Why I’m Okay Being a Tourist as Opposed to a Traveler (Sometimes.)

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I was so excited for our honeymoon.  A trip to a beautiful beach!  In a beautiful hotel!  With safe water!  And no kids!

I love them more than the world itself, but we seriously needed some “us” time.  To do things like sleep 8 hours straight.  And to go a day without wiping a butt is something I hadn’t done since before we had any children.

And then the day got closer.  I started thinking, “Why are we going to Mexico?  Isn’t Mexico dangerous?  Aren’t most of the places with beautiful beaches dangerous?  Why do we need to see a beautiful beach? What if we get murdered?  My kids are going to be orphans because I needed to see a beautiful beach.  I’m the worst mother ever!  I’m so glad we got that ‘cancel for any reason’ clause added into our travel insurance…”

Then I talked to the then fiance.  He said I was being crazy and paranoid.  And that he needed me to not be that way.  Because I’m the traveler and he was going to freak out if I did.   So I told him I would get my game together.

And then wrote secret “I love you forever and I’m so sorry we decided to go on this stupid honeymoon” letters to my kids behind his back.  I hid them, told my sibling about them, and told where they were in the event that we did, in fact, die.

We made it back alive and well.  Obviously.

I’ve never been afraid to travel.  I’ve loved it, embraced it, jumped in with both feet.  Every. Single. Time.  Except this time.  Motherhood gives birth to new fears that you never thought could exist before.  (I’m totally fine traveling when my kids are with me, by the way.)

And we had an amazing time.  I’m so glad we went and did and saw everything that we did.

But I’d be kidding you if I said we acted as “travelers.”  We didn’t live as the locals did.  We didn’t aspire to be amateur anthropologists.  We didn’t ask for the name of the best kept secret restaurant in town.  Because we wanted to stay safe.  Maybe that’s paranoid of me.  But I don’t think so.

Despite our best efforts, we did have one scary moment.  We went into town to do some souvenir shopping.  Or tried to.  Our cab driver didn’t speak English, and the husband’s high school Spanish got left back in high school.  We made a turn I wasn’t expecting, and all of a sudden garbage started lining the streets.  Houses started looking like tin shacks.  We looked at each other.

“Do you think we should ask him to just take us back to the hotel?”  my husband, the father of those beautiful children, asked me.

“Maybe he’s just taking a short cut.”

A couple more turns and we had arrived.  “Here,” he said.  “Tulum shopping.”  The neighborhood had only gotten slightly better.  This wasn’t the Tulum shopping we were looking for.  We were the only non-Mexicans around in a huge tourist town.  We looked at each other uneasily, and got out of the cab.

“What do you want to do?”

“We shouldn’t have gotten out of the cab.  We’ve got to find another one.”

I really believe that if there hadn’t been such a language barrier, it wouldn’t have been nearly as scary.  It’s not like neither of us has ever seen a rough neighborhood.  But walking by what appeared to be a prostitute and two thugs before contemplating how the hell we were going to ask anyone where to get a taxi in this neighborhood without speaking their language or getting robbed or worse was easily one of the most internally panicked moments of my life.

The husband darted into the street.  I had no idea what he was doing.  And then he was standing in front of a taxi.  We climbed in and got the heck out of there.

We always tip well, but we tipped like mad after that.  We also restrained our bargaining when we finally did find those souvenirs to bring home. We wanted to get at least one family out of those shacks.  And not for the glory of it or the guilt.  But because when you see something like that, you just know it has to be changed.  By whatever means possible.  We were pretending our tips would help, because we knew no other way to fix it.

I’m pretty sure we weren’t being paranoid about this.  When we went on our tour, our van had to stop at an ATM on the way back. My Spanish is awful, but my comprehension is slightly better than my expressive.  The driver and our guide had a quick exchange.  The driver pointed to the entrance to the neighborhood we had been in before while they were talking about where to stop to get money out.  The guide shook his head and he said, “No, not with the tourists.”  And  then we stopped at another one in a much safer part of town.

I’ll still label myself a traveler when I go places where I feel safe talking to people.  But if I’m going to a tropical, though in places dangerous, locale to admire a beautiful beach, I’m 100% okay with not leaving the “resort” and being a tourist.

And making it home alive to those amazing children.  (You didn’t think I would bring it back up to that level again, did you?)

21 thoughts on “Why I’m Okay Being a Tourist as Opposed to a Traveler (Sometimes.)

  1. Suburban Finance

    I think what you experienced is pretty normal. I think I’d be scared myself too if I were in an unfamiliar place and I couldn’t speak local language. Also, I don’t mind being a real tourist sometimes. I think when we go somewhere else it doesn’t mean we always have to immerse ourselves in the local culture — staying inside the resort just enjoying the your vacation is definitely fine!

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I think age might have something to do with it, too. It’s hard for me to separate as I had kids relatively young.

  2. daisyprairieecothrifter

    I have never thought of Mexico as a dangerous place; it’s so touristy in most places that I can’t imagine anything happening there. But besides that, I think as long as you have a good time, relax, and learn something new (which I think you do no matter what when you are somewhere new), it doesn’t matter whether you are a tourist or a traveller.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      The resort areas can be misleading. We found out when we got back there were travel advisories for almost every state except QR a few days into our trip. Major mob problems.

  3. Daniel

    I think the language barrier is the scariest part when traveling. By staying in tourist areas, I’ve had a much easier time finding people who speak English. That said, I always want to be pushing myself a little beyond my comfort zone to get out and explore the “real” culture of an area, at least a little. Of course, I don’t have children yet!

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      It depends where I am visiting for sure. Normally the culture is something I like to see!

  4. Andrew@livingrichcheaply

    My wife mentioned that her fears are enhanced after motherhood so there’s probably something to that. I’ve been to some shady parts of Mexico and Central America…before kids though. You do feel a bit uneasy because as a tourist or traveler you are a bit of a target. I also lived in Mexico in a Rotary exchange program and it was a great experience. I lived with host families and of course they were familiar with what areas are safe and I “lived” like a local. Plus my Spanish definitely was improved living there.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I can only imagine! Full immersion is the way to go when learning a language. I considered going to Middlebury for college for that reason. Thanks to your wife for sharing my fears!

  5. donebyforty

    It’s different with kids, I’m sure. You have that responsibility, no matter where you go or what the circumstance. I think you made the wise choice.

    So glad you were able to enjoy the trip and make it back safe, too.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      It does follow you. It’s heavy stuff. And thanks! Aside from this one foray, everything was wonderful!

  6. thebudgetsandthebees

    There’s no shame in being a “tourist” – especially if you’re only there for a short period. It sounds like you had a great time anyway!

  7. Mel

    “And then wrote secret “I love you forever and I’m so sorry we decided to go on this stupid honeymoon” letters to my kids behind his back. I hid them, told my sibling about them, and told where they were in the event that we did, in fact, die.”
    OMG. I couldn’t stop laughing at this. I feel CERTAIN my mother did this every time my dad dragged her off somewhere. I’m going to ask now.

    You should always trust your instincts when traveling. I’d definitely consider myself a traveler after years of wandering into the unknown in ports all over the world, but I will never forget the day I was in Guatemala for the first time and decided I was going to go explore port even though no one could go with me. I only had enough money for the taxi there and back, but I just wanted to see what it was like. I got in the taxi and asked to go to town and the driver looked at me like I was crazy. He dropped me off at a town about a 20 minute drive from the ship (so no chance of just walking back) and immediately every single spider-sense started tingling. I went to get back in the taxi, but he was already gone. It was broad daylight, a nice day, and I immediately sat down in the city square, with my back to the wall and just waited till it came back in an hour. About 40 minutes into my wait, the 65 year old, male, ship band leader turned up and was like “what on earth are you doing here alone?” and sat with me till the taxi came. I am pretty sure a small child legit tried to sell me to a man who walked by… my Spanish isn’t great, but it’s not non-existent. I have never been so freaked out somewhere.

    Lesson learned – when you’re told by everyone not to go into a port alone, especially if you’re a girl, listen to them.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Oh, my gosh, I’m so glad you didn’t end up being a victim of human trafficking. Next time, let’s make a pact to ask the cabbie to just turn around on the spot!

  8. MakintheBacon

    My most recent trip to Greece was a little bit more touristy than travel-like, which I was okay with. The trip before that to Peru and that was hard core traveler. I think it’s ok to be touristy here and there (I’ve done the resort thing twice and decided it’s not my cup of tea), but I also think that one should really experience travelling at least once in their year.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Well, considering we hadn’t gone on vacation in 2 years we failed that one! Lol. I think if you can make room in your budget it’s a great way to grow your perspective. Peru and Greece sound amazing! I so want to see the Nazca lines. (But there I go getting all touristy again… dang it…)


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