we could go on trips more often for pleasure and culture. We have blown off some famous places due to the crowds. Obviously, seeing them was not important enough to us, or we would have stayed. We managed to be in Annecy one weekend when it was cram packed with Europeans on vacation, and with lots of kids. Was that touristy? I think so, just not in the way some people think. Was it fun? Absolutely, and we learned a lot, too.

Posted by Sarah
Chicago (formerly St. Louis), IL, USA
1311 posts

@Tom - my German friend and I have been laughing for years at the way people use the word "authentic." In Chicago there's an "authentic" German Christmas market. What makes it authentically German? It's in the U.S., staffed by Americans, visited by mostly Americans...what's German about this, again?

Aren't most businesses, hotels, restaurants, and towns/cities themselves "authentic" by virtue of their being IN the country?

In response to the word "tourist", we are also tourists when we travel for pleasure in our own country. Do we not have misconceptions about cities in our own country? Before I went to Charleston, SC for the first time, and before I read about it (in tourist guidebooks), I imagined the city might have Confederate flags displayed and would be unabashedly proud of the antebellum South. I was totally ignorant, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. Travel cures ignorance.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9085 posts

Sarah, if I lived in the US, just calling it a "German Christmas Market" would be enough of an inducement for me to visit. But add the word "authentic" and they're insulting my intelligence.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7949 posts

I'm a friiggin tourist. When I go somewhere for some other reason, as soon as I'm done I go back to being a friggin tourist.

Posted by Marbleskies
USA
275 posts

"...now that Mr. Steves isn't pushing that pretensious "Travel as a Political Act" crap anymore....."

Hmmm....... from the perspective Rick offered it, I actually think it is really good "crap"!

"Pretentious", BTW please use spellcheck, is the last word I would apply as a definition for Rick.

Now Tom, before you get something in a wad consider this; I think it would be great to sit down with you and have a conversation while drinking excellent German beer. We do not have to agree upon anything, but I bet I would learn something interesting.

Be well!

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9085 posts

Using a computer with Dutch-language settings, spell check isn't going to catch that.

The pretension/pretention wasn't necessarily from Mr. Steves. It was the way some of his his followers took it, both on this website and in some people I met who were on vacation over here... oops, I mean, people who were expressing themselves politically by traveling to Europe. On this website, that period was the height of the "I'm a traveler, not a tourist..." But I'll never forget the couple my mom was talking to while visiting Neuschwanstein. I was busy letting some Japanese tourists play with my dog, so I didn't hear the whole conversation, but it went something like this. They asked why my mom was visiting, and she just said something along the lines of "Oh, I'm visiting my son, and I always like traveling in Europe." My mom fell for the trap, and asked them if they were there to see the sites too? Oh, no. They had a higher purpose in life- Travel As A Political Act. Unlike all the close-minded troglodytes who never leave the US, they were there to experience world culture. To reach out to humanity, rather than to stay holed-up in their US-centric comfort zone. Or something like that, I didn't get their exact words (OK, they probably didn't use the word "troglodyte"), but it was clear that their trip to such unconventional, exotic locations as Bacharach, Rothenburg, Munich and Neuschwanstein was helping them feel quite superior about themselves. I wonder if the Japanese tourists joyfully making friends with my dog, who probably visited much of the exact same sites as Mr. and Mrs. Übermenschen, had the same intention?

There's other, more personal reasons why I was against politicizing European travel, but I won't get into that again.

PS- During that period, I also ran into plenty of people carrying the Blue Book who were just in Europe to have a good time (or at least, didn't mention any higher purpose in their visit to me), lest people think I would dump all of Mr. Steves disciples into one bracket. Good for them!

Posted by Marbleskies
USA
275 posts

Tom,
Thanks for the info. You have just confirmed my thought you would be an interesting person to sit down an enjoy a beer while engaged in a conversation. Also, thanks for the info on my post asking for help on student visas.
Steven

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

I know regular people who really do travel to do good things in the world – hosting health clinics, installing clean drinking water systems, building a community center, etc. in the middle of nowhere El Salvador. To me, that’s more like traveling as a political act. Here’s another example - Kenneth Bay. He traveled as a political act for a while anyway. Considering these two examples, how exactly does one “Travel as a Political Act” while touring Neuschwanstein?

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9085 posts

Yes, Michael, now THAT'S real Travel As A Political Act. It actually requires some personal sacrifice and more than a little moral, even physical courage. But going on a leisure trip and calling that political? That's the height of privileged, sheltered 1st World hubris.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2171 posts

I think part of the discussion has to do with larger societal trends whereas middle or upper-middle class people put themselves on a quest to find uniqueness that would take them out of the overall mass trends that came to dominate many aspects of life (from shopping for groceries to taking a vacation). Since we (I include myself on middle class) cannot afford truly exquisite experiences, products, services and overall uniqueness that are limited by the size of our wallets, there had been a trend of promoting to us, as a market, ways to reach such differentiation.

In this context, the perceived value of many experience or goods is detached from their own intrinsic qualities (or lack thereof) and put into measurement related to how they make us stand out among our peers. Then, you have: music groups that are cool first and foremost because few people hear them, local stores that are hyped just because they don't share a name and logo with 2.000 other identical ones (even if they sell the same products you'd find on a chain) and travel destinations that become attractive for their supposed non-mass appeal.

Obviously, any hyped, "raw", "authentic", "characterful" thing or place ultimate gets "discovered" and Internet make such discoveries by the masses easy, to the dismal feelings of those who knew xyz when it was cool (or, better, before it was cool).

On the specifics of travelling, there is also an element of a quick immersion into something unusual, out of the ordinary. It is the reason many people travel abroad first place. There is nothing particularly wrong with that, up to the point where it starts commanding "holier than thou" attitude.

Whenever a place has widely acclaimed unique characteristics, it will get a lot of visitors eventually. We live in an era of globalized communications and easy transportation: no place in Europe, in particular, can remain undiscovered if millions around the World recognize its unique value (aesthetic, cultural, archaeological, architectural, historic, religious etc). This is why I think it is a bit silly for people wanting to visit somewhere typical of a given country to ask for some very best recommendation on that.

If you want to visit a city in Italy "where I'll find mostly Italians living their normal lives", you can virtually pick any non-descript mid-size town and head there. If you want a "typical and non-touristy Austrian Alpine village", you don't need a hand-picked recommendation, you just take a look at somewhere not known for specifics and head there. If you want to truly see from a distance Dutch people living a normal life not geared towards tourists, you don't need a hand-picked location - you just just rent a holiday apartment in some regular non-famous district of Amsterdam. It is actually fairly easy to find "non-touristic" areas in any European country, but most people are not actually looking into that, they want to find some specific niche of life that is uncommon even among the host population (like "where can I see Italians singing in the streets, working on pre-industrial occupations, living carefree and ").

An entirely different issue is avoidance of physically overcrowded places. That is a very legitimate concern, be it a venue in your subdivision or some cute village across the ocean.

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

Great point, Tom. And the folks I know who do this use their own personal/vacation time to get it done. They raise some money, but they use a lot of their own.

Also a couple of good points made by Alex early on and Andre here. When I’m traveling for pleasure, I prefer to stay outside of the tourist zones for many reasons. Just a personal preference. I switched over to airbnb about a year ago, so this is easily achieved by renting apartments in regular neighborhoods. It doesn’t matter where I’m heading – San Juan, Seattle, or Seoul – this is how I do it now. Because it’s pleasure travel, I’m there as a tourist to experience the tourist things, but staying in a regular neighborhood with regular folks really does allow one to eat, shop, get a coffee, or whatever in more of a local way. I dig that. It’s probably akin to what RS tries to describe as living like a temporary local, but I think some of the flock will misinterpret his message and go off on some pretentious quest. Nobody truly lives like a local when traveling for pleasure. If this were the case, I would be less interested in meeting some cool people at a local, neighborhood coffee shop and more interested in helping the neighbor mow his lawn or clean out his garage. That’s what the real locals are doing while we’re all sightseeing. BTW, I do sometimes stay in regular hotels or B&Bs right in the middle of everything…it just depends on the reason for my trip. Still, for me, dining (as is possible considering my itinerary) and staying outside of typical tourist areas is preferable. I save a lot of money, I meet some cool people, and I avoid crowds.

Posted by Sharon
TX
505 posts

Ah, well, I love to tour, so I'm a tourist. Whether an exhilarating trip to Paris or London, a class field trip to San Jacinto and Battleship Texas, a saunter through Normandy cemetery or Monticello's gardens, watching Marjorie Glacier calve, a slow spring break road trip through Oklahoma (awesome pharmacy museum in Guthrie!) and the Kansas plains (wow underground salt mine, who knew, and yes, we did the fake Dodge City), or building a sand castle with my grandbabies on a SoCal beach, I love new places. I don't care what you call me. I will be retiring this year from teaching world cultures to middle schoolers. It's been a blast to share my touristy outings with them and to encourage my small town students to travel, travel, travel! And my retirement trip? Edinburgh, the Tattoo, and lots of Scotland and Ireland. Yahoo!

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2684 posts

A field trip to San Jacinto is well worth it. I was there, good battle field monument, I found the museum was a bit disappointing, still was very glad to see San Jacinto.

A cafe with a Edith Piaf like singer, a real pity that such a thing no longer exists, or even one playing Piaf songs. In such a case the place ought to play Rina Kelly too. It would be great find such a cafe in Paris.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9085 posts

"A cafe with a Edith Piaf like singer" I've been to one- Au Cadet de Gascogne in Montmartre. Such things still exist, but mostly for the benefit of tourists. Nothing wrong with that, I enjoyed the food and the young singer's performance very much. But I knew very well that I was there appreciating something that was primarily intended to appeal to a somewhat outdated, nostaligic vision of Paris life. But I seriously doubt that if I just knew Paris well enough that I would find the "authentic version" that only Parisians visit... wearing their designer scarves, reading Sartre or painting as they chain-smoke...

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1519 posts

A few years ago in Chicago we went to Buddy Guy's place. The music was good, and Buddy put in an appearance. And the place was filled almost completely with tourists, including me. Was it the Maxwell Street blues from the 40s? No, we missed that. No use singing the blues about that!

Great points from Andre. Can I stay in a "real" Dutch neighborhood where they wear wooden shoes and paint pottery and night watchmen?

Posted by Susan and Monte
Granite Bay, CA
677 posts

I think it all boils down to wanting to feel like a local, trying get that " it's like I lived there" experience.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2684 posts

@ Sharon...Good to hear the museum is much improved. You mean that goes for the historical explanations as well? When I saw the San Jacinto Museum and Battlefield Monument, I found the explanations were too popular history oriented, omitted key information. Admittededly, I went there ages ago, ie, 1976 in the month when they tell you not to come to Texas for vacationing esp if it's your first time...August.

Good to know information where a cafe with the Piaf like atmosphere still prevails. Thanks. Yes, nothing wrong with such a place being "touristy" provided that the prices are reasonable, food in quality and quantity is a cut above decent, along with the singing. I would enjoy such an establishment and its milieu. One just has keep in mind that regardless of the quality of the performances, no one can replace Piaf.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7949 posts

This 'political act' business is a bunch of crap.

Build somebody a water system and it make you feel good forever. The recipients are grateful, but ten minutes after you're gone they forget where you were from, just that you were a pretty good person.

Casual, short-term travel by idiots who think their presence makes a difference is just an ego-builder for people with an exaggerated sense of self.

For a quarter century I've been part of a motley, informal, small ragamuffin mob with a core of six or eight people from all of the populated continents. We're pretty good at urban rescue, can get moving pretty fast, of mixed gender, of dissimilar backgrounds, all getting old, and don't have a common language among us (but can yell 'push harder damnit' in a dozen languages). We mostly show up after earthquakes and tidal waves. A couple of years ago we went straight from Christchurch to the mess at Tohoku. We usually haul butt at the end of the rescue stage and don't stay around much for the recovery, but there's obviously a lot of overlap.

We spread our sleeping bags in the rubble and eat whatever's in the food lines. Life mostly sucks. Nobody knows where we're from, just that we're from somewhere else. When we get somebody out, they're more interested in getting to the people they know. We don't really notice it since we're tossing jacks and cutting torches trying to get to somebody else.

The point is, there's no politics to it - - just regular people helping other regular people.

And, it's rare that we don't move in a knot to some other part of the world to lick our wounds, puke, let off steam, and just be regular tourists for a couple of days.

All of which sort of explains why I get a good yuk out of people who want good weather, ambience in accommodations, excellent gelato, local experience, and the best sim card as the focus of their travels.

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
677 posts

It's bizarre that people can dislike "travellers" because they think they are snobbish, but then not recognise their own inverted snobbery when they preen themselves about claiming to being "only a tourist".

Anyway, the answer is easy. Forget tourist or traveller. If you are going somewhere on your hols then you are a holidaymaker.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7949 posts

If those last jabs were aimed at my unholy self, go back and read my post from yesterday.

Last year I came out of Scotland with two weeks at seventy-five bucks a day and twelve hours later was headed back to London and burned through a couple of grand plus a day for the next two weeks.

I'm a friggin tourist with the best of them. Cheddar Gorge to Callanish. "Traveling' is just how you get there.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7181 posts

I don't really mind the word tourist applied to me - I'd rather be called a tourist and be traveling than be at home and not be called a tourist.

Touristy to me is a term that can mean several things or some combination of them - crowded, overpriced, overrated, or not authentic. Many iconic sights are touristy simply because they are iconic sights, they are always crowded. While I like to avoid crowds when I can, sometimes I know I'll have to brave a crowd to see a major sight (Neuschwanstein, Vatican Museum, Tower of London, Alhambra). Sometimes I brave crowds then decide the sight wasn't worth fighting crowds over because of a touristy feature other than crowds.

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

It would seem impossible for those grateful villagers to forget who you were or where you came from when the clean water system you just installed and the health clinic you just hosted was in your own home village in El Salvador. You know everyone there, and they know you. You left as a war refugee, worked hard to become a US citizen, became educated, learned new skills, opened your own business, and returned as often as possible to help people on your own time and with your own money. No, Ed, I’m pretty sure they will never forget this truly amazing man. I won’t jump on the bandwagon and say you are condescending, holier-than-thou, or senile…someone from Frankfurt might call me rude again. At the very least, think before you speak, especially if you're going to comment on something you know nothing about.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7949 posts

I pulled the water system out of my tail, not from the example/previous discussion. Never even read that part of the thread until just now. Unfortunate juxtaposition. Obviously the guy was good, but I've never heard of him. Bill and Melinda Gates throw zillions at water projects - -they're great.

I know a lot of people who do 'mission work for a week' or so - - it makes them feel good (maybe snotty), but nobody remembers them, just passing faces. And most of them only do it once or twice and decide they don't really like getting their hands dirty. But they talk about it for years and years like they've saved the world single-handedly .

On the other hand, there's isn't much I agree with about what Sean Penn has done or said in his life. But, he's been a force in unscrambling the mess in Haiti. Good for him.

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1519 posts

Well, this has disintegrated nicely.

Ed does not need me to defend him, and he probably doesn't want me to. But I've read his comments for years, and I think this is the first time that he's mentioned doing disaster relief. If it's come up before it hasn't been often. He's not running around bragging about it. Nor has he spent years building a cyber persona so that he can spring this on us and we'll believe him.

Now, what he has said was perhaps put a bit inelegantly. But do we associate Ed with elegance? No. What I get from it is that some people disdain ordinary tourism because they want to brag about replacing straw houses with stick houses. They denigrate another's leisure vacation because they worked on their vacation. It's a bit "lady-of-the-manor" -look at me be a good person. At the same time, recognizing the good deeds of others encourages more acts of kindness in them and in ourselves.

Me, I'm heading off for the Celebrity Canine Wax Museum. I hear the replica of Toto is just uncanny.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3296 posts

I think that we're missing part of Rick's point about travel as a political act. A big part of it is about what you learn when you travel and then how you apply that knowledge or understanding when you get back to your own home, community, county, state, country etc. Yes, of course, we can choose to go to Africa and put in the proverbial water system, or dig the well as was done in A Town Like Alice. But if you read closely about what Rick has to say about travel, it's learning about different cultures--through history, meeting locals, staying in small places, experiencing the differences of the world-- and then using that experience to shape the lens thought which you see your own world. I say that anyone who travels with a remotely open mind is doing this. It's not pretentious; it's growing and learning. And, hey maybe I can learn something from the Nessie Museum at Drumnadrochit. I'll have to check it out the next time I'm in the area. :)

Pam

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4752 posts

What Karen said.
Oh, and I am from Ohio, not Frankfurt, and I call 'em like I see 'em.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2684 posts

What about all those nurses and other medical personnel from all over the US who quickly volunteered to go to the Philippines after that place was hit by the typhoon. You recall that last year? Yes, you might say they were Filipino-Americans who went, but what about all the others who have no cultural, family, or heritage ties to PI? I wonder what was the driving force behind their desire to help? A condescending attitude?

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3489 posts

My understanding of the back-door philosophy is getting some interaction with the locals and learning what is different and what is similar to your own life. Part of the search for "authentic" is a desire to go through the backdoor, which is pretty tough if you don't speak the language. Most of the time, when I'm visiting foreign shores, I am much more interested in the sights, but several times I've been privileged to go through back doors and it's been great - notably on an RS tour of Turkey and with a private guides in Thailand, Vietnam, Beijing and Cambodia - where daily life is indeed much different from mine.

I don't look for that experience in most of Europe, because I think life is pretty much the same mine here in Israel. I went to a pub meet in London (through TA), at least half a dozen locals and 4-5 tourists. The locals spent the first 45 minutes nattering about transportation to get there and the latest sports results, then conversation was all about sightseeing (very helpful - but no back door).

When I have visitors from abroad, I take them to meet some of my friends, to see how people live here, especially on a kibbutz, and it is always memorable for them, because it is a little different.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2432 posts

After using this forum for years, I never knew that Ed did disaster relief, either, but I'm not surprised. As for criticizing Ed's comments, it would be equally short-sighted to say that the critics have an inferiority complex. Taking issue with someone who particpates in disaster relief - really?

I agree with Pamela and Chani that the type of travel RS calls a political act is the travel that changes you, that makes you a more understanding, tolerant person. Some people who travel get there, some don't.

The origin of the word "political" has to do with relationships among people living in common, working/living/being together for the good of the polis or city. I think RS' philosophy is attuned to that.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9085 posts

" But if you read closely about what Rick has to say about travel, it's learning about different cultures--through history, meeting locals, staying in small places, experiencing the differences of the world" How does "staying in small places" do this any more than staying in a business class hotel? I know Mr. Steves has this heckle against large hotels, but his statement about "putting up a wall", to me, reveals more about his personal bias than the people who actually lodge in such places. Especially because the places he recommends tend to be filled with his like-minded followers...

Posted by George
Canada
814 posts

From RSs hotel blog -
.
"While many travelers opt for modern chains or big, business-class hotels, I find that these tend to build a wall between you and the people and culture you traveled so far to experience. Spending less usually gives you a richer experience."
.
"Spending less usually gives you a richer experience." - WOW...does anyone actually believe this prattle?

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7949 posts

Sure.

Spend less per day. Travel more days. See more. More is richer.

Pretty simple logic.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3296 posts

Yes, when you stay in a smaller place you have a vastly different experience than when you stay in a business hotel. I have nothing against big business hotels. I stay at them all the time when I attend conferences and other business travel. At a conference, close to the exhibits and meetings is paramount in my decision where to stay. I want amenities that will make it easier for me to accomplish business. I don't want to chat with the manager of the business--unless something goes really wrong at which point I expect them to help me fix it!

When I am on vacation I do like staying in smaller places. I became friends with the manager of the Richmond Hotel in Strathpeffer. In fact, she walked with our walking group on my last visit. Small hotels are more personal. They have fewer guests, their success really depends on you having a good experience. My "meh" experience at the Marriott in Denver for a business trip won't affect the success of that hotel. They rely on conventioneers and business contracts. And to be honest, I'm not expecting anything much more than standard business lodging and convenience. A "meh" experience at the Richmond Hotel in Strathpeffer or The Anderson in Fortrose is more critical to the owner. They depend on people like me telling my friends about this cute little hotel I stayed in when visiting Scotland. They want to know that the owner takes a special interest in building a whisky bar. They want to know how they coped when there was a water crisis. They want to know that I had lovely chats about the town of Strathpeffer and the trials and tribulations of teaching Gaelic in the schools or the gossip about the television star who had moved in just down the road. The only "political" aspect here is the education policy in Scotland. There was also an element of prejudice against an English boy in the Scottish schools--at least as perceived by the mother.

So, does this influence what I do and think about here in NYC? Well, dealing with immigrants is pretty local topic these days. And, no, my trip wasn't a political trip. It was a walking trip. It was a wonderful trip with beautiful scenery, interesting people, great food, great whisky, and more.

So, yes, you can have a very different experience staying in a small hotel vs a large business hotel. Of course, it's up to you to make the difference. You can stay in a small hotel and never have these experiences. And, while it may not be important to you, it should not be necessary to scorn those who do think it's important and have enjoyable experiences.

Pam

Posted by VS
Palo Alto, CA, United States
556 posts

I don't think the term tourist is a bad word, nor is the verb "to tour." We are fortunate that so many more of us can afford to tour Europe (or anyplace else) than could ever before. It must have been great to see the great sights of Europe one hundred years ago, before the crowds of today, but realistically most of us would not have been among the tourists back then. It would have been prohibitively expensive relative to our incomes. If touristy means crowded with tourists, there is a reason why London, Paris, and Rome are crowded with tourists - they are fantastic. There are ample opportunities to visit places in the U.K., France, and Italy that are much less crowded with tourists. The trouble is that so many travelers only go to the most famous places rather than delving deeper into a country. On our May 2011 Hungary/Czech Republic trip, we started in Budapest, followed by Sopron, Olomouc, Telc, Ceksy Krumlov, and Prague. Only in Prague were tourist crowds an issue at all. There are strategies to avoid crowds, such as traveling during shoulder season as we always have. Another sense in which the term "touristy" is used is pandering too much to tourists, ruining the authenticity of the experience. Sure people in cities and towns of touristic interest try to appeal to the needs of tourists, but in fifteen or so trips over these past fifteen years, I have a hard time thinking of a place where I found it to be over the top. Some folks say Rue Cler in Paris is too touristy. When we were there in May 2010 we found that it was fun to have breakfast with a diverse group in the neighborhood, by no means only Rick Steves fans, and by no means only American. The local businesses were glad for the business - they know who pays the bills. The French take pride in every little thing related to the cafe experience, and even for us tourists, they are not going to let you walk away disappointed. Having said all of this, there is really something to be said for getting of the beaten path, venturing away from the places that everyone goes. I highly recommend Portugal, Ireland, the countryside and smaller towns in England, France, Germany, and many others. Everyone goes to Prague, but we saw almost no Americans when we were in Budapest. Overall, I have a hard time imagining how a tourist with any imagination in travel planning could have a too "touristy" experience. For the true anti-tourist among us, there are any number of locations in the U.S. where it would be easy to avoid anyone resembling a tourist.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2600 posts

Well... everyone seems to have adapted to all the website changes and found their footing... back to good questions, good answers and always a little fun controversy to keep us from getting bored:)))

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7181 posts

Really not to start an argument, just a thought -

When I hear travel as a political act, it rubs me the wrong way. One thing I love about Europe is they are interested in politics, but they are interested in listening to what people have to say rather than only reinforcing their own views.

To a large extent, the U.S. is a nation of ideologues (or at least a lot of us) so we don't do well discussing politics. Often the biggest American ideologues are also the least self-aware; they don't see themselves as close-minded, just right. If you are able to discuss issues without getting loud - without feeling your job is to convince the other person - you will do well in Europe. If you can't, people will walk away from you like we avoid crazy people on the street.

Posted by Rik
Vicenza, Italy
700 posts

Brad, I completely (albeit respectfully) disagree. Having lived in Europe more than 15 years I firmly believe, based on my personal experiences, that Europe is at least as full of idealogues as the US. In some ways, even moreso.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9085 posts

Regular people in Europe (as opposed to activitists and street militants) usually don't wear their politics on their sleaves, like you'll find in certain parts of the US. But there's plenty of very rigid idealogues over here. And really, as a tourist visiting, they're probably not going to engage you in the internal politics of their country, unless you're particularly well informed about the current political situation.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7819 posts

Re what Brad says.. I tend to agree. My french family and friends definately enjoy talking politics .. and no one agrees with anyone but it seems to work in a social setting.. they can sit at a table with people with completely different ideas and debate issues without spouting off "like it or leave it" type remarks.. But .. in defence of what Rik says.. no . people don't seem as obvious no bumper stickers or lawn signs etc.. so you are both right.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7181 posts

I can't say Rik is wrong, he has more experience than I do. I will say I've had some very long and respectful political discussions with Europeans (often in first class train compartments when traveling on business). Mostly they want to understand the differences of our system vs. Europe, as well as about our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Interesting comparisons include France's recent decision banning Burka's:

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2014/01/08/French-court-upholds-controversial-burqa-ban-.html

Or Switzerland banning new minarets on mosques:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/world/europe/30swiss.html?_r=0

Our system of individual rights, including religion, isn't likely to allow that type of law.

Europeans are also curious why we allow such free access to guns (another opportunity to discuss Bill of Rights.

The best way I've heard the difference described, if over-simplified, is Europe transitioned to democracy from monarchy. Authority went from God to the Monarch, down to the people - then democratic governments replaced the Monarch. In America, authority goes from God to the people, and is lent (not given) back to the government. In practice, it isn't nearly that precise, but it does give a reason why some of our individual rights seem foreign to Europeans and some of their laws seem foreign to us.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
704 posts

I think part of the staying in more intimate/smaller accommodations as opposed to big business hotels is there is more of a connection, maybe not necessarily with locals, but with other travelers. We've run the gamut from couchsurfing to the Sofitel at Heathrow, and hands down, when we stay at smaller places, we talk with other travelers generally over breakfast, since usually there are only a half dozen tables and we are in close proximity. When we've stayed at larger hotels (if they even offer breakfast), you are much more anonymous, which some people like. I'm a people person...I love meeting other people and hearing their travel stories, and that just doesn't happen in a big, impersonal hotel. That makes my travel more rewarding.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
704 posts

...and traveler or tourist, whether in my province or country or across the ocean, I don't care, as long as I'm not sitting at home!

Posted by Steve and Ruth
Walnut Creek, California, USA
13 posts

Unless one is the first traveler to reach a designated spot on the earth --never having been visited before by any outsiders, one must expect that the "locals" will be ready to offer you something "touristy" . To pretend that we can travel to Italy and NOT go to "touristy" places and be surrounded by other Rick Steves reading travelers is naïve and pretentious. Do French people come to visit the US and NOT go to see the Statue of Liberty or Golden Gate bridge --preferring to hang out in less "touristy" areas like Des Moines or Bend in the Road, Arkansas? No way. Tourists go to certain areas because there is a reason to go there. And because of that we have to expect that we will get the "jacked up" prices and key chain sellers. No way to avoid it. OR --you can avoid Tuscany and go to some horrid industrial city in Italy --but why would you want to do that? I do not expect the locals to befriend me --no matter how hard I try to blend in. If you owned a restaurant in New York would you invite a German tourist over to your home? They are in business. They want your money .. Accept that and move on to enjoying the sights that you went to see. Traveling is always an adventure and being a "tourist" is NOT a bad thing.