Why I’m Proud to Call Myself a Tourist Mary Zakheim February 3, 2017 Personal Travel Essays 2 Comments “And this,” my tour guide says with a sense of reserved passion, “Is where the Berlin Wall once stood.” His tone is somber, but there is unmistakably a sort of electric zeal in his words that he cannot hold back. It’s almost like he can’t believe that he gets to stand here and show people the city, the history that he loves so much. And, just by hearing that small touch of electricity in his voice, I can feel it too: the awe, the amazement, the gravity. We were on a walking tour in Berlin, following around a British grad student and listening with wide-eyed wonderment as he told us the history of the city that was mired in grey clouds and drizzling rain. When I first started traveling, going on a group tour was not something that I wanted to do. I was determined to be a traveler, the wannabe-local alternative to the fannypack-wearing, loud-speaking tourist that traveling Americans are so afraid of being. Obsessed with finding little-known, off-the-beaten-path sorts of places, I wound my way through Western Europe’s darkest alleys, made friends with some of its lesser-known marvels, read on small park benches, and ate cheap croissants from its secret bakeries. But guess what I didn’t do? I didn’t hear the storied tales of Rome’s underground network, I left the Uffizi Gallery Museum without a deep knowledge of any of the treasures within, I walked beside landmarks whose meaning I only learned accidentally months after seeing them. Basically, I was an idiot abroad — more concerned with traveling to be labeled by others as a “traveler” than with traveling to see, to learn, to know. So when I went back, I didn’t make the same mistakes. I ditched my efforts to go off the beaten path in a country where I know no one and cannot speak the language. I vowed to never walk through another museum without at least an audio tour. I warmed to the idea of walking around a city with other foreigners, led by a knowledgeable tour guide looking to share their love for the city. Yup, I became a tourist. And here’s why you should be one too: Because Climbing the Eiffel Tower Is Unbelievably Amazing A photo posted by Tour Eiffel (@toureiffelofficielle) on Nov 15, 2016 at 7:52am PST So is seeing the Mona Lisa, touring through the Vatican, and kissing the Blarney Stone. Sure, it’s totally touristy, but guess what? You’re a tourist. So go on and see all the amazing works of art, feats of architecture, and natural wonders that you’ve spent years dreaming about. Tours Are Way More Interactive and Informative (and Fun!) Than Guidebooks A photo posted by WSA|Weekend Student Adventures (@wsaeurope) on Mar 3, 2016 at 7:34pm PST Okay so there’s a loud American in a fedora right behind you — but did you know that you’re looking at the exact spot where Caesar was cremated? Guess who knows a lot of other fun facts? Tour guides. So join a walking tour and learn about the city you’re here to see. Because McDonald’s Really *Does* Taste Different Around the World A photo posted by McDonald’s France (@mcdonalds_fr) on Feb 2, 2017 at 9:31am PST Sure, you’re definitely not going to look like a local popping in an out of McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Burger King… But you also can’t buy a beer, mulled wine, or chicken nugs that *actually* taste like fresh chicken in the good US of A, either. I rest my case. You Never Know When (or If) You’ll Go Back A photo posted by Venice Official Tourist&Travel (@veneziaunica) on Dec 24, 2016 at 3:41am PST So you might as well see why your Great Aunt Marge won’t stop talking about her romantic gondola ride with Fabio in Venice thirty years ago. A lot of “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences can require some thoughtful budgeting, but you also don’t want to spend your whole life knowing that Aunt Marge had a cooler time in Venice than you. Because Pizza for Lunch Is Basically a Sacrament A photo posted by Visit Naples (@visitnaplesofficial) on Oct 9, 2016 at 11:59am PDT Even if the Italians don’t typically eat pizza for lunch, you’re a tourist! Which means you get to do some things that maybe the locals wouldn’t quite approve of. But riddle me this: why did the Italians give us heaven on dough if we weren’t supposed to eat it for every meal, huh? Riddle. Me. That. Everything Is Better With Rose-Colored Glasses A photo posted by Paris Tourisme (@paris_tourisme) on Sep 19, 2016 at 7:18am PDT Being a so-called traveler is all about putting yourself out of your comfort zone — but sometimes I like to stay in my comfort zone. That’s where being a tourist comes in. Organized city tours, private hotel rooms, meeting those fabled friendly locals, the list goes on… Yup, being a tourist definitely has its perks. You Can Meet Other Cool Tourists to Travel With A photo posted by AIFS Study Abroad (@aifsabroad) on Dec 28, 2016 at 11:14am PST If you didn’t know already, the world is a pretty big place. So while you might not meet a Roman in Rome while you’re elbowing your way into the Colosseum, you could definitely meet an American in Rome, an Australian in Rome, a German in Rome… You see where I’m going with this, right? Are you proud to be a tourist? Tell me why in the comments below!