“You choose, you’re the tourist”
These words were considerately said to me when discussing potential destinations for hiking. Yet instead of leaving me feeling inspired and excited to choose exactly where I wanted to go these simple words really struck a chord with me and played on my mind a lot as I travelled over the summer break.
Firstly, for someone as indecisive as I am the phrase ‘you choose’ instantly strikes fear in my heart. But honestly it was being labelled as a ‘tourist’ that really bothered me and it took me a while to figure out why. Am I a tourist in New Zealand? In all my time here so far I had never really considered it.
I guess the answer is essentially yes. I am not from New Zealand and have recently spent my time travelling around the country with the sole intention to see various places and things that other people are also travelling to see. I hired a car and drove from town to town, down the Great Coast Road, through a few National Parks and, yes, I did stop at the places along these roads labelled with brown tourist information signs.
But the label (for want of a better word) doesn’t quite feel right. Is it because I think that there are negative connotations to the word ‘tourist’? It conjures images in my head of just being the next person in a queue of hundreds of thousands of people waiting to take a picture of the exact same view to share on Instagram or Facebook. And you can probably find better pictures online or on a postcard.
Some of my photos I look back on and ask myself whether I took a photo because I wanted to record something beautiful or meaningful to me, or just for the sake of taking one whilst in that particular place. Was I taking photos simply because that is the way you are expected to behave in ‘tourist’ locations? If I found myself doing this I would purposefully put my camera away to make sure that I was truly experiencing and taking in what I was doing and where I was instead of simply living through the lens.
Evidently, part of my problem with it was not wanting to fall into the trap of tourist behaviours and mindlessly move from place to place, attraction to attraction and not really experience being in New Zealand.
Another thing that I considered is that I have always viewed my primary purpose in New Zealand as being a student (even my visa says so!) and experiencing studying and living in another country and not just visiting. I had been living in Dunedin for almost 6 months before I even began my summer travels and I didn’t really feel like just a visitor anymore. Although I take the opportunity to leave Dunedin during semester for tramping or visiting new places, primarily I spend my time in Dunedin experiencing the highs and lows, the busyness and the occasional mundanities of student life just the same as other students whether that is here or in Durham. Living as a student and living as a tourist (even a long term one like many backpackers here) can be quite different and whilst I was travelling I really felt that shift in the way I was experiencing places. I’m never going to know Hokitika or Christchurch, for example, in the same way that I know Dunedin because I don’t live there.
After almost a whole summer of considering this in the back of my mind, far too long spent mulling over an almost trivial sentence, I have decided that I can be both a tourist and a student in New Zealand and neither of these is a bad thing. Dunedin is my New Zealand home and I feel as though I know the city too well to be a tourist here. When I visit new places I will embrace my tourist nature but just be mindful of myself and my behaviours.
Is this something that any of you who have lived abroad ever feel?