Since the first step in overcoming a problem is admitting that you have a problem, let me begin by saying, “My name is Howard, and I am a tourist”; a fourteen-hours-a-day, site-mongering, camera-clicking tourist, as often as I get a chance. And, may I add, I am darn proud of it. Yet nowadays there seems to be a stigma associated with being a tourist:
“Don’t be just another tourist!” “Get away from the crowds and the hordes of tourists!” “Experience (fill in the blank) like a local, not like a tourist!” exclaim countless travel books and television shows. But really, what’s so wrong with being a tourist anyway?
Let’s face it: vacationing in exotic destinations is an expensive proposition, even for expert veterans who know how to extract every last ounce of value out of their travel dollars. For most people, this means only a handful of truly special trips in their lifetimes, if that. So my advice is, when the opportunity arises, go for the best! Follow the crowds! Take as many pictures as you can stuff onto a memory card. Remember, popular destinations are usually popular for very good reasons.
Why do millions of visitors travel to New York, London, Paris and Rome every year, when countless other, less expensive, cities beckon? Why do people from all over the world flock to the campgrounds of the Grand Canyon, the beaches of Hawaii, the casinos of Las Vegas and the theme parks of Orlando when there are so many less crowded options? Because, let’s face it, these destinations are the best of the best.
This is not to disparage in any way the countless places on this planet worth seeing. I have been fortunate to have traveled all over the United States as well as to many foreign destinations, and I love getting off the beaten path. There are countless places which I would gladly recommend as worth seeing. For example, in England alone I could name dozens of mind-blowing cities and sites. But if I could only visit one, then London would be the winner hands down.
For the same reason visitors are attracted to certain cities and destinations, they also tend to congregate at places derogatively referred to as ‘tourist traps’. Tourist traps are generally derided by locals and seasoned travelers alike for their crowds and long lines, tacky souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants. That being said, there’s nothing like a really good tourist trap. There’s an energy and excitement about them and, as a general rule, the more crowded they are, the more they are worth seeing.
Take Paris. The City of Light boasts one of the highest concentrations of magnificent museums in the world. But really, is the average visitor going to prioritize any museum over the Louvre? Yes, the crowds are daunting, and the Mona Lisa is surprisingly small. But no one visiting Paris for the first time is going to skip this DaVinci masterpiece, or the Venus de Milo, or any of this museum’s phenomenal treasures.
So the next time a travel expert offers you advice on how to get off the beaten path, just remember, they’ve probably already been on the beaten path and loved it. So go out and grab some breakfast at the McDonald’s restaurant tackily located across the street from the Arc de Triomphe, don those Mickey Mouse Ears and take the mandatory photo of your children holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There is a reason these rituals have become staples of the tourist trade. Go along with the crowd. In all likelihood you will not be disappointed.