The seed for this endeavor began many years ago in Chicago with a friend. Early in my tour-guiding career and barely having my first trip to Europe under my belt, I was getting to know a friend of a friend who had travelled the world as an army brat and spent her summers in Paris as an adult. She also had incredibly good taste and so, naturally, I envied her. I saw her in a way as a person to learn from as I pursued travelling. And then, one day, she made a comment. I can’t quite remember the exact words, but I can distinctly remember the impression she left. She essentially scoffed at the idea of being considered a “tourist;” she was a “traveler” who, in her eyes, fit in with the locals. For someone who spent much of her life moving from place to place, I understood where she was coming from. Yet, I was still surprised at her ever-present offense to ever being considered exactly what she was as an adult. A tourist.
As defined, a tourist is a person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure. Well, she certainly didn’t go to Paris every summer for business. She drank wine every day. She indulged in artisinal cheeses and perfectly baked breads. She experienced all the best restaurants, patisseries, and boulangeries. She took side trips to Nice and the French wine country. These were, by far and wide, trips for fun. So by the definition of the word, my dear friend was and is, in fact, a tourist.
I did not realize at the time, that her reaction to tourism would have such a lasting impact on me or my own travel. And I certainly never expected that it would become one of the foundations of why I created Wandering Tourist. As both a tourist and a professional tour guide, I have found that there is reason to be proud of being called a “tourist.” And when we go back to the roots of the words in our travel dictionary, there is nothing to scoff at or take offense to.
It is true that so many words often come to acquire more than just their Webster-defined meaning. Through time and use, a word takes on additional biased or emotional connotations that alter the original definition, sometimes giving it a more positive meaning and other times more negative. This can happen on an individual level as a result of personal experience, such as the word “party” might evoke a positive feeling and sense of excitement for a socially outgoing individual and conversely create panic or resentment from an introvert. In my friend’s case, “tourist” became a negative word in her vocabulary.
This negative/positive shift can also be created by marketing. The tourism industry, like any other, cleverly uses marketing to sway our opinions on how we travel. We hear words and phrases such as “like a local” or “off the beaten path” that seem to discount the authenticity of “sightseeing” or “being a tourist” and suggest that this is how a smart, educated, and wordly person travels. Because of this, our mental travel dictionaries have been distorted into twisted versions of their original selves with negativity surrounding the words that define exactly what it is we all want to be doing as travelers, wanderers, explorers, … whateverers.
So I’d like to attempt to dispel some of these negativities surrounding words like “tourist.” I will be creating, over time, a Travel Glossary with each post sharing a new word and definition and hopefully bringing back some positive light into these misunderstood words and phrases. If you’ll let me, I’ll show you that you, and my good friend, should be proud to be called a tourist.