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Student Reflections

Being a Tourist

Jake Austgen
October 4, 2022

Last weekend I was a tourist. I left Madrid and flew to Barcelona to go sightseeing, visit the beach, and take in all Barcelona has to offer. Being a tourist isn’t new to me. My family and I have explored cities across the world, from Rio de Janeiro to Sydney. However, this weekend was a first for me. This time, I was a tourist all on my own.

Solo traveling was one of the main reasons I was so excited to spend four months in Europe. After learning how cheap flights are within Europe, I instantly started fantasizing about the trips I would take. When else in my life would I be able to pack a backpack and hop on a flight to London for the weekend? Not interested in London? What about Amsterdam? Paris? Copenhagen? Dubrovnik? I spent hours researching courses and planning my schedule so I could have Thursdays and Fridays free to travel. Before leaving for Madrid, I had never traveled on my own before, and the thought of being alone in a new city sparked something inside me. I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else, it would just be me in a new city, free to explore to my heart’s desire.

Therefore, when a group of other Northeastern students invited me to share an Airbnb in Barcelona for the weekend, I booked the 47€ round-trip flight without hesitating. Even though I was sharing an Airbnb with people I knew, I intended to do most of my exploring in Barcelona on my own. Unfortunately, my first trip as a solo traveler didn’t begin as magically as I had imagined. We had an early morning flight on Friday, which meant leaving for the airport at 5 a.m. That early wake-up was not appealing to me, so I decided to not sleep at all the night before. Therefore, I (unsurprisingly) spent the entire 90-minute flight soundly asleep, and my first glimpse of Barcelona came through heavy eyelids that were struggling to stay open. I immediately tested the perks of solo travel by doing what I desired most, going to the beach, and taking a much-needed nap.

My next few days were full of exploring, eating, and relaxing. Solo traveling was far better than I expected it to be. It is very freeing to be without an itinerary or any commitments. I visited the Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, and Montjuïc. I ate out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I walked without a destination, and when I got tired, I relaxed in parks and on the beach. When I left Barcelona, it wasn’t just with sore feet and countless photos. I left with a new understanding of how I like to travel and how I want to live my life.

Traveling with friends and family is great, not only do you get to explore new places, but you get to make memories with the people you love. However, solo travel can be just as fun, if not more. You don’t need to look out for anyone besides yourself. Nobody will care if you decide to skip a museum or miss a major attraction. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. I didn’t do any advance research for my weekend in Barcelona, something that would have never been the case if I had been traveling with my family. I let my eyes and nose be my guide. If I saw a cool building, I would go check it out. If I smelled a good restaurant, I would go grab a quick bite. Living like that, like a tourist, was amazing. I wasn’t thinking about upcoming assignments, finding a co-op, or any of the other worries of everyday life, I was just enjoying each moment. Why couldn’t I live like a tourist more often?

In Madrid, tourists are all over the place. When I arrived, I made the decision that I didn’t want to be a tourist. I wanted people to think I lived here. Therefore, I never did the “touristy” things, I just started living my life: going to classes, getting groceries, and cooking dinner. But now that I made that decision, is there anything stopping me from spending a weekend in Madrid living like a tourist? For that matter, what is stopping me from being a tourist when I go back to campus in Boston or go back home to San Diego? The answer is nothing. Being a tourist isn’t about where you are, it is about what you do. You can be a tourist in your hometown, all you have to do is forget about your daily life for a while and just enjoy the moment.