How to be a shameless tourist wherever you may go

Emily Denny/Staff

You’ve seen the pictures of someone standing before the reflecting pools of the Taj Mahal. You’ve seen the pictures of someone “holding up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And of course you’ve seen the photos of someone “falling” into the endless depths of the Grand Canyon. We all know the classic travel photos, and as summer approaches, these photos seems to populate your social media feeds more and more.

But as much as these photos can inspire you to travel to the world’s most famous places, they can also be a deterrent against ever going. Because regardless of whether or not you want to travel to these places, you know it’s impossible to do so without the company of thousands of other tourists. So, travelers are faced with a dilemma: Do you avoid these tourist spots, or do you join the masses in order to snap that classic travel picture?

When I traveled throughout New Zealand, I tried my best to visit places that weren’t pictured on every social media page. I sought out local advice on the best hikes and the best views that weren’t explained in the guidebooks. And I tried my best to not fall within the tourist stereotype, avoiding the places that attracted the biggest crowds.

But there was one picture that had especially caught my attention while scrolling through an Instagram travel page. It was a picture of someone standing atop Roys Peak, looking down on a panorama of mountains and crystal blue lakes. And because of this spot’s reputation as being one of the most tourist-heavy spots in all of New Zealand, I tried my best to avoid it.

But when my time in the country came to an end, I couldn’t seem to ignore my desire to see this view in real life. And I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d regret never going once I left the country for good. So despite Roys Peak’s reputation of being miserably crowded and the advice of every park ranger to avoid it, I decided to join the masses and embrace the tourist I really was.

I started the hike early in the morning, knowing the crowds would become worse as the sun rose, and fortunately, I found myself hiking alone for the majority of the time. When I reached the top, I stood before a view I had seen so many times on Instagram. But, unlike the limits of a phone screen, I stood atop Roys Peak feeling as if I was limited by nothing. As I walked along the mountain peak, New Zealand was only below me. The blue glacial lakes weaved between each snow-capped peak of Mount Aspiring National Park. The town of Wanaka sat to my right, and the Southern Alps grew brighter every minute I stood there. This view was so unlike the one I had seen on social media.

When I hiked back down the trail, I wondered why I was so ashamed to be a tourist. Maybe I hated the idea of only traveling for an Instagram photo. Or maybe I wanted to travel to places others had not. Or perhaps it was simply wanting to explore a place without crowds of people. But as I walked down the mountain, passing more and more tourists hiking up for the very same view, this shame seemed more ridiculous. I realized that spots like Roys Peak, the Grand Canyon and even the Leaning Tower of Pisa were famous for a reason. And these places attracted millions of tourists because they were so much better experienced in person rather than through a phone screen.  

When I look back on my time in New Zealand, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to visit places that aren’t pictured on every social media account. But I am also thankful that I had the opportunity to visit places like Roys Peak, even if it meant being surrounded by other tourists. Spots like this bring people together, and at the end of the day, I think that’s what traveling is really about.

So as you begin planning your next trip this summer, embrace the tourist you really are. Visit the places you’ve seen on everyone’s social media, and take advantage of the ability to see the world’s most incredible spots.

Contact Emily Denny at [email protected].