Please allow me to introduce myself — my name is Kathleen, JGask’s adventure buddy. I interrupt your usual programming (at Julia’s invitation, of course) for a little chat about being a tourist.
I get the sense that there is a negative stigma attached to being a tourist, which to a certain extent, I understand. It can be a very uncomfortable role to be in. There are certain parts of being a tourist that I personally find difficult to cope with, such as not knowing how to perform simple tasks that a local wouldn’t think twice about.
Just the other day, Julia and I mailed off some packages back home. I had to figure out which box to use and which form to fill out (because god forbid I ask for assistance) and ended up using the wrong form. While its a little mistake, it can be embarrassing to be regularly corrected on simple tasks. Another example is trying to navigate the bus system, a thoughtless job for most people, becomes a nerve wracking chore and a guessing game regarding which stop you should request.
Despite the cons that come with being a tourist, I have grown to really enjoy the role while travelling around NZ. Though I will say it certainly helps when you have a friend playing the game right along with you.
During this trip, Julia and I have achieved what we believe to be the perfect balance of tourist. We are all for going to the so called tourist traps and typical must see locations that the guidebooks tell you about, gleefully snapping dozens of photos of everything we see and making silly faces. Simultaneously, we delight in just wandering around the streets of whichever city we are in, taking in the people and places around us with no real destination in mind. Basically, its a balance of being okay with obviously not belonging and trying to blend in.
Being a tourist gives you a kind of freedom in a country you’ve never seen before. You get to be overly excited about random little things (like seeing lambs everywhere, or randomly seeing the river where the barrel scene was filmed for Desolation of Smaug). You get to photograph everything because these people are never going to see you again and who cares if they’re judging you a little bit. You can wander around streets aimlessly and stare in wonder at the gorgeous buildings around you, spending hours wandering around in circles.
But one of the best parts about being a tourist is the opportunity it gives you to interact with people. You are free to ask a stranger to take a photo of you in front of that awesome dwarf statue (because selfies get old). They will probably say yes, take the photo, and then strike up a short conversation with you about where you’re from and where you’re planning on going. You can chat up the folks at the checkout counter at the grocery store to get their favorite bar recommendation. You get to hear all about the meat pie lady’s plan to visit the States with her husband to ride motorcycles across the country just because she wanted to talk for a while. In short, you are free to develop these positive relationships with random strangers, just because you’re different from most everyone else they encounter on a daily basis.
So while you may feel like you stick out of the crowd with a sign over your head screaming TOURIST, wear that sign with pride. Who knows what cool experience you’ll have or who you will meet.