Travel Lightly

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I’d never thought much about tourists before I moved to a vacation destination spot. I’ve lived in cities that are destinations, sure—Paris, Montréal, and Boston come immediately to mind—but somehow cities are able to absorb extra people, be they long-term or short-term immigrants, in ways that small towns cannot.

I’ve even written for magazines and other publications aimed at the tourism/vacation trade; but, again, didn’t experience the results of my dazzling prose that encouraged people to come, to go, to visit, to experience. It was all pretty academic, and if I thought about it at all I was pleased I could help people find a nice place for a well-deserved rest.

Then I moved to Cape Cod, and all that changed.

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If you live in a small-town vacation destination, there’s rarely a moment when you’re not thinking about tourists. You probably make your living, or part of your living, from tourism: waiting on tables, renting out rooms, opening souvenir shops, starring in shows. Even if you don’t, though, the Summer People are unavoidable, when the traffic congestion makes driving anywhere nearly impossible, when the checkout lines at the grocery store ensure you’re going to be late, when the people in the building next to yours think nothing of a drunken barbecue on the porch at three in the morning.

Don’t get me wrong: I want to share my world here. I have the incredible good fortune to live near the sea, to watch seals and dolphins and whales, to stroll casually by the harbor as a tall ship comes in. I resent “ownership” of beaches by the wealthy and want to see more people come and heal at this magical place we call Land’s End.

But—and here’s the thing—I also want them to behave.

I cannot believe all these people are as rude in their hometowns as they are when they arrive on-Cape. I cannot believe they take on the cloak of entitlement with which they adorn themselves here when living their daily lives in Connecticut or New York (states from which come the most egregious offenders). They couldn’t possibly.

I travel a great deal myself, and while I believe I’ve always been a respectful and polite tourist, since living here I’ve made an extra effort to travel more lightly. To not enter a room, a restaurant, or a museum as though I owned it. To not ignore traffic rules or treat the people making a living in the service industries as though they were subhuman—or invisible.

To watch, and listen, and learn customs and behavior before launching myself into the stream of life in a foreign place.

It’s not so much to ask, either of oneself or of others. Would you speak to your mother, or your neighbor, or your boss in the way you addressed the young college-aged woman selling you whale-watch tickets, or the Bulgarian fellow serving you food at the upscale restaurant where most of the locals cannot afford to eat, or the older Jamaican woman cleaning your room at the exclusive guesthouse? My guess is no. So why on earth do you treat other people in other places that way?

Let’s travel lightly. Let’s learn about and experience vacation places while staying polite and understanding, while observing the rules of the road, while considering the people a loud party might be impacting.

We know we’re lucky to be here … and you are, too. Let’s act as if we can share these fleeting months of sunshine and beauty together.

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