Throughout nearly this entire adventure, I’ve been wrestling with my status as a “tourist” or “traveler”. It bothers me because I have a visceral feeling of disgust when I see a group of tourists or overhear an American accent in a foreign country. That clueless stare of the lost tourist and the oblivious halting in the middle of a walkway or roadway to gawk and photograph conjure a physiological anger within me. It leads me to believe that I am superior and that my method of travel is just plain better than all of these ignorant tourists cloistered away in their hotels.
And now, I write this from the cafe of my hotel as I wait for my prebooked airport shuttle.
This is not the first of my logical contradictions. I’ve often scoffed at the relatively small number of Americans who have a passport, my comments triggered by the witnessing of one of those Americans who actually use their travel documents. I might have laughed at them for some ignorant remark I overheard, yet failed to recognize that their mere presence in a foreign country is a giant leap toward remedying that ignorance. With a train of thought so riddled with logical errors, how can I expect my grander views on the subject of tourism to be any less faulty?
Why exactly it bothers me so much that nearly all the guests of this hotel are American is a subject I ought to explore on the flight back to the US, but one thing is becoming abundantly clear: my prejudice against tourists is nothing more than self-righteousness.
There are good and bad tourists. There are better and worse ways to travel, and when I have a proper keyboard to detail what I believe to be the best way to travel to ensure maximum personal growth, I will expand on that. But the mere act of going abroad is, at the very least, a step in the right direction. Those who choose to partake – which I hope is everyone – need to approach it in a responsible manner, though. Cities like Reykjavik are changing significantly and rapidly because of the influx of tourism. This is a sign of economic growth (i.e. rises in the incomes of local Icelanders), but it can also lead to a feeling of unfamiliarity for people in their hometown and (especially here in the North Atlantic) damage to the natural environment. Even I, the sustainability obsessed ideologue that I am, have an impact when I travel. The best I can do is try to lessen that impact and make it positive.