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My brother and I had a conversation last week about tourists—folks who visit places throughout the world, camera in hand, hoping to expand their horizons, soak in some sights, and learn about other cultures.
The main problem I see with tourism is that—whether intentionally or not—you have blinders on. You don’t see what’s really going on around you. You’re there to see a pretty building, or a fine work of art, or eat some delicious food. But buildings and food do not a culture make.
Brennan and I saw this in Africa, and see it in others who visit places but don’t interact with the people. They are shuffled from one location to another by a bus or tour guide, eager to see everything they can, but missing the most important part—the people.
I don’t profess to have a lot of experience in this realm, but with what experience I have had, I do feel that tourism is inherently selfish. Granted, it is important and necessary to provide recreation for ourselves and our families. However, I have a hard time justifying spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars on an excursion that provides nothing more than a few good pictures and memories.
My mentality is evidenced by a conversation I had with friends a couple months ago. One friend discovered I would soon be going to Africa, and asked “Oh, are you going there for a vacation?”. The other friend (who knew me better) said “Oh, no, Connor could never go somewhere just for fun…”. She had a tinge of sarcasm in her voice, but in essence she was right.
If I’m going to take the time and money to run off to distant lands, I want a reason for going, other than sheer entertainment and selfish fulfillment. I want to impact somebody’s life, to leave my mark on that town, to make a new friend, or help somebody in need. Tourism is devoid of all such experiences, and that is why to me it feels hollow.