I'm the Great Touron King

“In the land of tourons, I am the Great Touron King.” These were the first of my very own words to make it to print. What follows is the rest of the column, a sort of Touron Manifesto, if you will. This is the common thread that I like to think that runs through all of my writings and all of my travels.


Travelin’ Light: The Land of Tourons
By Kelsey Timmerman

A touron is one part eager tourist and one part well-meaning moron. You yourself have likely been a touron at one time or another.

If you’ve ever…

…set out on a trip over 2 weeks long with 3 pair of underwear…

…thought visiting a nude beach would be a good idea…

…spent an entire flight with your knee jammed into the chair in front of you to keep a six year old from reclining…

… been to a Drag Show with your mother…

…been in a room full of people where You were the only one not staring at YOU…

…stepped out your front door and made a complete fool of yourself…

…you might be a Touron.

Faced with a deluge of new sites, smells, sounds, and behaviors, a tourist turns touron because of an enhanced curiosity and innocent unawareness. The farther behind we leave the familiar, the more touronic we become.

On one occasion in Thailand, I managed to offend an entire busload of locals. In the previous few months I had walked many miles through the mud of trails and the filth of city streets wearing my sandals. They progressively attained a sour stench strong enough to keep Thai sidewalk merchants at bay. Hoping to avoid assaulting the olfactory senses of my co-riders, I took off my sandals and placed them in my luggage above. When I sat back down I noticed and felt many sets of eyes turned in my direction. I knew I had crossed a line, but did not realize when or how. Finally, my neighbor, through a series of grunts and gestures, told me to bring my shoes back down from the luggage rack. Apparently, things associated with feet are profane and should never be above one’s head. I complied with the social rule and removed my sandals from the rack. At our meal stop, I found myself passing rice and unfamiliar entrees with a table of my forgiving co-riders. We all laughed as various degrees of Thai spice twisted and distorted my face. I parted with my new found friends at the end of the ten-hour trip, through silent, friendly smiles and handshakes.

The village idiot rarely lacks friends.

It takes a lot of courage to step out of your comfort zone and enter a world with which you are totally unfamiliar. This world doesn’t have to be another country or continent. I can leave my house right now and within minutes be out of my comfort zone and in the Land of Tourons. Whether it is a few frames at the local bowling alley or visiting a Buddhist monastery, I’m out of my element.

Some like to wax poetic about being a “traveler” while condemning the lack of cultural sensitivity of a “tourist.” They claim that a traveler is in tune with the local way of life and moves through foreign environments with great savvy. They do not taint or influence the places they visit and easily become part of the ebb and flow of daily life. In turn, a tourist is a mumbling buffoon who forces their culture upon everyone around them, leaving a wake of disbelief and anger in their path.

It’s impossible to leave our cultural baggage at the border of a foreign land or experience. When it comes down to it we are all tourons.

Travel is humbling, a lesson in humility learned slowly through each finger pointed, glance shot, and laugh guffawed in our direction.

What makes me the Great Touron King? I grew up in small town Ohio, far from any ocean or anything resembling a hill, where there was little to no diversity in the people or the landscape. There is a short list of things that don’t amaze me: farmers in over-alls, tractors, pigs, cows, chickens, flat fields, and manure (especially manure). Wherever I go things strike me as new and exciting. In the past few years I have stepped foot into nearly 30 nations and I have yet to feel like a “traveler.” I am hopeless to be savvy, as I haplessly travel.

Through this column I hope to share with you my experiences in the many places where I am a touron, whether it is Key West, Kosovo, or Kathmandu, Castle Dracula in Romania or a step-aerobics class in Ohio. Feel free to laugh, sympathize, or learn from my adventures and misadventures, because I have.

Add a comment

Let your voice be heard!