Be Not Afraid of Rewards: A Lesson in Tourism

Last year, I took a three-week excursion to the UK with a study abroad group from my school. I’d been preparing to take the $4,200 trip for over a year. The summer before, I invested serious time into working just to cover the cost of the plane ticket. I took on some of the oddest jobs to pay it off.

I loaded phone books on to trucks by hand in 98 degree heat. I acquired my Red Cross lifeguard certification, so I could supervise senior citizens while they tanned at a country club swimming pool. I helped a wedding planner set up decorations for 100-guest receptions, and was subsequently accused of stealing the wedding bands (no, I wasn’t that desperate; the photographer dropped the rings in the grass and pointed fingers at the decorators, in case you want to know how that story ends). I even participated in a psychological brain study. Although my hands were caked with newsprint, I always smelled like sunscreen and chlorine, I narrowly avoided a false petty theft charge, and became semi-good at playing an outdated version of Starcraft, I never once thought the effort I put in was worthless. By the time school started, I had some of the most interesting “how did you pay for this?” stories to say the least.

Twelve weeks later, it was finally time to go to London. Up to this point, my class had been warned by our professors not to act like complete tourists while we were traveling. Their reasoning was logical enough: tourists are annoying and nobody likes them, and well-known locations are money traps. In the classroom, we agreed, but when the “Harry Potter” film studio tour beckoned and the Sherlock Holmes Museum was just a quick Tube ride away, all don’t-be-a-tourist logic went out the window.

Then I really thought about the advice etched in my brain. First, of course Brits find tourists annoying; they find everyone annoying, they’re just too reserved to say anything, so who cares what they think? Second, it’s easy for a well-traveled professor, who makes regular trips across the pond, to dismiss a tourist trap out of fear that they just want to sell overpriced knickknacks and novelty pens. Frequent international travel isn’t my reality. I worked hard to get there, and although sharing a plate of haggis in a pub with a handsome Glaswegian stranger (something I have also done) is more interesting than a smelly knickknack, I never once regretted being a bit of a tourist.

The point of this lengthy tale is not to try to convince you that you should always buy knickknacks or accept food from strange men, but when you spend so much time working towards something, you shouldn’t be afraid to reward yourself. So what if you spend a little too much money, especially if going a bit overboard isn’t something you do often? You’ll find a way to earn the money back. If rewarding yourself in small doses or even in extravagant doses (try $500 over your budget for me) means making the hard work all the more worthwhile, go for it. When you get back to work, you’ll have all the best memories to get you through the Monday afternoon blues.

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