Bloody Tourists Syndrome

There are just too many tourists in some places ... and you're one of them.
There are just too many tourists in some places ... and you're one of them. Photo: AFP

It's the height of hypocrisy, and yet every traveller has done it plenty of times. You take a look around at some crowded beach or city square filled with T-shirt shops and souvenir stands, shake your head, and think, "Bloody tourists!"

It's hypocritical, of course, because you wouldn't be there to witness all the tourists unless you were a tourist as well. You are, in effect, getting mad at yourself.

(Because we're all tourists, really. You might fancy yourself on some higher plane than the guidebook-carrying masses, but you're still touring another country as an outsider. You're a tourist.)

I've been in some pretty touristy places lately. I was in Bali a few weeks ago, and I was determined to give it a chance, despite the fact I knew it would be overrun with annoying Westerners like me. Even still, at the first sight of a white face on a moped, I caught myself thinking, "Bloody tourists".

Now I'm in Hawaii, feeling pasty and podgy in Waikiki, and it is tourist central. There might actually be more tourists than grains of sand on the beach.

There are American tourists taking summer holidays, Japanese tourists rocking those big crazy visor-hat thingys, and Australian tourists taking respite from the winter. They're in the ocean, strolling the promenade, wandering the shops and chowing down in the restaurants. They're everywhere.

I'm trying not to let it bug me, but there's still a small voice in the back of my mind wanting to tell everyone to bugger off and let me have my Hawaiian journey to myself.

It's a shocking conceit, this need to have destinations to ourselves. It's not enough to be so lucky as to take overseas holidays, we also want to be the only ones doing it to make sure we get the "real" experience.

It's hard to fight Bloody Tourist Syndrome. You can understand that it's hypocritical, but that still doesn't stop the annoyance at winding up in some exotic land with a whole bunch of the people you tried to get away from in the first place.

Because that's the main problem. It's not the sheer numbers of people that are annoying, it's the fact that they're not locals.

After all, the reason most of us travel is to experience other cultures, to immerse ourselves in other people's way of living. That's spoiled, somewhat, when those "other people" turn out to be from Ballarat.

There's also a competitive one-upmanship to it. You might be able to persuade yourself that you're the first person to have ever explored Italy until you get to Piazza Navona and realise you're about the seven billionth Australian to have set foot there. That day.

You might think you're making first contact with some tribe in East Africa, until they start telling you about the tour bus that was there 15 minutes ago.

That can take the fun out of it for people who want to think they're doing something unique.

There's a varying level to which people get annoyed by other tourists, I've found. Some couldn't care less about spending their holiday with millions of their countrymen.

Others, however, spend their entire travelling lives trying to get away from people just like them, heading as far off the beaten track as possible in the hope they'll be able to convince themselves they're the only ones who've done it.

And you can tell they hate it when they inevitably bump into another tourist. I always try to be polite about it, to smile and say hello when I see other foreigners, or just give them a nod that's supposed to say something like, "How cool is this place?"

Usually, it's not reciprocated. They stare straight ahead and keep on walking, but I can tell what they're thinking: "Bloody tourists."

Do you get annoyed by other tourists? What's the most tourist-filled place you've ever been?

Hope you're enjoying the Backpacker blog – there will be a new one published every Tuesday and Wednesday on the Fairfax Media websites. To contact me with any topic suggestions or personal abuse, visit my website, follow me on Twitter, or email me on bengroundwater@gmail.com.

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