In today’s society, there is a certain connotation that comes along with labeling yourself as a tourist.
No one wants to fumble around with an oversized map of a country, confused and obviously out of place. A lot of people don’t want to be associated with tour groups or name badges or standing in lines. We all want to portray ourselves as spontaneous adventurers roaming the globe in search of once in a lifetime experiences.
but more than anything...EVERYONE JUST WANTS TO LOOK COOL.
But maybe part of traveling should be not looking cool.
I recently got back from Iceland. Let me tell you, being there was one of the most incredible experiences of my whole life. The scenery is unbeatable, the food is delicious, and the entire country screams adventure.
Iceland is foreign enough to find yourself listening to Icelandic pop on the radio, eating yogurt made from sheep’s milk and not being able to pronounce any place you visit BUT accommodating enough to still drive on the right side of the road and have most people speak English. It’s no wonder that people, especially those from the US, are flocking to Iceland in record numbers.
I mean, it’s kind of the perfect place.
I’m happy that a lot of people are experiencing the beauty and culture of the “Land of Fire and Ice” but with all these travelers exploring, it has meant that Iceland has a bit of an insta-tourism problem.
What do I mean by that? Well I mean that there are some visitors that are too busy trying to take the most amazing pictures on the side of a canyon, that they don’t take the time to appreciate how culturally and ecologically important the place is, and in turn, don’t respect it enough to follow the rules.
Travelers hop fences, ignore warning signs and figure that since they saw someone else with a picture in a certain spot, they have the green light to take that picture too.
The next time you see someone with some sick picture or video swimming in a glacier lagoon (here’s looking at you Justin Bieber) or capturing some epic video with a drone shot- remember these signs exist.
Sorry JB, it’s too late to say sorry.
This isn’t to say that ALL drone shots or mind-blowing videos are wrong but the more I travel, the more I realize a lot of them are.
This isn’t just an Iceland problem though, this has been an issue with every photogenic place I’ve ever visited. From hiking up Diamond Head in Hawaii to Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone, people are constantly doing dumb stuff for cool pictures.
And even more than risking personal safety for “the gram” people are damaging the gorgeous country they spent money and time to visit and explore.
I started to ask myself, where is the disconnect between being responsible, respectful and still adventurous versus doing anything it takes to take pictures that look neat? Why is this such a problem? And more than anything how do we fix it?
My conclusion? I think we should embrace our inner tourist.
Now this isn’t to say you should run to the nearest geriatric tour bus or grab a fanny pack (I mean fanny packs are back in style so that should be fine, actually) but think about some other aspects of being a tourist and some behaviors the typical “tourists” exhibit.
1. The guy with the audio tour is learning about the area around him, he’s understanding how long it took for some moss to grow on that rock or how rare those cool flowers are and why he shouldn’t step on them for a picture to make himself look artsy. Be like that guy.
2. The lady at the visitor center might not be spending ALL of her time in nature but she is learning the reason that that awesome viewpoint is off limits isn’t because it’s dangerous, it’s because it’s sacred to native people. She isn’t going to go there. She rocks.
3. The chick with the guidebook might stick out like a sore thumb but she is understanding the area around her through LEARNING and not just seeing the natural beauty at face value. Go sis.
4. The people who are reading signs are understanding that it took years to persevere the iconic place they are visiting, and that their effort to do so should be respected. Bravo.
5. Those people staying behind the fence at that waterfall might not look as cool as the person who hopped it but they also aren’t going to end up as some tragic news article. Great work.
The key to changing this behavior of doing “anything for the gram” is through education and a culture shift when it comes to travel. And guess what, tourists are ALL about the education. Yet for a lot of people now, capturing the experience takes the forefront of the trip itself, and that can lead to some bad behavior, whether intentional or not.
Most people don’t want to purposefully damage the very place they visit or harm other people or themselves, and a lot of times they are ignorant to why their actions are bad.
I’ve been that person. For example, I stepped on some moss in Iceland, which might not seem like a big deal but I feel really bad about it now.
See afterwards I learned that moss is super fragile and takes years to grow. I stepped on that moss just to look cool in a picture. Typing it makes me feel so lame!!! But it should feel lame and embarrassing, since because of my ignorance, I damaged a place I love, even if it was in a small way.
One person doing this won’t make a difference but if you see me do it, then you might think it’s okay and the chain reaction could ACTUALLY damage the environment. Once I realized this I recognized that I’m not going to post that picture because I don’t want anyone else to follow suit. And I realized that if I had educated myself more in the beginning, I wouldn’t have made that mistake.
This isn’t a huge deal, but I’m using it as an example because we all are relatively uneducated when we visit somewhere and we should accept and embrace this rather than just use it as an excuse.
While I think a lot of people mean no harm, some genuinely do think they are somehow above the rules and it makes me really sad to see people blatantly disregard them for the sake of clout and content. I still have hope though that education of the area they are visiting will break this cycle for them too.
We all just want to feel like we got “the full experience” of a destination. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with being off the beaten path, there are plenty of places where you can get your fill of permitted thrill and beauty without causing damage. And more than anything the memories you make should be more than memories, they should be lessons learned about a new place, a new people and the significance that area plays in the world and in history.
So you know who isn’t actually getting the full experience? Some guy who is taking a supposedly “sick” picture (that is actually pretty lame) in a sacred place, with no knowledge of the meaning and value of the place he took it.
You know who is really taking a place in? The grandma with the 1990’s headset listening to some boring and monotone guy explain it as she is walking through and soaking up every bit of the experience that she can. The real traveler is that lady, that takes a happy picture standing proudly in front of that place, the joy of being there stretched across her face. Then leaves to make room for others.
I want to be more like her. We all should be more like her.
Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to google fanny packs.