Embracing my Inner Tourist

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 I’m not a very good tourist. (Which, for a full-time traveler, is quite something). My inner tourist is non-existent.

Instead, I tend to lurk in cafes and wander the streets, trying hard to blend in and discover “the real _________ (insert your destination here)”.

I don’t like to brandish my camera. The very act of having a camera labels me as a tourist. Which, I don’t like. (It also means most of my pictures suck).

I don’t generally stay in hotels. As a free accommodation guru of sorts, I usually stay locally, and longer-term. Nothing against hotels; I just can’t generally afford to stay in them year-round.

I don’t take tours. I usually stay somewhere long enough to meet local friends who can give me their own informal tour. Oh yeah, and taking a tour most definitely means I’m a tourist.

This post was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

What’s wrong with being a Tourist?

Nothing’s wrong with being a tourist. (It’s not you, tourism; it’s me).

In some ways, my lifestyle of slow travel (initially sustained with a paltry income, which of course prevented too many extravagances) negated the need for tours, or hotels. (And I only used my camera when I thought I wasn’t being watched).

But I can’t deny that many of the “touristy things” I’ve done have been some of the more memorable experiences I’ve had.

…and more.

These were normal tours, that normal tourists do. And I loved them. (Even though I don’t like being a tourist. Go figure).

As much as I might have a hang-up about being labeled a tourist, I also have hang-ups about the whole “off the beaten path” cliché. I wrote a (dare I say) poignant article about it a few years ago, where I arrived at the conclusion that things are usually touristy for a good reason.

Okay, Tourism is cool. So?

So. I’m about to take a trip through Europe. And it’s time to embrace my inner tourist. I want to do as travelers the world round do, and just travel. I don’t want to worry about financially finessing every aspect to the nth degree, and I’m moving too quickly to organically tap into the local culture with my normal lurking style.

Instead, I’m gonna be a tourist.

For three weeks, I’m participating in the Club Carlson Global Travelers program; I’ll be whisked through eight countries in whirlwind fashion, staying at Club Carlson’s family of hotels along the way. Because of the pace of the trip (and relatively short notice), I can’t do much research. I’ll be short on time, and I want to get the most out of each city I visit. Thus, I’ll thrive on tourist culture.

Here are my stops on the trip:

  • London
  • Glasgow
  • Amsterdam
  • Oslo
  • Copenhagen
  • Berlin
  • Kiev
  • Corsica

Embracing my Inner Tourist

Thus, I am embracing my inner tourist. I’ll shed my try-to-blend-in disguise (but I won’t go so far as to plaster my bags with Canadian flags just yet). I’ll take that awesome picture even if I’m being watched. I’ll revel in hotel amenities and comforts (normal things like temperature and noise control are luxuries to me now after living on a small Caribbean island). I’ll enjoy tours that will maximize my time and give me insight.

I will proudly wield my camera.

I AM a Tourist! Hear me roar.

Wait, There’s More: Learn How to Earn

Club Carlson has a large rewards program covering worldwide hotels of a few different swish brands. I’ve never really taken advantage of hotel rewards programs, and given my propensity for frequent flyer miles and flying in style for less, I think I’ve been amiss.

If you like to travel, and you also like hacking the finer things in life, applied use of hotel rewards programs can mean free bookings, room upgrades, and other perks (depending on your status).

Thus, throughout the trip I’m going to apply my frequent flyer mile sleuthing capabilities to the Club Carlson program and provide tips along the way for how you can get ahead with hotel rewards points.

Follow Along

As part of the trip, I have a chance to win 1 million Club Carlson points – to give to you! Two other bloggers are simultaneously doing similar trips (one through the Americas; the other through Asia). My winning these points is dependent on your participation; sharing my Facebook and Twitter posts, supporting me on Club Carlson’s Facebook page (which you can do daily during the trip), and watching my trip videos.


So if you want to follow along this fast and furious trip, stay tuned to my site between September 25th and October 15th (or so) and I’ll keep you in the loop with my European adventures, hotel rewards points strategies and tips, and one-click access to show your support and help me win those points.

This post was written as part of the Club Carlson Global Traveler program; a three-week, eight-country adventure I’m taking through Europe, paid for and compensated by Club Carlson. During the trip, I’m exploring the world of hotel points and how to take advantage of free accommodations and upgrades with various strategies.

In all cases, opinions expressed herein are my own; don’t worry – I haven’t sold my soul. 

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30 thoughts on “Embracing my Inner Tourist”

  1. How exciting to play tourist, sometimes if an itinerary is great I wouldn’t mind doing something easy like just going…detailed traveling and planning is a lot of work and when a tour is great I would do it myself. Looking forward to your posts Nora!

  2. Hi Nora,

    I so hear you! Fun post here 😉

    I spoke to a travel blogger named Lash earlier today at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu. We were discussing a similar point. Not being into the touristy stuff as long term travelers we sometimes shudder at seeing tourists do touristy stuff.

    Then I turn around and just have to snap a photo of an off the wall scene – even if I feel embarrassed doing so at times – because sharing these images inspires more people to travel, support developing economies and live their dreams. Fine balance here but like you said, tourism is popular for a reason.

    We chatted about how being completely immersed in a culture can be stressful yet of course, going overboard on the tourist side of things can cause you to miss a trip, even while you take the trip 😉 Again, that sense of balance is key.

    Thanks for the great share Nora and all the best with your contest!


    • Thanks, Ryan! Indeed, there’s always a balance. A similar thing can be said about using our cameras too much; seeing the world through a lens can be a very different experience from seeing it with the wider perspective (literally & figuratively) of our eyes.

  3. Glad you’re getting with being a tourist. It’s kind of unavoidable – we’re tourists by default when we’re outside of our homelands. I know some people argue there’s a difference between a tourist and a traveler, but I think it’s all pretty bogus! 🙂 I think most of us prefer not to think of ourselves as tourists, but when it comes down to it, it’s what we are when we travel!

    • Hey Kellie –
      “We’re tourists by default when we’re outside of our homelands” – you said it! The “traveler” vs “tourist” debate isn’t one I particularly fancy. We are all tourists of one sort or another…it’s just a matter of degree.

  4. A great bunch of cities on your itinerary. I really enjoyed Glasgow and Berlin (the two I’ve been a tourist in) and also enjoyed London and Copenhagen (the two I’ve visited thanks to business travel).

    • Hi Philip – I’m very excited. This trip will take me to six new cities (I’ve only been to London and Kiev before) in three new countries for me (Netherlands, Norway, Denmark).

  5. OK, I admit it, I am a Tourist with a capital “T”. I take guided tours, I flash my camera at every opportunity, I take off as often as I can and can’t wait for the next adventure. I even wear that cringe worthy accessory – a fanny pack. Am I missing out? Maybe. But I am having the time of my life. I hope you discover that there are some pluses in being a tourist along the way. Enjoy your trip!

    • Joanne – You’re not missing out at all! I would argue that by trying to not be a tourist, I’ve been the one missing out!

    • I’ve never been to Amsterdam….and I don’t think I know anybody who doesn’t love it. So I’m guessing I’ll like it too!

  6. I hear you on the pictures thing! I do take a lot of pictures (very interested in photography) but I’m such a crappy tourist. Half the time I never make it to the places I’m supposed to go. I also normally end up just wandering around town and sitting in random cafes. Anyways, I never take pictures of myself because I feel like such a geek posing in front of everything I see. I have friends that embrace their inner tourist-geek and they always have the BEST photos! I’m leaving in a few weeks for a few months around SE Asia and I’ve promised myself I’m going to see more of the sights and take at least a few photos of myself. Good luck with your new resolutions!

    • Kate – Oh my yes: posing for my own touristy pictures. I guess I’d better prepare for that too! Bring it on… 🙂

  7. Hmm…if you’re going to the dark side, maybe other people should too. Maybe the culture-phobic English speaking backpackers who only want to get drunk all day and hit on English-speaking ladies had it right all along. I’ll go for it and see what happens. Wish me luck!

    • Ha ha! Hmm…the dark side, huh? I think there are shades of grey between culture-phobic backpackers and full-on tourists. I’ve never been in either of those camps myself.

    • Hi Selena – Thanks! I’m hoping to do a quick video for each stop in addition to my posts; let’s see how it works out. Stay tuned!

    • Why not? I’m an international freelance writer; this is my job. If anything, you might argue that I’m a business traveler on this trip. Maybe that prevents me from being a proper tourist (though I don’t think so); I certainly don’t believe having my travel compensated negates my ability to be a tourist. I’m just not on vacation.

  8. Hi Nora, great to be on this project with you. What a great itinerary you have as well. You are visiting some of my favourite cities in Europe, and I haven’t been to Kiev or Corsica so I’m looking forward to you being a tourist there and reporting back 🙂

    • Hey James – I’m so thrilled to be in such great company on this competition.
      I passed through Kiev on the Ultimate Train Challenge a few years ago, but it didn’t really speak to me (I much preferred Lviv) so I’m happy to return and give it another chance.
      And I haven’t been to Corsica either…..but I’m afraid after seeing pictures of the resort, that I won’t want to go out at all! (Does that make me a bad tourist????)

    • Hey Sherry – This trip will take me to 6 cities that are new to me, and 3 new countries entirely – like Oslo/Norway! Too bad I’ll be too early for northern lights, but too late for warm weather. Packing my woolies!

  9. Am eager to read about your travels through Europe. Have lived in France as a small child (more than 40 years ago) and have travelled to many cities in Europe then as well as later on business. Am planning a trip to Europe in 2014 or 15 with family. You have my full support on your exciting journey. All the best.

  10. Hi Nora!

    It’s so funny to see you writing what I think! Do you know that when I went to Grenada last year (both times, mind you), I lugged my Nikon there and did not take pictures with it? Yup, that valuable space in my travel bag (2 six-week stints) and I refused to be viewed as a tourist. I wanted to truly live like a local and wanted the locals to view me as one of them. And to think how beautiful of an island it is. I then proceeded to do the SAME thing in Vieques, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica. I mean, what is my problem? LoL…at least I know I’m not alone! Have a blast with this and who knows, maybe our paths will cross somewhere. Can’t believe we didn’t get it to work in Grenada. But alas, we will continue on our stubborn ways…

    • Hi Kristine,
      The irony in a place like Grenada, is that if you are white, you’re automatically labeled as a tourist! May as well whip out the camera! And yet, I don’t bring mine out either when I’m there. I view it as “damage control”. Ha ha!

      Interestingly, yesterday in Oslo, BECAUSE I had my camera, I ended up meeting a local Norwegian who invited me into her home. So by being a tourist, I got off the tourist path! Who knew.

      It’s so strange how difficult it can be to coordinate meetings with fellow travelers. I’ve missed meeting with a few people I’ve been in the same country/city with. Maybe it’s me…. 🙂

      Any plans to return to Grenada?

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