I love Las Vegas. I love it so much in fact that I made sure I included a visit to Las Vegas on the itinerary for my recent road trip around the Western USA back in December.
That itinerary also included visiting a good friend of mine in Los Angeles, a couple of days wandering around Santa Barbara, a drive along the California coast through Big Sur, a stop in beautiful Monterey and some days in San Francisco. It was a very nice trip, and I enjoyed every destination, but when the trip was over, the destination that stood out the most was Las Vegas.
And it had nothing to do with gambling. I did not win big. I actually barely gambled and in the four days I was in Vegas, I think I lost about $100 USD on the slot machines and never really had an urge to gamble any more than that.
So forget about gambling. What stood out the most for me this time (I had been to Las Vegas twice before) had more to do with some interesting lessons that I learned from my visit, lessons about myself and about travel, lessons that helped me understand how a person who spends most of their time traveling in the developing world, visiting countries that see very few travelers and writing about the benefits of such travel, can enjoy such a touristy city.
I realized these lessons, not during my actual stay, but in the midst of that five and a half hour, trance-like drive through the quiet ‘high desert’ from Las Vegas back to Los Angeles, when I had plenty of time to just stare straight ahead and think. And this is what I realized…
Sometimes we should visit destinations that don’t fit our normal travel style.
You might be surprised. As I mentioned in a recent post, you might actually discover that you do enjoy something or someplace you never thought you’d like. The only way to find out is to do things and travel to places that you normally wouldn’t! It really is as simple as that. (I know several other travelers who love Las Vegas even though they typically prefer locations that offer a much different experience.)
Destinations are not always what they seem.
We often think we know what to expect in certain places but unless we actually travel there for ourselves, we’ll never truly know. This is why we travel in the first place, to see the world with our own eyes. And to ignore a certain destination simply because we think it will be too touristy for us, and therefore not provide us with the kind of experience we prefer, seems to go against this core goal. As for Las Vegas, most people naturally assume that a visit to this city must revolve around gambling when that’s not exactly true. Excellent food, impressive shows (I did catch a performance of Cirque du Soleil’s “Zarkana” – very cool!) and an abundance of beautiful natural surroundings to explore could easily keep you busy for weeks. Throw in a stroll along Fremont Street in downtown Vegas, a drive through many of the neighborhoods far away from ‘The Strip’, a visit to the ‘Pinball Hall of Fame‘ and possibly catching a wedding at the famous “A Little White Wedding Chapel” (either your own or someone else’s, and no, I did not participate in this activity myself) and this city may very well prove to be much different, with much more to do, than you had assumed. And this is generally the case for just about every super-touristy destination out there in the world.
There’s no shame in visiting touristy places.
There’s a reason why touristy places are touristy. There is something to do or see that draws people in. In the case of Las Vegas, it is without a doubt quite a sight to see. There is no other city on the planet quite like it and I believe that a full day’s walk along the Las Vegas strip, while ducking in and out of the various casino properties in order to witness the bizarre, over-the-top attractions, such as light shows, musical water fountains, statues of Greek gods coming to life, polar bears made out of roses, gondoliers singing loudly as they paddle their gondolas through narrow waterways, the insane rides that hang you over the city from the 108th floor of the Stratosphere Hotel, the random singing, the random dancing, the costume-clad women on stilts, the superheroes on the street corners, the varied architecture and ridiculous themes and on and on, is well worth the experience, at least once. Again, where else can you see such craziness?
And the fact that Las Vegas is so unique makes the argument that some travelers are ‘better’ than others simply because they avoid touristy spots when traveling, seem a bit silly. What’s wrong with visiting such a unique destination? I personally don’t care where anyone goes and I’d happily travel to a touristy location such as Las Vegas or Phuket, Thailand or Playa del Carmen, Mexico myself in order to experience what they have to offer and to see why so many people flock there. Maybe I’ll like the place, maybe I won’t, but I don’t mind finding out on my own. And I certainly don’t look down on anyone else who wants to do the same, or even those who only travel to such touristy locations.
The point is, there’s no shame in a visit to Las Vegas, or any touristy location, no matter what kind of traveler you happen to be or what kind of traveler others believe you to be. Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your visit either!
It’s up to us to create a rewarding adventure.
After all, we have some control over how much we gain from our travels, regardless of where we go. Whether we travel to Cancun, Mexico or Brebu, Romania (not quite as popular as Cancun!), we can always meet and talk with local people, find new activities to try, discover new foods to eat and ultimately, have a fun, educational and rewarding travel experience. While in Las Vegas, my father drove down from Utah for a couple of days to meet with me and while he’s not a local, he spends a great deal of time there for work. As a result, he had some recommendations of things to do and places to eat that I absolutely would never have found on my own. From a tiny, and excellent, Vietnamese Pho shop far off The Strip to a restaurant that serves a delicious sesame glazed banana that is prepared at your table, from beautiful, quiet mountain locations with magical views to a few small casinos that have some very interesting history attached to them, I can say with relative certainty that 99.9%, or more, of the travelers visiting Las Vegas, don’t make it to any of these places. So even in touristy Las Vegas I did a few very non-touristy things, and I loved them all.
Call me a tourist, I don’t care.
Tourists, travelers, again, it doesn’t matter to me. Call me a tourist for liking Las Vegas, I’m perfectly okay with that. I’ve never liked the ‘tourist versus traveler’ debate and Las Vegas only makes me dislike the debate even more. The thing is, as I’m walking around Sin City, I’m interacting, whether it’s a conversation, a handshake or a simple nod, with people of all kinds, from the husband and wife wearing their “My Name is Dave” and “I’m Dave’s Wife” t-shirts who are having a genuine blast on their once-in-a-lifetime trip, to the European tourists laughing and shaking their heads at the sight of it all, to kids and adults of all ages and nationalities mesmerized by the musical water fountain in front of the Bellagio Hotel, to the party-goers living it up like never before, to the newlyweds, the families, the sightseers and everyone else in between. And there’s no way I’m going to tell any of these people that the smile on their face, that the excitement in their step, that the memories they’re creating are worthless because they are just tourists who like to visit touristy destinations.
To me, they are all interesting people, all with their own stories, all with their own reasons for coming to this city, and I myself love the energy created by such a diverse mix of travelers, or tourists, or whatever they are. Who cares? Throw in the Las Vegas natives, as well as the staff at every casino, restaurant and shop, many of whom are from countries all over the world, and the mix of people becomes even more interesting. Couple all of that with the diversity of sights and of sounds and of atmospheres that Vegas offers, however touristy, superficial or ‘American’ it all might be, and you get a destination that allows visitors to have as unique, rewarding and fun an experience as they want.
So, instead of avoiding touristy places, why not join the masses and see what those places are all about every now and then? Why not forget about tourists and travelers and just enjoy the experiences together? We’re all just human beings, we’re all just tourists, we’re all just travelers and by realizing this, we can avoid labels, both of people and of destinations, and instead, just focus on what’s most important – meeting new people and seeing the world, every corner of the world, with our own eyes.
That’s right, meeting new people and seeing the world. Thank you Las Vegas for teaching me that any destination can be a destination worth exploring, a lesson that was certainly well worth the $100 I lost at the slot machines.
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Have you visited Las Vegas? Have you visited other touristy destinations? What kind of experiences did you have? Tourist versus traveler, do you care?
Las Vegas is so interesting, the whole world in one city.
That’s what makes it so attractive. I love your point of view-
tourist or traveller, you have to experience the place to the
fullest even if it’s for the short time.
Nice photo of Treasure Island! Thank you Derek, I have discovered your site Earl and will be visiting again. I am signing up now.
It reminds me I went to ice skate there with my daughter. Great memories and I live here year ’round.
Las Vegas, Nevada
[…] I Love Las Vegas & I’m Not Ashamed (Here’s Why…) […]
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Las Vegas! I always have. I’ve been many timed and it’s different every time. You can do exactly the same thing or something totally different each time you go. It’s one of my favorite places!
I just happened to come to your page and found this post! I generally don’t like travelling to crowded places, but I agree, that sometimes they can have a lot to offer. For example I can’t imagine being near Las Vegas and not going to see Grand Canyon. However, I am more the nature than the city lover, so I don’t have much desire in LV.
Although, now I am in Texas and in few weeks I’m travelling to the west coast, before I come back to Scotland. At the beginning Las Vegas was on my planning route, mainly because it’s on the way. But after reading your post I think I should stay there more! Thanks 🙂
Loved reading this. I visited Las Vegas for the first time at the end of last year and just had to go back earlier this year. Easily one of my favourite places and I spent years avoiding Vegas assuming it wouldn’t be for me.
Read somewhere “A traveler sees what he sees.
A tourist sees what he has come to see.”
[…] Living in the Las Vegas valley means that you’re an hour or two away from some of the most breathtaking scenery in the United States. While the tourists are busy dumping their money into endless craps game in a dark casino, you’ll be enjoying the fresh, arid air while hiking Red Rock Canyon. […]
[…] as I stated in my last post, you can call me a tourist for visiting, and enjoying, Las Vegas. Well, you can also call me a tourist for stating that […]
Earl – I’ve just started reading various travel blogs, yours included, and so far this is one of the best posts I’ve read. No, make that the best. Some of the blogs I’ve checked out have definitely had that “I’m a better traveller than you” vibe that turned me off immediately. Thank you for admitting to enjoying a touristy place and appreciating that for many people, somewhere like Las Vegas really is the trip of a lifetime that they’ll enjoy remembering forever. Your paragraph about that actually brought tears to my eyes because it was so eloquent. Love your site.
Thank you for that comment Trish and I’m really happy to have you as a reader of the site. And I understand exactly what you’re talking about…I really stand by my belief that labeling people based on the way they travel absolutely goes against the core idea of travel in the first place. A person can’t be too open minded and interested in learning if they claim to be better than someone else because of the destinations or travel style they choose!
Hello! Found your interesting blog while searching for something.
I just returned from a trip to the west coast myself. We may have crossed path in Vegas; I was there a couple of days around Christmas. It was my second visit, but this time, I did not like it one bit. Yep, too touristy and took forever to get from one end to the other on the strip. Ditto for L.A. I think there are more people traveling around the world these days, and that explains why all these iconic destinations are getting so crowded.
I believe traveling has to do with one’s state of mind. I find that as I get older, having the been there done that mentality, it’s harder to get excited about destinations I’ve been to before. I’m not the type who could spend vacations in the same place year after year. Don’t get me wrong; I never get tired of visiting NYC, Banff, Miami, Boston or Cape Cod. Some day, I would love to go back again to Phuket, Istanbul, Yosemite and London, no matter how touristy they get.
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I LOVED Las Vegas! One of the best 24 hours of my life! So different and vibrant and strange and everything you say. I would visit again in a heartbeat, but I would be keen to see some of the more out of the way places, like the small casinos you refer to, or the off the main street restaurants. I hate it when people look down their nose at the ‘touristy’ sites. Though I do appreciate a ‘tourist trap’ warning about some things – like visiting Venice in July!
As someone who was born and raised in Las Vegas, I enjoyed reading this post. I am maybe down on the strip once a year, but Vegas really does have a lot to offer. Mountains in our backyard for hiking, rock climbing, camping. There are Hot Springs that are a short distance away and a great little get away. Plus, I enjoy the lack of snow in winter. I actually didn’t realize how much I loved Vegas until my most recent vacation to the always rainy Portland, OR. It was very gorgeous, but I was surprised to find that I missed the desert sunrises and sunsets. This town is very unique, and I am glad to call it home.
Hey Lo – Unique it is and it’s great to hear from those who have spent so much time there, just to confirm that there is so much more to this city than the strip.
Haha, as travelers it’s only normal to visit the touristy places AAANNNDDD the less beaten path. The touristy places are touristy for a reason… They are usually awesome, beautiful, or significant in someway. I haven’t been to Vegas, although I am from the States, and it’s on my list of definitely must-see’s. Why not!?
I live in Krabi, one of the hot spots in Thailand. I don’t care, it’s freakin beautiful here! Plus I get more of a chance to meet people from around the world when I’m not in a town that sees like 9 foreigners a month 🙂
I love las vegas been there now so many times and I can understand why you love it.
I love Las Vegas, too! Granted, I live here. I grew up here and then moved away for eight years, swearing I would never come back. And then I came back, and I fell in love with it. In addition to all the things you mentioned, the hiking is absolutely phenomenal. Red Rock, Mt. Charleston, Lake Mead, Valley of Fire. So many of my favorite places are here. And so many tourists miss all the natural beauty (though, that’s ok — more serene for me!). If you’re ever back in Vegas, I would be happy to show you around and show you lots of other things it has to offer!
Hey Earl, great post! I was just telling my friend yesterday that Vegas is a surprising destination and not to judge it before giving it a chance. It isn’t the type of place I would usually like either but I also loved it – the great food, the amazing man-made marvels, incredible pools (I am a bit obsessed with swimming pools) and the exciting buzz made my visit there a really fun experience. I would definitely visit again.
Like I said on Facebook: I think the ‘tourist vs traveler’ discussion was invented by people who think they’re better than others for not going to the Costa del Sol each year.
I took a side trip to Vegas when I visited Los Angeles two years ago.
I thought it would be a shame not to, as I was ‘in the neighborhood’.
As I only had two days there I only spent time on the Strip and Freemont Street.
Not my cup of tea, but I do plan to someday go back to explore other sides of Vegas, like the Neon Museum and the nature surrounding all those casinos.
Great post! My family makes an annual trip to Vegas in the end of October for the PBR Finals. We decided that it was a fun place to meet because my parents live in NY and my husband and I live near Orlando. (Talk about a tourist destination!) We get sick of going to upstate NY and they get sick of coming to Orlando, so we meet out there.
We aren’t gamblers either. We have a great time watching the craziness! You certainly never see a ‘homeless’ guy in Orlando holding a sign that says ‘Why Lie I Need a Beer!’ The guy had on much nicer shoes that we did… he probably drives a Benz…But we did give him money because it was silly.
Vegas is a place where you can enjoy sexy, silly, outrageous, crazy and just about any other adjective all in the same half hour time slot.
We tried something new this year and took the 15 minute trip out to the Red Rock National Conservation Area. We had no idea a National Park was that close to the strip! Absolutely breathtaking!
You have encouraged us to get out of our comfort zones. Since reading one of your posts we have been getting out and about to lots of new places! While we haven’t made it out of the US yet… there’s still hope for these ‘tourists.’ Thanks Earl!
So true! I have visited Las Vegas four times already and never get tired of it (although my wallet often does). Also other major touristy places like Washington D.C., Honolulu, and currently Chiang Mai. All of which are huge tourist attractions and all of which I have absolutely loved.
I think it is less about the place you go to and more about the new experiences you have (which are up to you to create). Yes, it is easier to find great new experiences when going to new places… but it doesn’t really matter what that place is so much as long as you have a sense of adventure.
I couldn’t agree with you more when you say these places are ‘touristy’ for a reason…. at the very least, it is worth a look.
@PassportDave: I think what happens is that it’s much easier to have pre-conceived notions about the more touristy destinations since we hear about them much more often. Then, when we arrive, it’s more natural for our experiences to fall in line with what we expected. So it takes a little more effort to break out of that and actually have the rewarding experience we were truly hoping for. But the point is that it’s definitely possible if we really want to make it happen!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts as always.
This post really got me thinking, Earl. I had to travel to Vegas a lot for work a few years back, and definitely am not a “Vegas, baby!” type person.
But you’re absolutely right – Vegas has so much more to offer than casinos. We recently published a story about the increasingly affordable housing market in Vegas and the astounding beauty of the desert…if you’ve been there and have written it off as “touristy,” it’s worth another look.
Tourist spots are popular for a reason. They draw some and they repel some.
And I have always found that the competition between travelers to go as many places and as far off the map as possible, tiring. What I like about this post is that it frees the traveler from the quantity of their travels, and instead focuses on the quality. If you can see past the ‘Devils of Vegas’ and find something that you personally can learn from and enjoy, then I think on your own, unique journey in this world, you’re doing good. Keep that positive vibe going!
Thanks for reading Rachel and I like your mention of quality vs quantity. We really can turn any trip, regardless of destination or time spent, into something of quality if we truly want to.
LOL! What an excellent post as usual. You always hit the mark.
Yes, I’ve been to Vegas. It was our first trip to America a couple of years ago so we did a West Coast self-drive customised tour through California, Nevada, Arizona & Utah. (We even took our son out of his international school so that we could do the trip).
I’m British and therefore a bit of a snob and yes, I know that Vegas can be trashy but we had a fantastic time and yes, we wanted to go to Vegas while we were in the area… so I asked my agent to search out a non-smoking, non-gambling hotel. She came up with this huge fabulous apartment just off the strip.
We saw the sights, we went to a family-friendly dinner and a show. We had lunch at Bellagio’s. Wow! That was amazing and so cheap… as a European…!
My husband and I even managed to fit in a couple of hours in the casino at Caesars (which we had seen on TV!), in which I spent all of $50 on Russian roulette, won $50 and happily lost it again, not to talk of the friendly staff and the free cocktails. We had a really nice time.
And yes, we’ve visited touristy places. I mean, I live in Berlin. It’s packed with tourists LOL but that’s alright. I’ve been to every European capital, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, South Africa, Egypt and why not? My expereinces have always been pleasant and in many of them I went back again and again because I liked them or because I needed more time or just because.
I live in Berlin and 15 years ago, I went to London just for 24 hours ‘cos I was home-sick. I’ve also been to Amsterdam for a few hours just to go to the 100 year exhibition of Rembrandt. I’ve also been known to fly to Florence only to see a couple of paintings and then I left!
Tourist or traveller? I travel because I can, and quite frankly, I couldn’t care less!
Hey Victoria – Well said and I think you proved the point that we all travel in our own way and as a result, we all have the ability to have a rewarding time wherever we go. We create our own experiences!
I love traveling ANYWHERE, touristy or remote! I think it’s great to go anywhere, experience everything you possibly can. I can always find something to see or do no matter where I go. I always think the most interesting thing is the people I encounter at each place. I have been to Vegas 3-4 times. One time when I was there, I was sitting by a man at a black jack table who was putting stacks of hundred dollar chips out there, playing more than one spot, and the more he lost, the more he drank, and the more he lost. His wife kept coming over trying to get him to leave and he would hand her money and she would go away for awhile. Eventually, he started talking to me. He said, “Do you think I care if I lose this money?” Well, the answer to that was that all the money he was losing had been meant for his daughter’s wedding and his daughter had been murdered. He told me he wanted to get rid of it all. He would make more money than that in a year because he is a doctor, but he needed to get rid of the money that was for his daughter’s wedding. And, he just needed to talk. I’m glad I was the one that was sitting in that chair at that moment in time to be there for that guy to talk to.
Hey Sharon – You really do never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll experience, anywhere and your story is a good example of why we should never judge people or think we know a situation until we find out for ourselves.
Viva Las Vegas! I love Las Vegas too. My favorite thing to do in Vegas is going to the spas. They are a bit pricey but well worth the money to relax and enjoy. I usually go on a weekday (sometimes they have a special during weekdays).
I agree that just because a place is “touristy” doesn’t mean you should skip it. I recently was telling something about Jaisalmer in India and the camel safaris which are known as touristy, but explained it’s still amazing and a “don’t miss!”
I love Las Vegas. It’s my home town, so I love to see/ read positive stories about it. Maybe it’s different to live and grow up there than it is to visit- I’m just glad that tourists love my home as much as I do, even if I’m rarely at the places that they frequent.
I’ll weigh in on the tourist vs. traveler thing.
I work at a hotel in the “tourism” industry in Alaska. 90% of our guests are cruise ship passengers exploring the state on a bus tour. The vast majority of them have no idea where they are headed the next day. They have a tour guide that leads the way. A lot of these visitors haven’t read anything about Alaska before coming on the trip and don’t get the most out of the journey.
On the other hand, some people on the same bus tour might be “travelers.” They are more curious about Alaska, they pack their days with activities, try local foods and do some of the more off the beaten path hiking trails.
So I think a tourist and a traveler to me is more of a state of mind. Whatever you want to call them, the people who take a deeper interest in local culture, whether that place be Vegas, Phuket or the Brazilian Jungle, get the most out of the experience.
Hey Jeff – Thanks for your thoughts and I think having a definition of the two terms, a definition that is not aimed at looking down on a particular group and instead realizing that everyone has different abilities (time, money) and interests, is what’s important. To me, it gets dangerous when we start to classify every cruise ship passenger as a tourist just because they’re on a cruise. As I mentioned in another comment, when I worked on cruise ships I met plenty of passengers whose only form of travel is on a cruise every year, but who were much more open-minded, respectful of local cultures and interested in learning than many long-term backpackers I’ve met over the years!
Wonderful post. I love Vegas. It’s definitely one of the best cities to visit in the US. As for the tourist/traveler question, they’re one in the same to me.
Earl….I laughed when you said “I’d happily travel to a touristy location such as Las Vegas or Phuket, Thailand or Playa del Carmen, Mexico.” I lived in Las Vegas for almost 5 years, always visit Playa Del Carmen (one of my favorites), and recently took my first excursion to Thailand,….with Phuket being a blast for New Year’s eve. 🙂 I agree with you. Las Vegas is a unique city like no other. I used to get so much flack from people who would say they hated Vegas even though they had never stepped foot in the city,….or people who had no idea how people live in Las Vegas. I guess they can’t conceptualize anything beyond the Strip, yet people have to live somewhere.
Seems like we have a lot in common. I am now in Los Angeles and certainly, if you are in town, I would love to buy you lunch and pick your brain. And yes, I have been following your blog for almost 2 years now and even bought your book “Get Paid to Travel – Work on a Cruise Ship”. Great information by the way. It would be interesting to meet the famous Earl :). Glad you enjoyed Vegas. I still have a piece of my heart that lives in that city. Thanks
Hey Craig – Ha…those were just the first three places that came to mind! I’ve never even been to Phuket myself. I’ll definitely let you know the next time I’m in Los Angeles. Would be great to meet up.
I recently visited Vegas for the first time, expecting it to be just a destination that I had to see for myself, something to tick off the list once and for all, thinking it wasn’t really my scene. I loved it. I had such a great time – there’s something about being in a town where everyone is there to enjoy themselves, however hedonistic that might be. The vibe was great. Like you I barely gambled – I actually through down $20 on roulette just before heading to the airport, just to say that I gambled in Vegas. I lost it very quickly!
Contrary to what I previously believed, I would definitely go back to Vegas. I learnt, as you point out, that you never know what destinations will surprise you, so best see them for yourself!
Hey Tahlei – Exactly! That’s a good lesson to learn in my opinion.
Your post came at a most opportune time! My husband and I are flying out this Friday for a 4 night trip to Las Vegas to celebrate our big “5-0’s”! Although I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve never been to Vegas and was feeling apologetic when I told people where we are going. Now, after reading your post, I’m even more excited and looking forward to seeing this “tourist” destination. P.S. We’re also seeing a Cirque du Soleil show!
Hey Darcee – Enjoy the trip and especially the show!
I always enjoy reading your perspective on the places you visit. To be honest, I was kind of surprised to see that you like Las Vegas, though you certainly explain why.
I recently spent some time there as well. Interestingly, and you touch on this issue, I was quite surprised how much I enjoyed Las Vegas. Normally I avoid tourist attractions, and I almost always hate cities. I am not a gambler, so that played no role in my enjoyment of the city. Actually, I have had many conversations with people recently who think there is nothing to Las Vegas besides gambling.
Great write up though, and thanks for sharing your experience and perspective.
Hey Robert – To me, that’s what travel is about – surprise. Being surprised by places based upon our preconceived notions. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and glad you managed to enjoy Vegas a bit!
I’ve never been to Vegas and I dislike it. I can’t wait to finally go to Vegas so I can change my mind. 🙂
Thanks for the post.
Hey Daniel – Ha, that’s the attitude!
Right on Earl. More people would enjoy life by not labeling or judging others.
In regard to Vegas, been there, haven’t seen it all, so still need to go back.
Zach Morris, I greatly admire your commitment to your beliefs and principals and that fact you live your life to have a small footprint on the planet. But I think I can blow your idea that everybody who visits/likes Las Vegas is a ”zombie” out of the water. As you will see from my post above (the first post after Earl’s article), I’ve been to Vegas many times (double figures) and I love it. Well I’m now staying in a Buddhist temple in Northern Thailand, chanting in the Pali language with monks every night, fasting for 18 hours every day, learning more about Buddhism, and meditating a lot. Two days ago I spent time at a school, little more than a hut on a farm, for displaced Shan and hill tribe children from Burma and it’s one of the best days I’ve ever had in Thailand. Maybe these are things you wouldn’t expect from somebody who loves Las Vegas but that because you are making judgements about people because of one thing in their life that they like.
I agree 110%!
-> “I’ve never liked the ‘tourist versus traveler’ debate”
Thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s so refreshing to hear this from someone so well travelled. Anyone who hand-on-heart declares themselves as a traveller and therefore somehow superior is still a tourist just like the rest of us.
I totally agree about the ridiculousness of avoiding touristy sites simply because they’re popular. A friend had visitors staying with her recently and they wouldn’t go anywhere that tourists went to on principle, which was absolutely crazy as they missed out on much of the best New Zealand has to offer.
I’ve been to Las Vegas twice and loved it – there’s nowhere else like it and surely seeing places unlike any other is part of what travel is all about. Thanks for such an interesting post.
Hey Clare – Exactly…we can miss out on some great places if we stick to that kind of principle.
Haha. Vegas was fun to visit once but that’s probably enough for me. Some of my fave places are crazy touristy – Venice, Hoi An, NYC. I am not ashamed!
Earl, I am jealous because you got to see Cirque du Soleil! Zankara? Must be a new show? I would go to Vegas just to see that! If that Zach dude really believes in what he says, then I assume he lives on a sustainable farm. I have a feeling he does not! Brian.
Hey Brian – I’m not sure how old the show is but I don’t think it’s too new. Either way, well worth checking out if you can!
I loved this post. I have thought about the tourist vs. traveler debate often, but I have never eloquently written a post about it like this one here. I have ineloquently handled the situation in my own way however. For the me the great metaphor of the tourist versus traveler debate is fanny pack. So called seasoned travelers rip into fanny pack wearing tourists as if just clipping one on is the ticket into the tourist class of wanderers. I wear my fanny pack proudly wherever I go whether it is Las Vegas or some jungle in Borneo. I have no problem being relegated to a tourist either and warmly embrace.
BTW: This quote garnered and honest to god LOL “And there’s no way I’m going to tell any of these people that the smile on their face, that the excitement in their step, that the memories they’re creating are worthless because they are just tourists who like to visit touristy destinations.”
@Traveling Ted: That’s how it works unfortunately…many people would see a fanny pack, immediately label you a ‘tourist’ and then judge everything about you and how you travel based on that one simple thing along. Seems a bit absurd! Keep on wearing that fanny pack and not caring what people think!
I’m enjoying the new “Hot Topic Earl”. You’re a master of presenting all sides, then standing back while the fireworks fly. I love it. Looks like Zack pressed a few of your buttons, considering the length of your reply.
I also love talking politics and can understand where Zack is coming from. And, I can see your position of acceptance of all things, as that’s where the adventure is. Me personally; I’ve been to/through Vegas about a dozen times over the last few years. I’ve not tossed one penny gambling, and I don’t enjoy being around a bunch of smokers, drinkers (to excess) and generally rowdy people that have gone somewhere to act out of control. That’s the vibe I get in Vegas. As I told you previously, I’m trying to work on my prejudices. It’s not that I hate Vegas, after so many visits, it’s just not a place I’d enjoy returning to.
And, as for the traveler vs tourist debate, that’s for people who just want to argue about something/everything. It’s one thing if we all agreed to one definition of the two terms. I’ve certainly been both. Apples and Oranges. One is not better than the other. I define the terms as: Travelers have more time than money and Tourists have more money than time. With that, let the debate, if there is one, start with a defined playing field.
Hey Steve – That’s a much better way to define it all, instead of just throwing around generalizations based on destinations that people choose or their preferred mode of transportation. And as for Vegas, like any destination, it can take time to break away from what we expect to see there…for example, during my trip, I basically spent zero time among rowdy drinkers and smokers, barely time in any of the areas of the casinos where people were actually gambling. That, along with the sights to see away from the Strip, can make for a much different experience than most would expect!
Vegas is great because it’s unique. Everyone should see it once, there’s just no other place like it. There are many wonderful nooks and crannies that delight and entertain in Vegas. And no other place on earth screams : Celebrate! quite like Vegas does. The view, driving into Vegas on I15 southbound at dusk is spectacular!
OMG, Las Vegas is a hoot! It was my only chance to truly visit a “distant planet” in my lifetime. It’s hard to believe you are on Planet Earth when you are there. Enjoy it for what it is just like you should do where ever you wander.
I like seeing posts on combating travel ego and how one form of travel or destination is better than any other. It’s all personal and relative. Whats the point of embracing travel to open your mind to so many things then, shut it down when it comes to others traveling.
Hey Shaun – That pretty much sums it up perfectly.
Great post and so profound! Wish I would’ve known you were in Los Angeles…would’ve loved to have met you :)!
Hey Nancy – I’m sure I’ll be back!
I’m very impressed by your unbiased vision of Vegas. It’s poetic how you are able to break down the difference between “Tourists” and “Travelers” in such a harmonious light. It is true we are all travellers and the difference between Tourists and Travellers can be ambigous at times. Also you importantly note how if we avoid places that don’t fit our normal travel style, we are contradicting the purpose of travel. I agree, it is our responsibility to make our experience worth while independent of where we are located.
That being said, I tend to view things from a very different perspective than you do, and I would love to hear your response to them.
1.I truly believe that we are the result the time we spend doing things- the more we spend doing something, the more we affiliate our identity to that.
2. The way in which the western world consumes resources is unsustainable, and we don’t have a solution for this.
3. Cunsumerism, in the western world, is a huge part of our identity. More accurately, it defines most people. Because of this, the super rich are living an incredible dream, and the rest of the people are spending their lives trying to be like the rich people.
So from my perspective, Vegas is the fucking Devil. I’ve been there twice, once travelling with my girlfriend and once travelling with my father. The first problem is that it’s not natural to have such a big city in the middle of nowhere… the amount of resources used in constructing and maintaining Vegas is only permitable in a world where money is prioritized over anything else. Vegas is literally built for two things. Rich people to become more rich, and the people who are not like the rich people to “entertain themselves” or spend money. It isn’t a leading research center, it doesn’t benefit humanity, and it certainly doesn’t give a shit about the starving kids in Africa.
Now I love the idea of entertainment as much as anything else, but with the fucked up paradigm in the western world, of the act of consumption being entertaining, how can you tolerate a place that reinforces that message? We don’t need to spend money to be happy. Comfortable hotels are not related to happiness, gambling in hopes of making money is not an incredible experiences, it is a dopamine problem. Fine, you want to see the amazing architecture, the amazing food, the diversity? That’s wonderful, but it really isn’t much of an experience of diversity when you realize that the incredible engineering feats, the incredible restuarants and all those happy families are all relagated to dollar signs by the people who run vegas. There may be quite a lot of diversity in the people that come to visit Vegas, but once they arrive, they are all united by the fact that they are supporting huge companies that use them for money, that they will spend a lot of their money and time because of they believe in the ideas these companies impose on them about the really great things life has to offer, and they will never be content with what they have, leaving them to believe that Vegas is really great because it has the money that makes life worthwhile.
For me, Vegas is about reinforcing paradigms of consumption being related to happiness, people never being satisfied with what they have,prioritizing money over anything and slowly destroying the planet.
I really don’t mean to be a dick, but I have some extreme views on things, and for you to be such a worldly guy, I don’t understand how it is that you can passively sit back and support this. What do you think about my vision of Vegas? Am I wrong? Can you still support vegas knowing that it is the quintiessential example of reinforceing fuck up values, overconsumption and greed?
My friend sent me this post, after I wrote about how I didn’t like my trip to Machu Pichu, I don’t mean this as an attack, I would really like to hear your thoughts on what I have to say. I wrote about it on my website if you want to read it first.
Anyway, Cheers to world travel!
Hey Zach – I appreciate your comment and sharing your thoughts. And all I can really say is that in the aspect you described, why single out Vegas as the devil when large companies run much of our lives, regardless of where we live or travel to? So to say that Vegas is ‘worse’, and that it should be avoided as a result, just doesn’t make sense to me. If avoiding consumerism, over-consumption and being a slave to corporations is the goal, then it should be the goal every day, no matter where we are. And of course, that would be quite difficult to do in today’s society unfortunately because, whether we realize it or not, so many of our decisions, decisions that we think we’re making on our own, are actually influenced by companies/advertising and outside forces with their own agenda. Most of what we buy, including the devices that we are typing on, the phones we use, the things in our homes, the flights we travel on, and on and on, and most of what we do, anywhere, makes the rich richer. That’s why, to me, Vegas is not much different than any other town or any other part of our lives.
But I certainly understand and appreciate your points and you’re right, money doesn’t buy happiness and all that, but at the end of the day, we’re all here for a very limited time on this planet and if going to Vegas brings millions of people some sense of happiness, some extra smiles, some experiences that they will remember, then I’m not going to try and deny people that. The truth is, millions of people aren’t going to wake up tomorrow and suddenly say, “I don’t need money to be happy” or “My possessions aren’t really as important as I thought they were”. It would be nice if that did happen, but it’s not going to happen. And while this fact allows the wealthy to take advantage of us to some extent, I still think the benefit, those smiles, those memories that people create through a trip to a place like Vegas, again, should not be denied.
As to the point about Vegas as a whole not helping starving kids in Africa or doing anything positive for humanity, the truth is, most destinations, companies and people aren’t helping out much. Do you ignore certain people because they are not helping such causes? Do you make your every day purchases based on this principle? Do you look up every business before you make a decision to ensure that they are acting in compliance with your core beliefs?
And as a person who has traveled around the world for many years and seen a great deal, I have reached the conclusion that life is too short to spend being too angry at things. We have to figure out who we are as individuals, formulate an idea of what we think is right in the world, create our own rules that allow us to stick to our principles and move forward. I personally can come to terms with being in a place like Vegas because it allows me to interact with new people and to see and experience things that I won’t see or do anywhere else. Those all force me to reevaluate my life, to ask myself questions, and as a result, to learn and to grow as a person, and to make better decisions in the future. There are great benefits to all of that, so the situation, as I learn over and over again throughout my travels, isn’t as simple as ‘Vegas is an example of over-consumption and consumerism so it’s the devil and must be avoided.’
You can obviously think differently and of course, that’s great. In fact, it’s better than great because it leads to such a discussion as this! But it should be recognized that everyone sees a situation from a different perspective and that there is no ‘right’ way to live or think. What you might think of as the ‘devil’ might actually be something that has changed another person’s life for the better or done some amazing good in this world. What you think is an ideal way to do something and perfect for humanity, might have caused some great harm to someone else or to an entire community. This is why it is so important to recognize that there are infinite perspectives out there and that there is always much more to any situation than we think.
On that note, again, I really do thank you for your thoughts and I’d be interested in anyone else joining the discussion as well. And yes, cheers to world travel indeed!
Thanks first for taking the time to respond to what I wrote, I’m aware about how extreme I may come off, and I really appreciate your calm and pleasant response.
In response to your response, I agree that our everday decisions and purchases are influenced by companies, and that we aren’t really fully aware. When I say “we” I mean society collectively, not including myself. My life is about living above the influence of these companies. I live in a small town in south America and I don’t own a car. My monthly expenses are food and rent. I don’t buy fast food or coco cola(or anything with sugar). I take showers that are heated by electronic heaters and have very little water pressure, I buy food grown by local farmers. I do own a laptop and a cell phone and a gopro hero3+. I live in a location for a year at a time, and I purchase one way flights to avoid consumption and supporting airlines, I don’t do participate in travel/vacation because it is overly consumptive. I fast for 16 hours a day every other day. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke, and every morning I wake up feeling awesome because I have decided for myself every little aspect of my life that I appreciate and enjoy, and I don’t have to support corporations for my sense of happiness. I am happy, because I have a sense of purpose, and a strong network of friends, an exciting life, and a sense of autonomy that most people can’t imagine. One of the reasons I choose not to live in the united states is because it’s such a consumptive place. I can’t change it but I refuse to support it if possible. (not that Colombia is trying to be sustainable, they just haven’t been able to develop into such a consumptive place yet)
But yeah, people aren’t going to change. I generally think of most Americans (and people who visit vegas for enjoyment) as Zombies. Zombies only need food human flesh for their happiness, Americans only need fast food, movies, and comfy beds in really big hotels that look really pretty from the outside. So, seeing these people happy reminds me that they aren’t so happy as driven by a certain desire. If you give a junky dope, it makes them happy too. Who am I to decide what kind of happiness is good and bad? No one really, but if everyone in America is made happy by big Mac’s, is that a really authentic happiness? Anyway, I can’t change it, but I’m not going to support it and I’m definitely going to do what I can to offer an alternative, instead of just saying “oh well, that’s how things are” I guess I’m young enough to think it’s still possible to change things.
I’m not saying that it’s important to support companies that support starving kids in Africa. I’m saying it’s important to not support things that are really really bad. I know that when I buy a laptop, I’m supporting the oil industry in some way, but I need a laptop. Living in a major city contributes as well, but you gotta live. Buying a flight to Vegas, staying in the hotels, supporting that industry is pretty low on my list of things that I need to be happy or enjoy myself. Vegas is not a necesity, but out of all the things you could spend money on Vegas is like the most blatant example of “bad”. Like, what good does vegas offer? Like atleast Machu Pichu can offer you insights into ancient ways of life.
I acknowledge that I sound really angry. While you say that life is too short to be angry, I say the world is too fucked for me to be cool with it all. I hope one of the decisions you make after all that reflection you spend after your time in Vegas is that Vegas is horrible and it’s one of the worst cities in the world and that you will not write a post about it being good ever again. Haha,just kidding, but the people you meet and see in Vegas, for the majority, seem to be very similar to each other, because they all think that the money they spend on their time their is worth it. And if all it takes is a lot of money to experience something, is that experience really that distinct or worth while, if all you need is money to create it or experience something? Skydiving is really fun, but it doesn’t give you much insight on life, all you need is money and anyone gets that exact same experience.
I’m glad you can tolerate my aversion to Vegas, and I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not some kind of saint. But at my core I do believe there are a mountain of things in modern societ that control people’s lives and destroy the planet, and these things are bad, and they are what Vegas is all about. So I’m gonna stand firm and say that any kind of new insights on life you got from your trip to Vegas were not worth it.
I hope you still appreciate my thoughts on the issue. No worries if you don’t want to publish this, but I still would love to hear your thoughts.
Hey Zach – Like I said, I do understand your points but at the same time, that’s a pretty big generalization to state, and to believe, “Americans only need fast food, movies, and comfy beds in really big hotels that look really pretty from the outside.”
Such generalizations are quite dangerous and don’t really do much to foster human understanding and connection. That’s how the world improves, through human connections that break down misunderstandings and generalizations about each people, not by labeling the masses, directing anger at them and creating barriers. So why not return home and help change some minds instead?
And the only other thing that I’ll mention is that you don’t actually ‘need a laptop’. You could live without one for sure. You ‘choose’ to have a laptop (possibly because you wanted a way to earn an income while being overseas), so why is your decision to purchase something acceptable while others’ similar decisions are not? Look at it this way…people in the US need food to eat, and since many people are forced to try and survive on low wages, they often go with the cheapest food available, which happens to be fast food. You can’t say that they are evil consumers just because they have little money to spend on food but need to eat something!
I love Vegas and I have traveled to there with many different people. There is something there to engage all travelers interests whether it be sports, nature, dining or anything else. I like to tailor my trips to the interests of the person I am traveling with and have done among other things, Vegas on shoestring, gangster (like old time) Vegas and fine dining on a budget. If you find yourself in Vegas and you have had enough of the crowds on the strip, the slot machines ding, ding, “wheel of fortune” refrain or over eating at buffets, I strongly urge you to google your heart’s desire, whatever it may be, adding “in Vegas”. Whether that simple search will lead you to the beauty of Red Rock Canyon, the quiet of the gardens at the Flamingo (and Bugsy Siegel’s memorial), Ethel M’s Botanical Cactus Garden (one of the world’s largest collections) or to sipping a Margarita on the deck at Margaritaville, high above the maddening crowd, you will find yourself charmed by Las Vegas.
Las Vegas for the win! Going back there this year. I absolutely hate the whole traveller – tourist thing. If you need to look down on other people’s choices, there’s obviously something wrong with you, not them. Also, you’re right, places are touristy for a reason. And why miss that reason? I don’t care if the travelpolice calls me a tourist and nobody should 🙂
Great post! Now I really can’t wait to go.
Well said. Do what you want and what makes you happy. I follow you the most because of your attitude towards the whole ‘traveler’ debate.
Hey Julio – Thanks for that and that’s certainly one thing I’ll always stand by. We’re all just people and as soon as we start classifying other travelers and looking down upon them, we’ve lost what it means to be a traveler in the first place!
I’m from Namibia, Africa and I loved visiting vegas!!! We enjoyed having cocktails in the casino lounges till 3am. We stayed in the Cosmopolitan, overlooking the Bellagio Fountain, we ate at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant (VERY disappointing). We also saw a Cirque du Soleil show, which was absolutely fantastic, and I’ve always wanted to visit a Madam Tussauds wax museum, and so we did it!! All activities were VERY touristy, but I loved it!!!!
If one finds anything tacky they are snobs. 🙂
I was in Vegas in December for 10 hours layover flight from Yosemite. Had I not spent 3 days in beautiful mountains and valleys I would probably enjoy Vegas a bit more. It was a big contrast! (I was tired too) never the less was amazing to see the fountains and the so famous strip. I met tons of people whom have being all over the world but have never seen the canyons or Yosemite and the fountains or the intriguing artistry of Madame Tussaud’s museum… If you are to see the world make sure you see the world!!!
Hey Tati – That’s true…even if it’s only once, pretty much every destination is worth a visit in order to see what it’s about for yourself!
What I most appreciate here is the “tourist vs traveler” sentiment. I love doing touristy stuff as well. I think the luxury of being people who travel often (and for extended periods) is we have time for other things, so the touristy stuff is just part of the grand scheme.
As for Vegas. I’ve been a handful of times (willingly as well as reluctantly) and although I always have a good time there Vegas is on my list of least favorite cities I’ve been to. It’s an interesting experience, but so is a colonoscopy. 😉 That said, there definitely is a lot to see there and the surrounding areas are beautiful (Death Valley, for example).
Hey Karol – Ha…I hope I don’t enjoy a colonoscopy as much as I enjoy Vegas but now I’m worried I might.
But that’s a good point about the luxury of having more time, whereas those with limited time must concentrate on the ‘main sights’ or ‘most popular destinations’ since those are the easiest to find and plan a trip to and they are the most accessible as well.
Hey Earl, I think we were there at the same time…
I recently traveled there for my honeymoon and it was decorated exactly like in your pictures.
There was a big skating rink on the other side of the Venetian bridge so I think we probably were around the same times or so.
We were there the last week of November 2013.
I love Vegas man and I agree that you don’t always have to avoid all the “tourist points” when you’re traveling.
I enjoyed old Vegas (freemont street) and even wandered into the city and I liked everything.
Hey Sergio – I was there in mid-December 2013 but I guess it was still decorated the same for the holidays. And I also enjoy Fremont Street, a very interesting change of pace from the Strip!
I never had any interest whatsoever in visiting Vegas. People would suggest and I’d think “eh”…and assumed I would just never go. Long story short I ended up there at some point and it is now one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve been 5 times in the last 3 years and swear I have more fun each time. It never gets old. Although I think 4 days there at a time is my limit:) I appreciate your take on traveler vs tourist.
Totally agree. My main travel destination is usually somewhere in the wilds of Africa. I expected to hate Las Vegas. But I loved it. I wouldn’t go that often, but it’s fun and I didn’t mind playing tourist for a bit!
Hi Earl – you’ve made a compelling case to go against the tide for places we normally wouldn’t want to visit. And Vegas does have its merits, to be sure. But I was there about a year and a half ago, and aside from some of the cool architecture, wasn’t really that impressed. I think that was because all I remember were the massive crowds and waiting for something everywhere we went. I will have to give Las Vegas another go here soon, and maybe find more to like about it.
Hey Janice – I can see that and I think I got lucky as there were definitely no crowds at all, anywhere, when I was there. But I’m sure if you went back you’d have a completely different experience, as would I…so it’s always hard to form an opinion after one trip!
Very interesting post Earl. I thought a lot about the whole tourist vs traveler thing lately. I used to think about tourists in a not as bright, dimmed and boring to be precise, light, which made me nothing but a stereotyping bastard.
You mentioned destinations and preconceived ideas, I think it’s same thing when it comes to tourists and travelers. Traveler aren’t alway dirt-smudged and equiped with a map and a dart (I most certainly am), and tourists aren’t always spending all their time on fancy hotel veranda’s, fanning themselves with brochures. I say screw it. One of my reasons for traveling permanent is to get away from all these labels and boxes and just be.
Everyone travels for different reasons, and who are we to try and put a label on those reasons. Anyone who travel is, in my opinion, a traveler.
Would love to visit Vegas one day.
Cheers man, great post once again!
Thanks Ruann! And I always say that during the time I worked on board cruise ships, I definitely met plenty of ‘tourists’ who only take cruises (and don’t do any other travel) who were more open-minded, respectful and interested in learning about the world than plenty of ‘travelers’ I’ve met who are backpacking around for long periods of time.
Great post. Sometimes I am definitely (rightly or wrongly) in the tourist vs traveler frame of mind. However, generally we are all in the same location and therefore clearly have at least some similar interests that bring us there. Off the beaten track is great; but there must be a reason why the typical gap year person from Britain heads to Thailand, or Australia’s coast.
Only thing that bugs me is the TYPE of person, as in today j saw a woman who I instantly took a disliking to. She saw a very traditional Indian man selling spices in Mumbai, and immediately she stopped (without asking) and rammed a camera in his face to take a photo – so disrespectful and infuriating to me!
Hey Dominic – There are certainly inappropriate ways to behave while traveling, that’s for sure, but in the end, it could very well have been a backpacker taking that photo or a tourist on a 7-day package tour around the Golden Triangle of India. On a side note, hope you’re enjoying Mumbai!
I know how you feel I been in Las Vegas now two times and I love it.
Nooooo, who cares!? Just go out and see it, wherever “it” may be..
Great post dude.
I love Las Vegas!! I’ve been a ton of times and I’ve always had fun. In fact I got married there dressed as a showgirl with my (now ex) husband and his best man dressed as Elvis and of course we had an Elvis impersonator serenading us down the aisle. It doesn’t get more Vegas than that!
I’m totally with you on the traveller versus tourist thing. I find it pointless and puerile. No one type of traveller is ‘better’ than another. *Unless* one of them is directly harming people, animals or the environment during their travels.
Hey Noor – I wish I was there to witness that wedding!!