Accepting your role as a tourist

Quoted On Placeđź“Ť by Alicia Kennedy (From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy)

Place and travel are confused when the pursuit is an impossible immersion in an ever-shifting idea of “authenticity.”

AirBnB and the idea that a tourist can have a local experience interrupt the significance and possibility of people to talk about and control their surroundings or define their cuisines.

The displacement of local people leads to the displacement of local culture and knowledge—and then what is left? A facsimile of what was desired in the first place: the all-important and ever out of reach “authenticity.”

Indeed, to go back to Zatarain’s point, to dismiss the tourist experience often means changing precisely what is a local experience.

This is the consistent problem of tourism: While sold as a way to strengthen the economy, it doesn’t actually support local people having the same opportunities and leisure time as the tourists.

Referencing Ana Karina Zatarain’s Texas Monthly piece “Why You Should See Mexico City As a Tourist.”

Above all, I noticed, many searched for an “authentic” experience, turning up their noses at places packed with “tourists,” a term almost vilified in the past decade or so by start-ups offering the possibility of living “like a local” wherever you go.

That’s the value, to me, in not attempting to mimic the “authentic” experience of a local but instead embracing your genuine condition as a visitor; in chipping away at the surface knowing that’s all that is really within your reach. Were you to come to Mexico City, I would tell you to explore the obviously grand but also to wander into the unknown and unlauded—the anonymous restaurant, for instance, where a mediocre meal might allow you to turn your focus on your surroundings and become conspicuous to yourself. What else do we travel for but to be able to observe ourselves in a new light?


See also: Travel as a capitalist, colonial dream of freedom

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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