Let me start this post by defining the title a little more succinctly. Today, I’m writing about times when I didn’t visit a new city or region well – not when I actually acted poorly. No, I want to talk about times when I either was too scared to try something new or when I simply didn’t prepare to the degree I should have. I was a bad tourist and I fear that I wasted travel opportunities; experiences that are more precious to me than almost anything else. Travel is always, always an opportunity to better ourselves no matter where we may go, and to waste those opportunities is a personal tragedy. But it’s only through out mistakes that we learn and grow and so today I want to perform a mea culpa and own up to some instances when I didn’t experience new places in the ways I should have.
A couple of years ago I wrote a post about Toronto, Canada. It’s a city I have visited a few times and so I felt well positioned to write about it and the results were stunning. In the post I maintained that while Toronto may be a fantastic place to call home, it is not the best place to be a tourist. If I were to plan a week’s vacation there, what would I actually do? The comments are fun to read, so take a peek if you haven’t already, but the opinions are mixed. Many Torontans agree with me, that the city has little to offer a tourist that is unique or interesting. Still others point to the city’s great attributes, namely fun neighborhoods and food, as great reasons to visit. I’m still not convinced but one thing is certain, I’ve never given Toronto the chance that it deserves. Yes, I have been to the city three times but each instance was brief and work related. I never took a few days to putter about, learn more about the city and to try to discover those unusual places that surely must exist and which would hopefully wow visitors. I offered an appraisal based on very little information and without trying to find the touristy-side, something I hope to correct in the not so distant future.
Bungee jumping in New Zealand
I have an incredible, if not strange, fear of heights. On the one hand, I’m absolutely fine taking an elevator to the top of a skyscraper and admiring the views. On the other, I can’t climb a 5-foot ladder without my legs quivering. It’s an occasional fear and I’m never quite sure when it’s going to pop up until I’m in the moment. One of those moments happened four years ago in New Zealand. I had won a blogging competition and was on a brief trip around the country courtesy of New Zealand Tourism. They coordinated many fun activities for me including one on my last day that they are perhaps most famous for – bungee jumping. This adventure experience started in New Zealand and I found myself one lovely winter’s afternoon in its birthplace, Queenstown. As I stood in front of the A.J. Hackett bungee facility though I froze. I couldn’t do it and rather than even try, I just left. I instantly felt guilty and that guilt persists today. Since then I’ve tested my fear of heights many times, including at the world’s highest bungee swing in South Africa, but to this day I’ve never gone on a traditional bungee jump and frankly, I’m still not sure that I want to.
Durham, North Carolina
A few weeks ago I went on a weeklong road trip around North Carolina, a state I was familiar with even if I hadn’t visited in many years. The experiences were great, from relaxing along the Outer Banks to eating some of the best BBQ in the country; overall it was a wonderful trip. Until I hit Durham. A large city home to Duke and part of the famous Research Triangle, Durham is one of the most urbane and multi-cultural cities in the country. And I think that was part of the problem. I ignored my normal instincts to learn more about the history of any new city through its landmarks and museums and instead decided to learn more about the modern city and daily life. That’s fine, but only if the two are married on the same trip. I had only a day there though, and so I missed an important half of the Durham story. The result was that I didn’t enjoy my experience there very much. Like Toronto, I found a lovely city where I could easily see myself living, but found very little to do as an actual tourist. There’s a big difference between those concepts, but this time I fault myself and not the city. I should have skipped touring some of the new revitalized neighborhoods and instead should have learned more about the city herself. Next time I’ll know better.
One of my earliest posts was one sharply criticizing Athens, what I routinely call my least favorite city in the world. In that post though I readily admit to the fact that the one and only time I’ve visited Athens was while on a cruise of the Eastern Mediterranean six years ago. We had 10-hours in port and it was based on my experiences during that brief window of time that formed my entire impression of the city. But in travel, first impressions really do matter and what I saw of Athens I didn’t like. At the top of the Acropolis I looked out and saw a city covered in a blanket of smog. Walking around town I found it to be dirty and disorganized, and friends of mine on the cruise were pickpocketed. I couldn’t wait to leave, but I also recognize that first impressions can be misleading. Luckily, I am visiting Athens for a second time in November, again on a cruise. I first thought about skipping the city altogether and going on an excursion out to Delphi, where my interest in antiquities would be well fed. But then I reconsidered. I now see this as a rare opportunity for a do-over and frankly, I’m very curious to see what I’ll find. Athens has changed but so have I. I’m a much more experienced traveler in 2015 than I was in 2009 and I’m curious to see what impact if any that will make.
So there you go, my travel confessions. None of us are perfect and that’s especially true when it comes to our travel experiences. What’s important isn’t to avoid making mistakes, that’ll never happen, instead it’s important to recognize when those mistakes occur and then to hopefully learn from them.
What are some instances when you were a horrible tourist?