When it comes to travel, I can be labelled as many things. An adventurer. A backpacker. A foreigner. Poor. I don’t wear running shoes with bright white socks and khaki capris nor do stay in high-priced hotels and take a tour bus everywhere. I arrive with a bank account that is embarrassing, unlike my wardrobe which is chic (nuh uh). I wear the same dirty clothes every three days since that’s when the outfits I crammed into my carry-on backpack have to be re-worn (I do have some standards). I occasionally will throw a few dryer sheets into my bag so it acts like a makeshift washing machine as I trudge along the cobblestones shaking my bag with my steps (I didn’t say those standards were high). I prefer to walk since it’s free and more enjoyable.
I have nothing against tourists. The ones that take a guided tour to all the major landmarks bypassing what I think is the real feel of being in a new city. Did you see how I slid that negative comment in there like a pickle in a sandwich? I understand it’s easier and more time efficient to book a laid-out itinerary but that’s not how I roll. I have once gone on one of those hop-on, hop-off red buses. Not my choice but my mother’s. Sure it was breezy. Sure we saw everything in one day since that was all the time we had. Sure my headphones that worked only occasionally on the left side gave somewhat interesting info that didn’t quite sync up with what I was seeing BUT do you know how much they cost? They can be 25 euros or more! Nuh Uh. Nope. Despite what you want to call me, one thing holds true. As sure as I will get a sweat stash in 35-degree weather, tourist traps exist.
I am happily exploring a wonderful new city and I get a rumbly in my tumbly. Since I can’t live solely on honey, I scan the street I’m on, hoping for a supermarket or some street food. One of two things will happen; either a waiter temps me over to their “fine establishment” like scrumptious bait hanging in a bear trap or I am so desperate to eat that I enter a non-packed restaurant on my own accord due to my stomach yelling, “feed me you fool!” Normally my rule of thumb is if the place is packed and I can hear them speaking what I guess to be their native tongue, I will eat there. But oh how many times have forgone my own advice?!
I sit and immediately scan the unreadable menu. I question whether my English has really gotten that bad before I realize it’s written in another language. My eyes veer over to the price column in a different currency. Is 300 Hungarian Forint a bargain or will I be selling my unborn child for some fries? At this point, the whale sounds emanating from my belly are giving people false hope that we are near an ocean so I don’t care. But then the food arrives and I care. I care a great deal.
The main course is the barely edible overcooked chicken penne swamped in a revolting sauce with a side of out-of-season canned vegetables, despite the fact that I can see the fresh veggie garden out back. For dessert, I dine on a massive bill so exorbitant I could have purchased an entire chicken farm for the price of that half wing I just consumed. A dine-and-dash seems tempting but I enjoy running about 0%. Also, I have seen the movie 300 so who knows what the hell the Greeks would do.
With what little money I have, I have chosen to visit your town. So why burn me so bad, your hot sun has already burned me enough. It tarnished my view of not only your people but your town and your country. I will forever remember that terrible meal, horrible service and outrageous bill because that is just the type of person I am.
You saw me as dollar signs and labelled me as a tourist. When in fact I have negative dollar signs and prefer to be labelled as a local. Why serve me expensive slop when you could have sold me a good meal for a good price. I would have been back there every day and I would have told other people to go there too because I have a big mouth and am really loud.
Despite all this, I will be back to your country since to label something after experiencing it once is not the way of a traveller.*
*This is highly accurate since once my friend ate something at a restaurant in Indonesia which caused him to vomit the entire night. Yet, two days later, we were back at that same establishment enjoying our meals as though I hadn’t been bowing down to the porcelain god a few nights previously. We even left a (small) tip.