I started my travel blog almost 7 years ago and even then a debate had been waging for years over the terms tourist and traveler. I truly despise the argument, so I’m not going into it today, but the premise is that most people are tourists and thereby don’t travel in the “correct” manner. There exists though a special elite group of “travelers” who are modern day Indiana Jones-types, minus the whips and intruding Nazis. It’s all garbage, everyone who visits a new place and doesn’t live there is a tourist. It’s a definition, look it up in Merriam-Webster. Now that we have that out of the way, I want to talk about why I love being a corny tourist and why in some cities it’s not just fun, it’s essential.
Tourist v. Touron
One of my first posts was about the distinction between tourists and tourons. Basically, touron is a mash up of the words tourist and moron and is a derogatory way to describe people who do idiotic things while on vacation. People who die taking selfies, those who think scratching their initials on the Colosseum is a good idea and anyone with a fanny pack fall into this category. Overall though, it’s not many people at all. The vast majority of us are tourists and that is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Although I travel a lot and have been all over the world, I still consider myself a tourist because it’s a simple fact. When I visit London, I don’t live there. I may have been there many times and know it fairly well, but ultimately I’m just a tourist there to see the sights and enjoy a pint at the pub. So now that we’ve established that everyone is a tourist, here’s why I think Paris is the perfect place not to just embrace being a tourist, but a corny, full in, map gawking, crepe eating tourist.
Paris is the Perfect Corny Tourist City
One of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, visiting Paris is a travel aspiration shared by millions of people around the world. It seems like it’s always been that way, from the days of the Grand Tour through to the 20th and now 21st centuries, there’s just something about Paris that draws us in, an inexplicable allure that is the real life equivalent of a siren call. I know I’ve fallen under its spell, from the first time I set foot in the city as a high school exchange student to my most recent visit a few months ago. The City of Lights never fails to disappoint, but whenever I’m there I almost always make sure to enjoy some of the classic experiences and to see some of the sights for which it is most famous. In other words, I don my super-tourist cap and set of to enjoy the city.
Paris seems to be built for the corny tourist thanks in large part to the sights and attractions that have made it famous over the years. The Eiffel Tower, Versailles, the Louvre, these are some of the most popular tourist sites in the world, and they all call the same city home. It’s not just the attractions of course, it’s taking a romantic walk along the Seine, eating your 20th crepe from a street vendor and meandering around the hilly streets of Montmartre as the sun sets, an accordion player plying his trade somewhere in the background. Paris is, in large parts, a stereotype come to life – and I mean that in the very best way possible. It not only lives up to our expectations of what the city should be like, it exceeds them which is why it’s important to embrace the tourist spirit and to experience the city the way it was meant to be experienced.
That’s not to say there aren’t any number of so-called off the beaten path moments to be enjoyed, there are. There are thousands of ways you can get to know Paris away from the Eiffel Tower and the crepe makers, and they should be enjoyed as well. But what is rare about Paris is that I don’t think any successful trip to the city is complete without embracing that corny side and no, the same can’t be said of other destinations. The last time I was in Paris I made a point to revisit some of these sights, places I probably hadn’t been back to since I was 17, to teach myself a lesson. I wanted to remember what makes Paris so very special and while I could have taken a hipster walking tour to artisanal purveyors of whatever, I decided instead to follow the masses and learn from them.
I was in Paris as part of a Viking River Cruise trip starting in the City of Lights and finishing in Prague. I loved the itinerary because it included two nights in this, one of my favorite cities giving me plenty of time to enjoy Paris in the way it should be enjoyed. Over the course of a day I scaled the top of the Arc de Triomphe, bought those aforementioned crepes, went window shopping along the Champs Elysees, walked along the Seine, took pictures from the Pont Neuf, looked up in awe of Notre Dame, posed next to the glass pyramid at the Louvre, enjoyed some Turkish food in the Quartier Latin and went to the top of the Eiffel Tower where I promptly bought a macaron. All I needed was a beret and an accordion of my own and I could’ve been every stereotype of Paris ever created. I never veered once from the well-trodden tourist trail, I followed the lemmings and throughout the course of one, very busy and tiring day, I saw the so-called best of Paris. And you know what? I had a blast. It was fun, in a pure sense and it reminded me of that innocent love we all feel when we go on our first epic trip. It brought me back to when I was 17 on my first jaunt outside of the country and exploring Paris for the first time. Back then everything amazed me, everything was new and fresh. I knew nothing but that was ok, I was having fun. This job I’ve created for myself is to travel as much as I can and then to share my experiences. I love it more than I ever thought possible and it truly is a dream job of my own creation. But it also means that sometimes travel can become rote; it can become routine believe it or not. I think that’s why I love adventurous experiences so much, because they break up that sense of routine. That day in Paris though broke me of routine, which is odd since I did everything expected of a visitor to the city. It forced me to look at the city though again for the first time and in the process, I not only remembered why I fell in love with Paris in the first place, but why I love travel so very much. It’s for that sense of awe and childlike wonder, of discovering something for the first time and it’s a sensation I hope I never lose.
None of us are Anthony Bourdain or Rick Steves and we shouldn’t try to be. We’re on vacation, traveling and we need to make sure we enjoy the experience. This means that it is in fact OK to be a camera toting, crepe eating, Colosseum visiting tourist. Don’t let the hipsters and egocentric travelers tell you to always get off the beaten path and to only go local. Sure, this is good once in a while as I just wrote about, but on the whole don’t be afraid to embrace your inner tourist. There’s a reason why everyone who visits Paris goes to the Eiffel Tower, in London Westminster Abbey and in Rome the Forum. They’re awesome! They have always been awesome, they will always be awesome and you should see them. So ignore those nay-sayers and instead go, see the famous sites and enjoy yourself.