I hate to admit it, but I have become quite antagonistic toward tourists over the past few years. I live in a small town that’s considered a tourist destination, where on any given summer weekend, it feels as though the travelers outnumber the residents. When the month of May rolls around, most of us locals batten down the hatches and stay away from the most popular places, while the outsiders invade in mass through September.
New Braunfels is home to two popular rivers where vacationers lube themselves up, squish their suited, often unattractive bottoms onto inner tubes, and imbibe themselves obnoxious while blasting the sounds of their overplayed pop-country. It’s also the site of a Schlitterbahn waterpark, a great local music scene, fun bars, and a quaint downtown area that attracts vacationers who enjoy the historic hotels, shopping in boutiques and eating German pastries on the patio outside Naeglins, the oldest bakery in Texas.
It’s also home to Gruene Historic District, where stands Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas. In addition to a variety of local musicians, Gruene Hall has hosted Country music icons such as Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks, Loretta Lynn, and George Strait. When it comes to a tourist’s imagineering of the stereotypical country western dance hall, Gruene Hall is the real deal. With it’s old west, rustic feel, hometown bartenders, cozy stage and the cowboy hatted good ol’ boys two steppin’ and twirlin’ their booted women across the wood planked dance floor, Gruene Hall never fails to impress travelers looking for a place that matches their vision of down home Texas.
As a music and dance aficionado, it is hard to stay away from Gruene Hall all summer. One night, I decided to make my way through its creaky spring doors, but had to stop and smugly roll my eyes as a group of high-heeled, short skirted millennials succeeded at making eye contact and asked me to take their picture. They stood in front of Gruene Hall’s white washed facade with the vintage metal water tower rising behind it. I thought to myself, “How touristy” with a harumph, but smiled pleasantly and made small talk while taking their picture. At least they weren’t drunk… yet.
Later, I realized how ridiculous my condescension was. Of course those girls were deliriously excited! They were getting ready to enter Gruene Hall, with the sounds of uptempo Americana music tempting them through the screened windows, seeing the line of fans waiting outside the courtyard fence, knowing that John Travolta had once danced on this very floor in the movie, “Michael”.
And that’s when it hit me!
The tourists are the ones who have it right. We should make an effort to be more like them. Not just when we’re traveling, but in our day to day lives.
When I consider the way my life has changed over the past two years, my habits have begun to resemble those of a tourist quite a bit. That’s not to say I am aimless and have taken a permanent mental vacation. On the contrary, I’ve been more purposeful in learning about this particularly interesting location of “My Life”.
After my divorce, I made it my mission to take a journey of self discovery. I treated my arrival in this new life as I would have as a tourist. I purchased guidebooks (aka “self help”) about my desired location and read countless articles about the potentially fantastic things I might find there. I figured out what areas and interests in my life I wanted to revisit to determine whether they still ignited feelings of passion. While I planned my trip, I decided to visit a few places I’d never been. I explored. I wandered. I took pictures. I talked to the “locals” and made friends I might never have met if I hadn’t tried something new. I educated myself on various philosophies and religious thoughts in order to embrace the world and understand my place in it. I journaled. I danced. I learned a new instrument. (Well, I tried!) I just decided to enjoy!
As a tourist, you have the benefit of looking at a place from the perspective of someone with a fresh point of view. You don’t take the sights for granted because you haven’t seen them a thousand times. When you look at your world through the eyes of a tourist, you are constantly looking around, scanning the horizon, absorbing everything you see and hear. You are purposeful because you have a finite amount of time to suck the marrow out of that particular experience. You are choosing to be an adventurer. You don’t know if you are ever going to come back and you don’t want to drive away with regrets!
If you happen to be the type of person who plans every detail of your travels, you might try an alternate approach while you are on your life journey. You don’t have to schedule everything hour by hour to have a successful trip. Schedule a day for spontaneity on occasion. Being an out-of-towner can give you the opportunity to honor spontaneity. Allow yourself to venture outside your comfort zone. As a visitor, there are very few expectations about who you are supposed to be, so what better opportunity to do something a little crazy, a little out of your ordinary? If you allow yourself to be spontaneous, you will surprise yourself with amazing experiences you would have otherwise completely missed!
Being a tourist gives you the opportunity to turn something that appears ordinary to the locals into something extraordinary for you. It gives you the gift of turning a moment into an unforgettable memory. Don’t wait until you have guests come over to discover and display all the wonderful sights and sounds in your world. Show them to yourself on a daily basis. When you are a tourist in your own life, you often end up with a deeper appreciation for where you live.