Love Las Vegas

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.

Water Fountain at the Bellagio in Las Vegas

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.

Las Vegas, Nevada

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?