on the tourist mindset.
Arches national park, Utah.
Right now, I am a tourist. I am travelling; I am spending time at locations designed specifically for tourists; I am amongst tourists.
This means I am a tourist.
I will not engage in travel snobbery - pontificate on the differences between travellers and tourists, or look down upon people who are, essentially, doing almost the same thing as me.
But I still find myself frustrated by the tourists.
It's annoying to see their sameness. Middle aged, usually. Always wearing expensive quick dry clothing in pinks and greens and off whites. Over tailored for the formality older people seem to want. Foldable sun hats, sunglasses, cross body bags. "Travel" clothes from travel stores. No matter whether you're staying in a comfortable hotel, doing laundry at a laundromat (or at home when you get home after your week away), or travelling to a place with no more risk of pickpockets than at home.
Why is this annoying? I guess that's not so annoying in its own. Its annoying because these same same people are so often acting same same too.
They're rude. I think they're really rude, so often. I'm trying to work out why exactly it is that I think this.
They never smile at anyone else. To be a tourist in a typical tourist spot is to be aggressively alone, it seems. No eye contact.
And why? After years of travelling, I think I know.
They're away from home. They're worried about scams and pickpockets and thieves. They're outside of their comfort zone. They're self conscious. They don't know if you're a tourist too or if you're a local about to, dear god no, speak to them to try to sell them something. They're used to having the only people speak to them be people trying to sell them something.
So they studiously avoid eye contact. This makes tourist places feel like the loneliest crowds.
And how else are they rude? Well, they so often seem to have very little situational awareness. They barge past. They hold iPads in front of beautiful scenes for long periods of time, blocking the view for others, filming what I can see to be wobbly, low-quality, poorly framed footage. Destined for Facebook perhaps but probably destined for nowhere.
They ignore the people around them. Why?I think it's just a matter of focus.
And this is where we get into the tourist mindset.
I think to be a tourist, for most people, is to be living in a period of high expectations. You've been planning and waiting and saving up and anticipating and booking annual leave and packing a bag and buying travel gear and visiting travel blogs and telling your family about this trip, this day, this week, for months or perhaps even years.
I want to stop and talk about expectations in general for a minute. I believe that udnerstanding and managing your own expectations is one of the most valuable keys to living a happy life. Expectations ruin everything. An expectation is a fantasy that you tell yourself (or society tells you) about how an experience will be, how a person should be, how a relationship or a day or your life should be. So often we have no idea at all about what our expectations are, either. They can be so ingrained by society and culture and the media that we don't even realise we are holding people up against a very strongly held expectation of what a partner will be, what a boss should be, what any relationship should be.
And I believe that, in the worst case scenario, things will never live up to your expectations. They never can, because they never can be exactly what you thought they'd be. And on the flip side, if you expect the worst, you create it. If you're an idealist with your expectations, you'll live a life perpetually disappointed that nothing ever seems to live up to the way you pictured it. And if you're a pessimist, the way you look at people and experiences will always be as bad as you thought.
This is where we come back to travel.
To overplan is to create extreme expectations.
Travelling, for the typical well-prepared tourist, is to live a series of of highly planned days.
You've spent months or years preparing a set of perfect days. You've dreamed of these moments while standing in your kitchen making dinner, while commuting home from work after another long day, while peeling off wet clothes in the hallway and thinking about the mellow sun on your bare arms in far-off incense-scented Phuket or Utah or the Gold Coast.
To put yourself in that situation, of finally living out a set of days you've built up a huge expectation for by planning them out and preparing for them, is to set yourself up for disappointment.
And that inevitable, looming threat of disappointment is what causes the rudeness we see in the tourist horde.
Because the focus is to enjoy this moment, at all costs, for God's sake, lest this trip not be what it has to be.
That's what causes that fixed half-smile you see on middle aged tourists' faces when they're on a double decker bus in the middle of an ugly city, or walking the least exciting part of a national Park boardwalk between sights. They're still looking around at everything with a fixed smile, and it's annoying. But what's behind that fixed smile is fear, that this long-dreamed-of holiday won't provide the good time they need it to.
That fixed smile is a determination to be *having a good time*. This holiday is the planned *good time*. the respite from the everyday boredom and routine we all deal with. the source of the photographs we're going to show our families and friends for the next six months.
Yes, im sure, and I truly hope, that these fixed smile tourists have real true moments of joy, delight, moments to look back on fondly for years to come, on these planned trips. But I think that deep foundation of expectations is what ultimately creates the rudeness that's frustrating for people around them. They're so strongly focused on having the good time they planned, no matter what their real true feelings in that moment are, that they'll barge through to get the right photo, and they just won't seem to notice the people around, because their focus is so strong on *taking the enjoyment* from the thing they planned to get it from.
The fixed smile also speaks to the people around them who they brought on this trip: I'm having a good time, you're having a good time, we're all having a good time!
The mum who spent months planning and prepping this vacation for her family had better perform "we're having fun" even when they're not.
You have to be able to have an average or even a bad time when you're on holidays, just when you're at home.
I could talk about how I think it should be done otherwise. The bare minimum of planning when travelling means being open to the reality of experience you're having.
If you don't know exactly what to expect in a place, you're free to experience it for the first time when you arrive, rather for the first time via Pinterest and brochures and stories for months before you go.
It's the same with people. If you consciously don't create expectations on how a person should be, and instead allow them to just be who they are, and accept them exactly that way - then you can meet them as the person they are. You've freed them from having to fail to live up to who you expected them to be, and you can just see them for who they are. This is a much healthier way to have relationships.
I don't like to feel annoyed by people. Its pretty central to my worldview that sufficient empathy will generally remove any feelings of animosity to a group or an individual. If we just understand the mindset and what's going on behind a type of behaviour, we won't be annoyed by it any more. We will know what's causing it, and we can be kind and help those people to feel better, rather than battling them internally.
It's also pretty central to my worldview that bad behaviour is almost always driven, somewhere or other in that person's psyche, by fear. I think the rude tourist hordes are driven by a mild fear of being scammed, a self conscious discomfort at being outside of their comfort zone, and a deeply held need to not be disappointed by this life experience they've planned.
I don't think there's any helping them, other than by letting them get the snaps they need and keeping out of their way. They're probably not open to chatting. But we can maybe try not to build up our own expectations, and to feel the true feelings and see the true experience in the moment that were really having, to avoid being that kind of tourist.