WARNING! This post is a bit of a rant. It is my opinion, and I would love to hear what you think by leaving a comment below after you have read it.
I had a conversation with a person recently who I hadn’t seen in a long time. They told me that they were heading overseas this year to celebrate some significant life milestones.
As they talked about the places they would be going and what they would be doing, it dawned on me how little some people know about the places they visit. I have to admit; I am utterly gobsmacked at times at the reasons why people want to travel. If the only reason for going is to shop till they drop and then head to the closest bar why travel all that way? The only reason I can think of is to tick that destination off their bucket list.
And then I am saddened that someone would travel all that way, and spend all that money to miss the best parts, the real essence of that destination. Or not even have it occur to them that there is more to a place.
I recall years ago reading a comment in a travel forum about Venice. This guy had said something along the lines of “Why would you bother visiting Venice? It should just be made into a Disney theme park and be done with it.” How very sad. Yes, Venice can feel like a circus, or at least in it’s most touristy places. But venture off the tourist track, and it’s a very different story. Learn about the history or even the daily endeavours that go into maintaining it, and it becomes fascinating.
It does seem that we succumb, time and time again, to the materialistic and commercial side of life and not the mindful and meaningful.
I do apologise if this post comes off sounding judgemental and preachy. I don’t mean to, and I know to each their own, but sometimes you just have to get it out! I love to travel so much and the gifts of freedom and confidence it has given me and the beautiful, interesting people I have met along the way that I just do get more than a little frustrated that others miss that experience.
Travellers I admire
I am also very aware that my style of travel is far removed from those that I admire so greatly. The travellers who jump on planes with very few plans except knowing where the plane will land, with a backpack flung on their back and adventure in their soul. Yep, I wish I could. But I am not yet that brave, but with each trip I take I get freer and bolder and the day is coming where it will be just me and my carry on luggage!
Well, then you may ask what this article is about? Or its purpose? Am I slamming people who don’t want to travel the way I do? Am I a travel snob? I don’t believe I am, and I certainly hope I’m not. But there are a couple of reasons I get annoyed by this.
One is what I just mentioned about missing out on the joys travel can bring to your life and the other is the attitude that some people go with. The entitled attitude.
And that one does my head in. For the purpose of this article, I am calling those people, Tourists.
Tourist versus Traveller
You know the ones. The entitled. The people who expect things to be the same as home. Who speaks to the locals like they are beneath them and there to only serve. The ones that tend not to venture very far from the tourist path if at all and then wonder why things are SO expensive and busy.
I guess this is also the reason some shop owners treat visitors poorly, and they wrongly assume that everyone will act the same way.
I am sad that these tourists are oblivious, or simply not interested in, the beauty, the history and the people around them.
So although I don’t mean to be I do understand that I may be sitting upon my high horse at the moment preaching travel morality, but I am just going to go with it and get it out.
Here is what makes me saddest about Tourists and why I think we should strive to be Travellers each and every time.
Gets caught up in some sort of mob scene in places like St Mark’s Square in Venice, Times Square New York, Thira in Santorini (you get my drift) herded from place to place, not really seeing the place, but quickly snapping off photos in front of famous sights as they follow each other in single file.
They have a huge list of “have to see” sights, like a game the can only win by ticking off as many as they can.
A tourist seems to have no interest in the people that live there, or their lives or they just don’t know how to experience it. They spend their time in tourist spots never seeing real neighbourhoods and never venturing further on their own.
Sometimes they only ever have the “tourist experience” of a place. A cultural event only put on for tourists. Or pay exorbitant prices specifically aimed at tourists. Even if you are with a tour group or cruise ship, organise a local guide to meet you and show you around. Pay the extra it will be well worth it.
A tourist has no idea really where they are going. “Where’s Manhattan? But I’m not going to Manhattan I’m going to New York City”. (actual conversation) No words.
Many tourists eat only in places that are familiar to them. Come on guys the Hard Rock Café is not local cuisine.
It’s sad because how do you even describe how it’s the small things about travelling that mean the most.
The Best of Travel
Small interludes and moments shared.
How do you begin to explain how watching the early morning sunrise over St Mark’s Cathedral feels as the sun slips into the square slowly warming the crisp chill in the air?
Or to have a conversation (one in Italian and you in English) and laugh at the silliness of it, to then be given a gift, just because you took the time.
To stroll through cobblestoned streets in the early morning light and be warmly greeted by locals starting their day.
To travel is genuine freedom.
Time to explore an area, particularly off the beaten track away from the tourist hordes.
To connect with people both fellow travellers and locals. To hear their stories, share their experiences and for a small moment in time to experience how they live their life.
Travel is a bunch of funny experiences like the one I had in a local café in New York. This café is a great place to eat, located on the second floor of a supermarket and usually filled with locals. I ordered a glass of white wine. The waiter asked me if I wanted to choose or would I like him to choose for me. I said I would love it if he would, anticipating something different from what I was used to. He came out with a bottle behind his back and said this had been his favourite for a while and he thought I was in for a treat. How I laughed when he brought out a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the Malborough region in New Zealand. Yes, I would love it I told him because I drink it all the time. He laughed and we agreed how small the world really is!
Even though I travel for work, and even when I travel for leisure, I try to stay in a place for at least a week. I love finding a favourite café off the beaten track, explore nooks and crannies, get up early for walks. Talk, laugh and connect with real people. People on their way to work, waiters at a restaurant or café, shop owners and business owners. See them after hours and chat.
Things like a chat with the owner of a tiny art gallery hidden away in a small town on the Rhine, the gift of a glass figurine for my son from a glass blower in Rome after an amusing conversation based on hand gestures and assumptions, a daily visit and a laugh with the ladies in the supermarket in Orvieto at my pronunciation of various food items and being asked if we wanted our espresso’s “normale?” in Cortona.
These are the moments plus so much more that make travelling memorable. Sure a Broadway show is fantastic to see and eating in an elegant restaurant a fabulous treat, but seeing how others live, how they go about their daily lives and getting to know just a little bit about them is the rewarding part for me.
Shouldn’t we travel to broaden our horizons? To meet other people and see other cultures? Shouldn’t travel make us bigger and better and more understanding and compassionate. Shouldn’t we be curious? Interested?
Things you should be aware of
Regardless of the type of traveller you are, there are things we should all be mindful of and practice, always.
Respect. Always. For the locals, this is their home, not a tourist playground they leave. This is their life not a holiday.
Be aware of cultural differences and local customs. Whether it be religious considerations, tipping, shop opening times, meal times, food, anything! You are there to experience it all, don’t expect it to be like home.
Please do some research. Find out something about your destination that you want to discover, explore or see. It will make it so much more interesting and meaningful.
Travel for me has always been about challenging myself, pushing myself farther out of the box that anxiety and fear sometimes put me in. Travel is about learning about others as well as myself. And it is always, always about connecting with people in foreign lands to get even just a glimpse into their backyard to show me that my own is so much bigger that I sometimes realise.
For me, life and travel are such blessings, gifts to cherish. It truly saddens me when I see others missing that. I too was once a tourist, running around frantically to see all I could fearful of never returning and missing all the “good” stuff. Thank goodness that stopped!
Remember, a holiday will leave you refreshed and recharged, but travelling will leave you changed. Forever.