At some time in our life, each and every one of us is a tourist. But, what exactly does that mean? Is there some minimum distance you must travel before you cross the line of demarcation between being a local, or a native, and become a tourist? Does being a tourist require an overnight stay, or is a day-tripper classified as a tourist? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a tourist is “a person who travels to a place for pleasure,” but Dictionary.com defines a tourist as “a person who visits a location other than his own home.” Whichever definition you choose, I’m sure that if you think about it, there have been numerous times in your life when you have met the requirements to be a tourist, but for some reason, we never want to be categorized as such. There seems to be a certain negative connotation to the word, and we all want to think of ourselves as better than the average tourist. The reality, however, is that when we travel, we are out of our comfort zone, will likely make a few mistakes along the way, and will rely on the kindness of strangers to help us out.
My home is in Terlingua, a gateway community to Big Bend National Park, and we all know that tourism enables us to live here – in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I can understand why people want to come here. I’ve worked as a professional guide and have always felt privileged to share my love for and knowledge of the area with visitors, to show them the hidden and special places. There isn’t a job in this town that would exist without tourism, but at times it can be a love‑hate relationship. During peak times such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, and even holiday weekends, we can tend to get overloaded. Think of it as having house guests who have slightly outstayed their welcome. You may love them very much, but my God, are they never going to leave? Some visitors to the area may come from Europe or Asia, and some may simply drive down from Alpine, the closest town at 80 miles away. They buy up the gas and groceries, create long lines at our local coffee shop, make sudden stops to take photos of vistas that we take for granted, and it’s a guarantee that some of them will get lost and drive down my driveway to pay a surprise visit to my house – usually at a less than opportune time. But you know what? They’re all our guests – regardless of whether they flew thousands of miles to get here and are staying for a week or simply drove down for the day, and they are the reason we get to live here. They are our guests and we are their hosts, but when we travel, we become someone else’s guest.
In a few weeks, I will be traveling to Guanajuato, Mexico. I will be a tourist, and I’m sure the residents of that city have their fair share of tourist tales. Hopefully, I don’t contribute to those tales, but it’s possible that I could get lost and accidentally wander into someone’s private courtyard or commit some social faux pas due to my limited Spanish. It’s happened before. I will be just like any other tourist – no better or worse, a visitor to a place that isn’t my home, a little out of my element, and dependent upon the locals to help me out. So what’s the lesson here? Maybe it’s that when we are a tourist, we should strive to be the best guest possible, and when we’re a local, we should be the best host our guests have ever had, and realize that the category we fall into simply depends on where we are at the time.