Tourist's Guilt: Why You Shouldn't Feel Guilty For Not Seeing Everything In the Travel Guide
If you want to stay in the hotel all day watching HBO, do it.
I'm pretty much the worst tourist out there.
While the rest of the backpackers on my trains and planes are living up to their names with their dusty boots, sunburned noses, and tattered maps shoved into their back pockets, I'm the one lying in her cot, drinking Coca Cola, and watching Man vs. Wild — in case I need to take notes on how to hunt for oysters if I get lost in this big city.
Okay, I might be exaggerating. But I am writing to you from the inside of my blanket fort on my cousin's bed, making this Day Four of staying-in while Warsaw moves on outside without me, her pretty castles staying empty and her frost-covered parks lonely for some wandering feet and hands full of coffee cups. But I'm not going to be the one to give it to her.
Why? Because... meh.
When you go and travel there's a lot of pressure to see all the things in your guidebook, and you feel like such a bad tourist if you don't check out all the spots other people before you saw. You need the Instagram proof that you've done it and seen it all, or else someone will revoke your passport. Or at least that's what it feels like.
But I have a working theory that there's nothing to feel bad about- and here's why.
1. You've Basically Already Seen It Before
If you feel like the attraction in question is similar to what you've seen before, then there's no guilt in skipping it. Imagine what new things you could experience and fall in love with during that time saved. A couple years back my best friend and I packed a tiny backpack of clothes and flew over to Thailand. We spent three weeks drinking bubble tea, giggling in the backs of tuk tuks, getting our shoulders sunburned, and visiting every. single. temple. out there. We were obsessed. Dazzled. Completely in awe.
For all two weeks.
And then we became exhausted.
But feeling like we had to eat up every opportunity, we decided to do a day trip to a place right outside of Bangkok called Ayutthaya, an ancient capital that had a bevvy of equally ancient palaces and ruins. Fast forward to us sitting in the back of our cab, taking pictures of the history-book-like temples from the backseat, smiling sheepishly when our tour guide suggested we, um, get out of the car and actually explore. But we legitimately didn't want to. We didn't even want to take pictures. We just went there because we thought we had to. But we could have done without it and, instead, spent an afternoon eating yellow curry and watching Burlesque in our favorite cafe. Don't force yourself to do things because it's "the thing to do." If you're not going to enjoy it, then what's the point?
2. You're Not Interested In The History Of It
When trying to decide if I should go to a certain spot I'm sort of indifferent about, I ask myself this: Am I going to print this out and put it on my wall? If the spot isn't worth remembering, then I skip it.
So ask yourself the same question: Are you going to remember visiting that one castle or poking through those couple of ruins? If the answer is no, then why do it? If you're not interested in the history of a place, then no matter how pretty it is, it'll just look like a pile of bricks to you. You'll just snap a picture and go. And where's the romance in that?
For example, when I was in Scotland I'd do quick reads on the castles I'd be pulling up to and then, being a complete nerd, I'd imagine I was a visiting queen and that the whole court was waiting to greet me at the gates. It was super fun- I walked through those tight stairwells and peeked through archers' windows pretending that those rooms were home. Which is a completely different feeling than breezing through and taking a few strategic Instagram shots, wouldn't you say? If you're not interested in the history of a certain spot, then don't feel guilty skipping it. It won't speak to you, anyway.
3. You'd Rather Act Like a Local Instead
I had this moment in Dublin where all I wanted to do was go and read in pubs. That's it. There were beautiful churches to poke around through, castle courtyards to dream in, live music to see- but all I wanted to do was find all the places James Joyce's butt sat in and then put my butt there too. Does it sound like a waste of a couple of days abroad? It might, but I don't think I'll ever forget how cozy I felt sitting in a plump leather chair, enjoying a whiskey on ice at one o'clock in the afternoon, while listening to a group of old men with tweed blazers talk like proud mother hens about their grandkids at the table next to me. Downtime can be memorable, too.
4. There Are Way More Interesting Things To See!
If you feel like there are more interesting things to see on your trip then the big tourist spots, then by all means, skip 'em. The first time I was in London I went with my cousin who was a total strap-on-the-fanny-pack type of tourist. She made me shlep from Westminster to Bankside, filling my camera up with Big Ben's big face, staring up at abbeys from locked gate entrances, and marching an unholy amount of blocks to go walk across bridges that took three minutes to cross. Was it all lovely? Of course. Was that the London I wanted to see? Well, no.
I wanted to go grab a cheep draft with the punks over in Camden Town, taking in the atmosphere as I tried to imagine what everyone would look like in the '60s in their tartan and safety pins. I wanted to grab a beer at the pub below Shakespeare's old flat, pretending that the unappreciated genius was writing sonnets about a girl with my eyes. I wanted to stroll through Notting Hill while it drizzled and take the Underground all the way across town just to try the best fish and chips. I would much rather have done all of that and sheepishly admit I never saw Big Ben once if someone asked.
And I wouldn't feel a touch guilty about it because in the end, it's my trip. Not Lonely Planet's. So skip what you want and don't think twice about it.