I like tourist sites. There, I said it. I don’t know why that’s so controversial.
I guess, as a world-renowned travel blogger (using the terms “world-renowned” and “travel blogger” loosely), I’m supposed to be a contrarian and tell you not to go to a restaurant in Paris that has an English translation of their menu. To avoid Times Square if you’ve already been. To “get out of the tourist area” to “live like the locals”. I don’t get it.
I love Rockefeller Center at Christmas. I usually find a way to be there on a work trip when the tree is lit. Most of my clients are in midtown Manhattan, so I’m usually not far from Rockefeller Center (I usually stay at the Doubletree Metropolitan at 51st and Lex, for those familiar with the area). What I love even more than seeing the tree all lit up is watching for people trying to take a good selfie-ish picture with the tree in the background and offering to take their picture for them (try it sometime, you’ll literally make someone’s vacation and feel all Christmas-ey). I love Christmas, and the tree at Rockefeller is worth seeing often.
Is it touristy? Yep. Is it crowded? Yep. Are all of the vendors around there overpriced? Yep. You know what? Go see Rockefeller Center during the Christmas season.
I loved seeing the Opera House. It’s a beautiful and iconic building. Was Circular Quay crowded? Yep. Were the restaurants around it overly expensive? Yep. You know what? Go see the Opera House.
The same goes for the Colisseum. The same goes for Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. The same goes for the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa. They’re crowded. The areas around them are expensive. You know what? Go see them.
About 5-10 years ago, when sites like Tripadvisor and Yelp started and the internet travel community became more entrenched, there began a movement to see “authentic travel experiences”. The phrase “I don’t care about the touristy stuff, I want to do what the locals do” became en vogue. I understand the heart of what they are saying, but let’s face a fact: you’re a tourist. Unless you speak the language of the country you’re visiting, there’s a limit to just how genuine you can get. And, this is the worst part, odds are you’ll spend so much time walking past places that “look touristy” that you’ll wear yourself out trying to be a local!
2 years ago I was in London for a few weeks visiting a client. I was in corporate serviced apartments (no loyalty points…ugh) smack in the middle of Farringdon, pretty much a residential neighborhood. In the mornings I would get some coffee on my way to the Tube station, read the paper on the Tube, get out at Victoria station, and walk to the client’s office from there. After work, I’d meet some of the guys at a pub for a few pints, then I’d make some dinner in the apartment’s kitchen and get ready for bed. I’m pretty sure I was living exactly like a local and found it pretty dang similar to my life when I’m back in Dallas. I don’t want to live like a local in London, there are too many amazing things to see.
Two weeks ago I was visiting a client in Miami Beach. Their office is just off Lincoln Road Mall, so I walked to and from my hotel (the Albion, which was completely adequate, I recommend it) through tons of tourists. Wearing my nice work clothes (and sweating through them) was kind of annoying in such a cool place. I was living a bit like a local and hated it. I’d rather have been walking around in white linen pants, a flowered shirt, and one of those Cuban hats.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is: don’t spend so much time trying to emulate the locals that you end up doing the exact same stuff you’d do at home. Travel is about getting out of your routine and seeing the stuff you’ve only seen on TV. Touristy stuff is touristy because it’s usually worth seeing! Don’t let someone pre-ruin your trip by telling you certain things “aren’t worth seeing”. Were you excited about seeing it before they said that? There’s a reason you were excited, and what a shame it’d be to let someone (including me) say something that makes you not look forward to something! Don’t give someone that power over your travels!