It’s Okay to Be a Cheesy Tourist

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Kate in Costa Brava

Of all the emails I get, a good portion of them are from readers wanting to know there is to do in a certain destination — but definitely not any touristy stuff.

Well…isn’t that the point?

I get it.  You’re a traveler.  You’re refined.  You want to differentiate yourself from other tourists.  You don’t want to be packed tightly into a mediocre chain restaurant in Times Square, paying through the nose as babies scream at the top of their lungs around you.  That sounds like my idea of hell.

But would you really go to Paris without setting foot in Notre-Dame or the Louvre, or wandering through the artist-filled squares of Montmartre, even refusing a chance to get your picture taken in front of the Eiffel Tower?

If that’s what makes you happy, then by all means, I’m not going to stand in your way.  But if you’re doing this so that you can avoid “being a tourist” or “looking like a tourist,” it’s time to lighten up a bit.

Kate in Skye

The main reason why places are touristy is because they deserve tourists!  Take Venice.  It’s one of the most spectacular places in the world — there’s nowhere like it anywhere else.  As a result, Venice is swarmed with tourists — especially during the summer, when the streets turn into a sticky mass of bodies.

But no matter how crowded it gets, it’s still Venice.  If the crowds are too much for you, just walk a few blocks in the other direction and enjoy the crumbling buildings and romantic bridges on your own.  Oh, and get into a gondola already!  Just don’t write off Venice altogether because so many tourists are already there.

Yes, it’s nice and it’s fun to go to underground bars and swank tapas lounges and restaurants where the menu is written on cardboard and coffee shops where only the hippest people in town go, where there isn’t a tourist in sight.  But don’t skip the big stuff.

My suggestion?  Stop worrying about how other people think of you — and start taking some goofy pictures.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Go to Pisa, and take funny pictures with the Leaning Tower.

Go to New York and let out a squeal when the Statue of Liberty appears in your line of vision.

Go to any Madame Tussaud’s in the world and do lots of inappropriate things with the statues.

Go to the Louvre, and take a picture of yourself giving a thumbs up in front of the inverted Pyramid.  (Don’t act like you didn’t read The Da Vinci Code!)

Get super excited to be eating sushi in Tokyo.  Or pad thai in Bangkok.  Or crepes in Paris.


Let go of any expectations you have for yourself — and get lost in the wonder of travel once again.

66 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Be a Cheesy Tourist”

  1. I think you make great points. I always pick out things I want to see and do in a destination, especially because those places are meant to be seen, as you say. When I’m going somewhere extremely touristy, I try and find a guide on couchsurfing to take me somewhere offbeat or hidden – from the Bosnia war barracks-cum-library to a small Berber town, it has always paid off!

  2. You hit it bulls eye. Many people think it is “corny” taking pictures with landmarks in the background. As far as I’m concerned, I go to a place and tour, and so I am a tourist–with lots of pictures. I bought my camera for that purpose.

  3. Perfect, dear Kate! I cannot give enough applause for those words, thinking about the Berlin tourists who tell me they want to do the “cool other stuff”… well… EVERYBODY does, darlings! 😉
    Since years I tell people I want to be a completely “normal” person, because its todays way of being special! 😀

  4. The best part about being a cheesy tourist is that big huge grin plastered all over the face as you point to a landmark or touristy sight. You’ll be thinking – ‘screw everybody, I am where you want to be!’

    I remember doing far too many photos in front of Christo Redenter and barking at anybody to move away from the view of the camera!

  5. Three years ago we wrote a piece about the 7 Lessons we learned from a year on the road. One of those lessons was ” The Path is Beaten for a Reason.” Just as you observed that touristy places deserve to be touristy, we discovered that the beaten path leads to great places. Skipping those “tourist” places means missing the best the world has to offer.

    It’s good to see more articles like this because many people have taken the old travel advice to “get off the beaten path” too far. That advice was originally intended to encourage people to create more well-rounded itineraries; to broaden their experiences. Now it is often used to as a reason to exclude places and shrink experiences, which, ironically, defeats the whole purpose of travel

  6. Kate, what a great post!! It drives me crazy when people hate on tourists.I am going to London on Thursday and I am the ultimate tourist, my schedule is action-packed, but I just don’t want to miss a thing! I will reserve being too cool to be a tourist for my second time visiting a destination! : ) haha

  7. You couldn’t have said it any better Kate. Too many people have become the ultimate travel snobs and whatnot, thinking they’re too good to be mingling or hanging with other tourists. I love being a tourist anywhere around the world and even in my own hometown New York, which happens to be one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. It’s all about what we want to see and where we want to go. Nobody really cares whether the place is touristy or not…

  8. Great post! It is definitely okay to be a tourist. When I visit my cousins in San Francisco or Berkeley and I ask them to take me around, guess where they take me first…all the tourist areas and even though they live in the area, they enjoy those areas too =)

    Hey kate, I don’t know if you have already answered this or not, but what camera do you use, and what program do you edit your photos in? Thanks!

  9. If your going to travel a great distance you might as well take “cheesy” pictures with you and the place in the background. You need some kind of proof of your trip.

  10. I agree that sites shouldn’t be written off just because they’re ‘touristy’ and I always visit places brimming with tourists, like myself, who want to see places that are popular for a reason. However I always try to avoid getting ripped off by tourist traps like over expensive shopping and eating areas.

  11. Excellent post! You hit the nail on the head here. When I go places I generally do some of the touristy things because they are neat to see, but as Cat said above, I also try and did some off the path things to do. Sometimes when you get lost, you truly discover a place, and many times discover something about yourself.

  12. I love this, Kate! It’s just so much fun to do funny poses or jumps in front famous sights! And if you combine these activities with eating at less touristy restaurants and wandering around aimlessly, you have the perfect vacation 🙂

  13. You always provide a refreshing perspective. Travel is about you and the world, not manifesting someone else’s gaze into whatever you think it should be. Wonderful.

  14. Agreed. Q & I get cheesy to the max w/ the touristy sites. Some of the main attractions of cities are ‘main’ for a reason and most of the time not to be missed. It’s always fun trying to capture those sites on camera through a non-typical angle. That can keep things interesting.

  15. There is a reason that people travel to popular places. Because they want to see the popular sites. That does not make it wrong but it is always good to have a mix of other things that are less touristy.

  16. Love it. Why be a tourist if you can’t revel in the goofy stuff that tourists do?

    From the most unsophisticated of travelers, thanks!


  17. I love this post! I can feel myself nodding and smiling as I read it! I can’t imagine bypassing tourist sights, they have become important for a reason! My most recent touristy destination was Bruges, and I loved every minute of my touristy trip!

  18. Brava, Kate, this is right on point as usual!

    I share your nightmare of the overpriced Times Square chain restaurant, but I think there’s a big difference between eating at Bubba Gump’s versus visiting the Met, Central Park, or the Empire State Building. Yes, those last three are certainly tourist hot spots, but there’s nothing inauthentic about them and they’re desirable to locals, too.

    I think as other commenters noted, the key is to visit key tourist attractions but to try to get an authentic experience as well. My wife and I try to do this by eating in non-touristy restaurants and seeing some off the beaten path places, but you’re so completely right – if you’re visiting Paris, visit the Eiffel Tower for God’s sake!

  19. So true Kate. Do whatever you want to do when travelling because it’s what you want to do. It’s the same thing as when people stop listening to certain bands once they become popular. Who cares about anyone else?

  20. Completely agree, Kate! My thought is if you don’t want to go to a popular site because you have no interest in it, there is nothing wrong with that, but don’t skip it only because it’s “too touristy”. See what you want to see, no matter if it’s popular or not. Many of the touristy sites can be a lot of fun, even for locals!

  21. Agreed. As a traveler who isn’t traveling at the moment I would also add that I’d never try to dissuade someone from seeing the touristy sites where I live. Certainly I’d suggest other things to see and do as well, but those tourist site are popular for a reason, and it would be a shame if someone skipped out on seeing Big Ben in London or the Eiffel Tower in Paris just because they thought it’s not want you’re ‘supposed’ to do.

  22. I definitely agree! Even though we look for the off-the-beaten-path places, we will still see the touristy stuff as well. As you said, it’s touristy for a reason! There’s no way I’d go to Egypt and not see the pyramids, the Great Wall in China or the Acropolis in Greece…crowded, yes, but must sees.

    Cheers for the post 🙂

  23. I absolutely hate getting my picture taken, but otherwise agree. Going in the early morning or late afternoon often helps if one doesn’t like huge crowds. It’s often striking too that you only need to stray off a block or two, or take a side road, and things change completely. (I’m big on “getting lost”.) It’s possible to have famous landmarks almost all to yourself with some good timing.

    Btw Kate, I’m heading back to Indonesia in 2 days – going to Maluku and Papua, hopefully, and still trying to overcome my extreme fear of boats. I still scream when there are waves. 🙁 But I’ve wanted to go to that part of the world for ages. When are you coming to Burma? I’ll be back in Yangon for another year starting at the end of May.

  24. I always have such a personal complex about behaving like a “traveler” rather than a “tourist” — but you’re absolutely right! It’s time to forget about the politics associated with each word, and just indulge in the place you’re visiting. I’m never going to look like a local while traveling around India, so why not enjoy making a fool of myself in front of the Taj Mahal!

  25. OMG, I couldn’t agree more with this post. I always scratch my head when people avoid places because it’s “too touristy”. While it’s cool to do what the locals do, why be a travel snob when it comes to monuments, landmarks and food meccas? Psh, I’m going to all these places AND taking my camera with me! Cheesy poses, indeed!

    1. In the early days of my relationship with my boyfriend, we were stalking each other on Facebook — and quickly realized that WE BOTH DID THUMBS UP in all our photos!! We still do it, as you can see by the photo above!

  26. Yay! I get it… and my latest blog post embraces this cheesiness with a cheddar pose in front of a giant mango (I’m in Australia where giant things are tourist attractions). I didn’t ‘skip the big stuff’ 🙂

    The tourist vs traveller debate is continuous and probably unnecessary… because if you’re out there, seeing the world and expanding your horizons, what does it really matter? And your mention of Venice, yes, I still totally want to go.

    Short and sweet post. Thanks!

  27. I love your blog! There are definitely some pretentious travelers out there. We really don’t care how we look as long as we are having fun. That is the point of traveling! I’m not going to be wearing a fanny pack and snapping polaroids, but beyond that, I’m ok with being called a tourist!

  28. I love this – there’s always so much talk about being a real important serious traveller that we forget to be a tourist and have fun! Tourist doesn’t have to mean an “ugly” tourist, all loud and ignorant. It can also mean being silly and relaxed and seeing popular sites.

  29. THANK YOU! I’ll have to make my friends read this. They always get embarrassed when I want to take a bunch of pictures or go see the popular sites! I have no idea why they always say ” I don’t want to look like a tourist” Why not!? The reason your visiting the state or country is to tour it!! Great Post!!

    -The Fashionista Tourist

  30. Great point!
    You just have to be able to make the difference between a place that is touristy because it is worth seeing and a place that is touristy as in: there’s a McDo and a Burger King and that’s why all the tourists go there.
    I think:)

  31. Goofy pictures are often the best! And yes, as with many things in life, it’s so much easier to enjoy yourself when you don’t care what other people think of you!

  32. So glad you wrote about this. So refreshing! I have written about how mass tourism affects the sustainability of places, but, as you said, getting lost in the wonder of travel is a beautiful thing. I personally don’t care at all for posts or conversations that belittle people for using a wheeled suitcase or whatever they think makes people look like a “tourist.”

  33. I love being a silly tourist!
    I met a guy recently in Bologna who is a bit of a travel snob – he won’t go anywhere “conventional”, got annoyed at my constant picture-teaking and only wants to go where the locals go – he even said he’d have preferred to meet locals in Italy as opposed to British friends, looking quite disappointed at the sight of me (his new British friend!)
    He was being really quite depressing – so I skipped off and went exploring alone. With my camera.
    Here’s to tacky tourism!

  34. coolness! i agree with you. i always make it a point to have at least one souvenir photo at every destination I’m at and yes, some funny shots and jump shots too! I even use to bring tripod so I can have my souvenir photos when i’m traveling alone. lol

  35. You speak the truth girl!! Anyone who cares that much about ‘looking like a tourist’ is probably too stuffy for me to enjoy their company 😛

    Just have fun and stop caring what people think!

  36. I’ve always disliked the, “No, I’m definitely not a tourist…I’m a traveler” statement myself as well. And then a moment later that traveler/backpacker/tourist-rebel is gawking at a moment and snapping a million photos. It’s okay to be adventurous and camp in the woods, and still go to “touristy” sights and experiences. And in a lot of places, tourism has saved that region or country to help keep it alive — so you should support it! Oh well, the debate will rage on, but great article Kate!

  37. i agree completely. it baffles me when people say they don’t want to go somewhere or do something because it’s “touristy”. um….. aren’t you a tourist? yes? then what’s the problem, right? while i may stand back when my friends want to have pictures of themselves taken in front of EVERY single pretty building, fountain, store front, or funny thing in a place we go together, i don’t have a problem with visiting the touristy places. they’re touristy because they’re awesome.

  38. I love this, and I totally agree with you – I hate the ‘tourist vs. traveller’ debate because I think if you’re trying to hard not to be labelled as a tourist, you’re probably just missing the best bits!

  39. Kate! I haven’t read through the comments so I’m sure this is going to be redundant, but I am *so* glad you wrote about this. Although I absolutely love finding hidden gems and taking lots of local recommendations, one of the many reasons I love to travel is to see those big places that everyone else probably wants to see, too! No, it’s not always ideal when places are super crowded or somewhere has gotten SO touristy that its lost some of its authenticity or charm, but for my own personal experience I wouldn’t want to go to Rome without seeing the Sistine Chapel, or Istanbul without hitting up the Hagia Sophia. To each his own.

    Plus, I had a blast taking cheesy pics at Madame Tussaud’s. 🙂

  40. Agreed. A lot of people are on a search for an “authentic” experience. Just relax and have fun and stop trying to find out where all the locals are. Landmarks like the Eiffel Tower become the background for people who actually live there and see it every day. You might see it once. Enjoy it!

  41. Normally I don’t read post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to take a look at and do it! Your writing taste has been surprised me. Thank you, quite great post.

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