Like many who enjoy traveling to new places, when we moved to Dublin, I deliberately distanced myself, mentally, and often physically, from the millions of tourists who visit Ireland each year. “I live here now. I’m no tourist.” I realize now that this was a mistake. Being a tourist in your own country is a great way to get to know your way around.
Rather than look at “tourists” as something to avoid getting on your shoe, realize that they provide a market and reason for things like brochures, guidebooks, tours, and discount programs, all of which have the potential to cheaply and quickly teach you about your new home. Yes, you do have to play tourist for a day or two to take advantage of them. But who cares? If your goal is to learn as much as you can about the country you’re living in, there’s no better way than by being a temporary tourist.
Remember, what the local tourism professionals do, and do not, want you to see speaks volumes about the culture. What are they proud of, and why? What do they avoid? How do they broach the subject of any shameful history? That’s all information that you, a new resident, need/want to know about your neighbors.
If your vanity insists that you distance yourself from the tourist stain, then take advantage of friends and family who come to visit you. As they only have a few days in country, they’ll want to see the sights as quickly as possible. You can tag along and play the “I’m a local” game. If anyone asks, you can proudly (lamely) deny your tourista status, telling everyone that you live here now, and are just taking your friend around to see the sights. Sadly, your implied denunciation of tourists will likely mark you as a “freshly minted” local. Seasoned locals realize the value of the tourists, not just for the money they provide, but for the opportunity they present to show off the local culture/history.
Also, give credit where credit is due. Tourists are the folks adventurous enough to travel. Many people simply don’t want to venture beyond their comfort zone. Others, for whatever reason (physical, economic, etc.) want to travel but are unable. Those are the folks we should feel sorry for. But the tourists are the ones who go. As for looking down your nose at that bus full of blue hairs, man, those folks are boogying on into their dotage. Good for them. I just hope my saggy ass has the steam to make it to Machu Picchu at 80.
Sadly, too many of us overlook the goldmine of information made available to us by our local tourist offices. How many times have you picked up that weighty history of Kenya that someone gave you when they heard you were being posted to Nairobi? “That’s too big, I’ll read 50 Shades of Puce instead.” Well, guess what, the tourist office has condensed much of that same information into bite sized pamphlets that you can tuck in your purse/briefcase/backpack to read on the bus, train, etc., or keep in the bathroom for analysis during your morning constitutional. And, wham, bam, presto change-o, you’ve actually learned something
As someone who now consumes and, potentially, votes on local resources, you have an obligation to learn as much as you can about local culture and history in your new country. Taking a bus trip here or there is a cheap way to travel without the hassle of parking, driving, or planning. Living Social/Groupon and other coupon deals and offers make it cheap and easy to register and go. Basically, you pay and show up. They take you everywhere and drop you off at night. And most tour guides are extremely helpful and knowledgeable. Once they know you’re a local, they’ll probably clue you in to other “must see” attractions, restaurants, bookstores, local bus routes to avoid, etc.
Our trip to see the Book of Kells, packed as it was, introduced us to Trinity College, which, located in the heart of the tourist district, proved to be a gateway drug to Dublin city history. From there, as a writer, I had to visit the Dublin Writers Museum. This stunningly comprehensive, and inexplicably overlooked, museum taught me more about local history, and the fine web of literature and politics upon which this city is built, than any other venue in town. A self-planned train trip to the Galway Film Fleadh (Festival) introduced me to that city, and gave me a chance to see the midlands, all while learning a thing or two about Ireland’s rich cinema history. Our package tour to Connemara/Cong gave us new insights into Galway, the Irish Potato famine, The Quiet Man, sheep, and estate gardening in the rugged coastal ranges of western Ireland. Along the way, we met some really nice folks who were grateful to see that we were curious about their world.
Being a tourist in your own country (particularly if you’ve just moved there) gives you the chance to prove that youth is wasted on the young. Use your adult appreciation for things like history and culture as an excuse to sponge up all you can about your new home. Think of all those young kids in school just round the corner. They dread the thought of Mrs. McGillicutty’s afternoon history class. Yet you know how valuable that information can be. And now you know that the local tourist attractions are a much more interesting way to learn.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
Emigrating with Pets