Lessons from Living in a Tourist Destination
No matter where I go, my hometown of Beach Haven, New Jersey, will always be my favorite destination. Plenty of tourists who spend their summers on our beaches feel the same way. Working in a seasonal restaurant makes me feel like an unofficial tour guide–I’m always giving directions, answering questions, and recommending places to check out. Living and working in a popular destination has taught me a few important lessons about travel.
Support local businesses
In many areas, small businesses only make their money during the few peak months of the year. When I travel somewhere new, I try to seek out unique coffee shops and cute local restaurants instead of international chains. The restaurant where I work relies on tourists, so I like to pay it forward when I travel and spend my money at small businesses. It helps communities in the long run.
Know what’s appropriate to ask the locals
My hometown was devastated by Hurricane Sandy a few years ago. I understand why tourists might be curious about the impact, but I always felt uncomfortable explaining what my family went through to complete strangers. If you know a topic might be sensitive in a given area, it’s usually best not to bring it up. However, that being said…
DO ask for local recommendations
I love letting people know my opinion on where to get the best fish tacos or pick up cute souvenirs. Wherever I go, I usually end up asking the locals about the best places to grab a cheap meal, and I’ve ended up at some delicious restaurants. This is a great way to find cool spots that you’ll never see in a guidebook.
Remember that you’re in someone’s home
I genuinely love seeing people have a great time in Beach Haven. I feel so lucky to live in a place that so many people love to visit. But while they’re relaxing and partying, I’m still working and studying, and it can difficult to drag myself out of bed for a morning shift when drunk tourists were stumbling down my street all night. Be respectful of the people who live wherever you’re going. You might be on vacation, but they’re probably working hard so that you can have a good time.
Check your complaints and hypocrisy
This is something I learnt to do. By the time Labor Day rolls around and the crowds surge in for the last time, a bad night at work can easily lead to letting loose a few complaints about the tourists. But I’ve realized that I have no right to complain. It can definitely be frustrating to deal with the traffic jams, long lines, and crowded beaches for three months, but I know that I am incredibly privileged to live where I do. I’ve met plenty of tourists who’ve told stories about the many wonderful summers they’ve spent visiting my hometown, and I know they appreciate its small town, coastal charm just as much as I do. As a frequent traveler, I’ve been on the other side plenty of times. I’ve been the clueless American struggling to read a map, figure out a bus timetable, and asking the locals a million questions about where to go and what to see. It’s important to remember that no matter where we’re from, we’re all just trying to explore this big, beautiful world.