In Defense of the Tourist with the Knapsack and the Guidebook

The thing about tourists,

is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them and if you’re one of those people who consistently finds yourself mocking tourists who are in absolutely no way causing you any harm, then you need to cut it out, now.

Living in New York and San Francisco, I deal with a fair share of tourists. Constantly. They whirl around the subways, they clunk into me on the sidewalks with their backpacks and cameras, they cruise down Park Ave and the Embarcadero in those infamous giant red buses. They’re easy to spot, as they usually are wearing tennis shoes, have a backpack stuffed with guidebooks and rain jackets, and they’re hiding in a corner of Grand Central trying to decipher a map. En yet, I’ve noticed that this bizarre disdain for these innocent travelers (note: innocent) has become more and more prevalent, as almost every single time I’m walking with a local and we spot someone who is clearly a traveler, the person I’m with will scoff and practically spit the word under their breath, “tourist.”

We need to talk about this arrogance.

Why do people hate tourists so much? What is so wrong and shameful about someone who wants to see a new city, park, country? We as a Western society have come to loathe tourists to such an extent that we go amusingly far out of our way to avoid looking like one, whether abroad or even in our home cities. God forbid we carry a backpack. God forbid we wear comfortable walking shoes (even if we’re walking 15 miles on pavement and cobblestone that day). God forbid we ask someone for directions. And, god forbid, we are ever caught dead with a guidebook in our hands.

I’m very proud of where I’m from (NYC), and I’m very proud of where I live now (SF). I think it’s wonderful that people will put a year (or more)’s worth of savings into flying halfway across the globe to come visit the places where I’ve grown up. Therefore, I accept and understand that walking through Times Square on a Saturday afternoon will be busy with people whose necks are craned down at maps or up at the shimmering buildings; I accept this because it’s some peoples’ dreams to see this, as it may be my dream to see their city, and so I owe them the same patience as I would want for myself. Not to mention that NYC is massive and SF is famous for its hills; why would I make fun of them for wearing the clothes that will make them most comfortable to explore (as long as the clothing is not offensive)? I know I would not want to be uncomfortable when walking the hills of Rio de Janeiro; why would I want them to be uncomfortable when walking the hills of SF, just so that they blend in and save me the half second of growling “tourist”?

I know, acknowledge, and understand that some tourists and a lot of tourism can be problematic; but that’s not what I’m addressing here. I’m talking about the strange fear we have of “looking like a tourist,” and the unwarranted disdain towards a tourist we spot on the other side of the street who’s simply minding their own business. It’s hurtful, unnecessary, and pretentious. Cut it out.

TL;DR: stop treating tourists like their curiosity is a heinous crime just because they dress a certain way and like to see a city on top of a big red bus. You’re not any better than them.