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The importance of being a tourist

When I travel, I usually have a bucket list of things I want to see, events I want to participate in, and places in the area where I would like to go. But the one thing that I have never added: letting myself be a tourist.

This may seem strange. On the one hand, traveling makes me a tourist by definition. On the other, I don’t want to stand out from the local crowd. Never has this dichotomy been more prevalent than this semester in Washington, D.C. I work on the National Mall, I don’t stand on the left on the escalators, and have the Metro train map memorized. But by becoming local, it’s easy to lose sight of the things that make this place so special: currently, the most prominent is the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

For weeks, I have been hearing nothing but the hype surrounding the cherry blossoms blooms along the D.C. Tidal Basin (for reference, this is the body of water near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial). For weeks, I have been dreading the influx of schools groups and tourists that flock to the area at this time every year.

It occurred to me that I was so wrapped up in the annoyances of large crowds and extensive cherry blossom updates, I hadn’t let myself even consider being one of the tourists and was looking forward to the end of the blossom mania. I was determined to be bitter. Until I walked around the Tidal Basin on a sunny afternoon and experienced the trees for myself. Though they won’t be in peak bloom until next week, a few flowers were blossoming — and they were beautiful.

I allowed myself to be fully present in the area and in the moment, truly taking in the sights surrounding me, and reminding myself that I am incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to live, work, and play here for four months. I wasn’t doing anyone any good by being negative about the cherry blossoms. Things are popular for a reason, and if they make you happy, then who’s to say that it has less value than anything else?

But you don’t have to travel across the country or around the world to experience once-in-a-lifetime adventures. Let yourself be a tourist right where you are and take full advantage of everything surrounding you–from visiting a local coffee shop to attending a popular festival. The unexpected can happen anywhere, and it is often the unexpected that makes the best memories.

And yes, next week I plan to wake up early to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

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