The term ‘tourist’ is far more complex than many of us are willing to admit. Characters in literature and film attempt to negotiate the difference between ‘tourist’ and ‘traveller’ in everything from Paul Bowles’ 1949 novel ‘The Sheltering Sky’ to 2014 film ‘The Inbetweener’s 2′ (albeit in very, very different ways). I realised recently that ‘tourist’ is increasingly becoming a derogatory term, and isn’t only used in this way by people with a misguided superiority complex. So, in this series I’m going to attempt to unravel ‘the tourist’, looking at who and what it means and why we might not be happy to identify as one.
The first thing I must mention is that if you recognise a sliver of yourself in any of the descriptions below and are mortally offended, I can only apologise now. Secondly, I’ll openly admit that I myself, have probably exhibited one or two of the behaviours I’ve listed. On other occasions, whilst in hindsight I know I actually behaved very well, I’ve worked myself up into an unnecessarily panicked state of paranoia in case others thought badly of me due to how I came across. The most important thing is simply to enjoy travelling, but if next time you go away and run out of ideas in a game of ‘I Spy’ when in a public place, see how many of my ‘different types of tourist’ you can spot.
- The tourist who exhibits a curious combination of being ridiculously over-prepared and totally clueless, and usually has more money than sense
If you’re this kind of tourist, you might as well have ‘this is the first time I’ve ever travelled in my life’ tattooed on your face, because you will always appear as though you’ve just taken your first steps outside your hometown. This tourist is easily deceived and simple to spot, usually clad in very sensible shoes or sandals with thick socks, a hat and/or t-shirt that is clearly merchandise from a bar or theme park, beige or navy blue shorts that reach just below the knee and, more often than not, a very expensive anorak with lots of pockets. Likely to have pricey but comprehensive travel insurance, minimal self-awareness and a vacant expression.
These lost souls act as magnets for any opportunist looking to make some quick cash, and place too much trust in taxi drivers, street traders and other people who realise their ability to fleece them for all they’ve got. Cameras are kept hung around the neck, money belts are worn over the dreadful shorts and city guides and maps are partially tucked into pockets, slightly exposed for easy access when they will definitely be needed later on so as to keep to the strict itinerary of sightseeing. They are unlikely to leave their accommodation without sun cream, hand sanitiser, a spare pair of socks and an endless supply of tissues.
People like this do not intend to be irritating or offensive but invariably are due to their naivety. They will complain about the absence of something purely because they don’t understand that things are different to where they’re from and will obliviously offend locals by asking questions like ‘Is the tap water safe to drink in this restaurant?’
They get excited when they see the words ‘tourist menu’ as it means they are massively increasing their productivity: trying ‘all’ the local specialities at the same time (one more item to tick off the carefully constructed list of things to do). They do not deviate from the itinerary as this is not considered necessary, and can usually be found either on an open-top sightseeing bus, or queuing up for one.
- The tourist who is ignorant of the fact that people actually live, work and generally exist in the place they’re visiting
Tourists in this category generally make an absolute nuisance and spectacle of themselves every time they go abroad and tend to be thoroughly loathed by everyone who encounters them — they are the very reason why ‘tourist’ is now often considered a dirty word. They are also the kind of people who clap and cheer when an aeroplane lands at its destination (no more needs to be said on this part, it’s too awful to think about). Continue reading