“You know that looking up at the tall buildings totally gives you away as a tourist, right?”
My father gave me this gem of traveling wisdom during my first trip to New York City. Even though I was almost 18, I still walked around with my neck craned to the sky, in awe of the towering buildings I had seen so many times in movies.
At least, I walked around like this until my father told me that I looked like a tourist. Then I quickly dropped my head, put away my camera and tried my best to keep my eyes on the ground like “real” New Yorkers apparently do.
Acting like a tourist is pretty much taboo in my family. We eat in sketchy dives that serve the best food in town and avoid any spot that attracts swarms of out-of-staters.
As someone who worked as a teenager in the Walt Disney World parks — a tourist town if there ever was one — my father is now the anti-tourist. Everywhere we travel, his ultimate goal is to play it cool and blend in with the locals, and I’ve adapted this same mentality even when I’m traveling alone.
Without a doubt, there are many advantages to acting like a local, such as discovering great yet unknown restaurants, or reducing the odds that you’ll be marked by a pickpocket as easy money.
In fact, one of the major reasons college students study abroad is to immerse themselves in a different culture and to learn to live life like the locals do. And of course, no one likes ignorant, obnoxious tourists, whether they’re traveling here in the U.S. or abroad (the “ugly American” stereotype exists for a reason).
But there’s a time and a place for everything, and sometimes, it’s all right to act like a tourist.
I realized this during the spring, when I took a road trip to Florida with my roommate, then turned around and flew to NYC again for a conference. When I got back from NYC, my father ironically asked me to send him photos of my trip, but all I had was a photo of a colossal sandwich from Carnegie’s Deli.
I immediately regretted that I had spent my trip pretending that visiting NYC was no big deal rather than making a record of my travels, and resolved to do better on my upcoming summer study abroad trip to Italy. . .. .