YOU are an attraction
I think that one of the aspects of travel that surprised me the most (and I want to inform other future travelers about) is that in foreign countries YOU are an attraction! The farther you get from common tourist locations and the more different you look from the locals, the more YOU become an attraction to them. You’re fascinated by the woman in traditional tribal dress? Well she’s just as fascinated by you. You want a picture of a group of schoolchildren in their uniforms or monks in their robes? They want a picture of you in your shorts. You want to practice your foreign language skills? Good luck, because the locals often want to practice their English.
Spending most of my life as a blonde, I got used to be singled out as a tourist throughout Latin America and Asia. I was prepared for the touts trying to rip me off, and learned quickly about children being used to sell souvenirs to foreigners. But it caught me off guard every time someone asked to take my picture or take a picture with me. It was even stranger when I started noticing people trying to sneak a picture of me.
I don’t know why any of this came as such a surprise. I do the exact same thing. I don’t just want pictures of exotic places; I want the native people in the picture to help bring it to life. And I am completely guilty of sneaking pictures of unsuspecting locals all over the world. In fact, just a week ago I was so shocked to see a Buddhist monk in full robes hiking through Griffith Park in Los Angeles that I resorted to the sneak photo.
So to everyone I’ve snuck a picture of, I’m sorry. To everyone who has snuck a picture of me, you’re welcome. And to everyone preparing to travel off the beaten path for the first time, you have been warned! Put on a smile and show the world that people from your country are just as happy to pose for a photo as to take one.