Living in Europe, I’ve become increasingly aware of the numerous varieties of theme-based tourism this continent seems to invite. A prominent specialty of Ireland, for instance, is heritage tourism, in which visitors pilgrimage to, say, the former cottage of their Great Great Grandmother Smith, née Doyle. There’s also hobby tourism, in which quilters or knitters or bakers or bottlecap collectors or countless other inspired specialists take a hiatus from their lives to plunge into their pet activities around the world. Other tourisms abound: I’ve encountered groups on literary tours of Europe, Viking tours of the British Isles and Scandinavia, and, in one unique instance, a paranormal-themed expedition around Ireland.
When I decided to run the Dublin Marathon this year, I found myself immersed in yet another variety: athletic tourism. About 14,300 people took part in the race, a significant portion of whom crossed an ocean to be there. A surprising result of doing the run: It made me view the plethora of tourisms around me in a new light. I used to suspect theme-based tourism of overpowering foreign destinations, with visitors patterning cultures along their own pre-set preferences and habits. But for me, sticking to my old habit of running while in Dublin has helped me orient myself here, forcing me to investigate new neighborhoods and obscure bystreets, and to socialize. Instead of importing my comfort zone, running drives me to explore.
So, in the end, I wish the bottlecap-collecting busloads the best of luck — although I’ll continue to keep a wary eye trained on their paranormal-touring counterparts.