I don’t dislike travelling – in fact I love it and, in one way or another, I’ve been on the road all my life – but I tend to dislike tourism. What I mean by tourism? The kind of *cough* travelling done through an agency that plans everything from lodging to itineraries. That is, one’s visit is filtered through the eyes, opinions and narrow-mindedness of some travel agent who decides what you should see, where you should eat, whom you should meet. Of course, these things are also planned according to that particular city, region or country’s intentions: for example, you can’t visit – say North Korea, perhaps even China or Cuba – freely. These two coupled, you get to see what some other people – Big Brother, maybe? – want you to see. I remember that in 2007, I went to Turkey with a very good friend of mine and, as we have Balkan Flexi-Pass tickets and some days off, we decided to stroll around the country as well (We were headed towards Eskisehir, but before that, we spent a few days in Istanbul and most part of a day in Ankara). While we were still in Istanbul, we went around the town, meeting people, and talking with them, we told them about our plans to visit Ankara too and everybody told us not to go there, “better go to Izmir or some other place like that”, they said. Then we realized what they meant: there was a contrast – I’m not saying in the bad sense, but in the sense of a great difference – between the former Constantinople and the country’s capital. We still loved it, and it was an incredible experience – knowing the real soul of a country cannot be achieved by only visiting the touristic attractions and suggestions!
On the other hand, I very much dislike narrow-minded people and those with a superior attitude towards everybody else because they come from a place or another. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but these people are usually the ones that haven’t left their safe-zone bubble much or the ones that have complexes and are so insecure that they put on a high-horse mask to anybody who doesn’t know their true situation.
Travelling should be a fun experience. I’m not going to start a psychological or marriage counseling blog, but, if you are going to live with somebody, make that somebody with whom you have at least a common subject or passion! Tourist couples that sit in restaurants face to face looking at everything else – except their partners – does not only make them feel awkward and disgusted, but everybody else too! I’m not saying that, if you don’t have a wife or husband with whom you can talk at least about the weather or the latest tennis match, you shouldn’t go out and about, but at least try to make the trip pleasant for your partner, everybody else – that way, you’ll see your own time will be pleasant – and maybe even fun – too!
Getting to know a society or culture is exactly like getting to know a person: you can’t do that only by going through its public image. For example, England is not only Trafalgar Square or Buckingham Palace, France is not only the Eiffel Tower (and – if you’re more cultured, or intend to seem so – Louvre or Cannes), Romania is not only Dracula, Japan is not only geisha and samurai, China is not only The Great Wall, etc. You should at least read about the inner workings of that society: a bit about the language(s), food, history, etc. You should also see if there are special requirements (like if you go to Saudi Arabia or Iran, for example). You should always abide by the saying When in Rome, do as Romans do.
Don’t hesitate to meet people and listen to their stories. Don’t be afraid to make friends. You can risk a bit and try new streets, shops or foods (of course, not too much, as some places can be really dangerous). Ask the locals. If you can live with a family, that’s even better! Don’t be afraid to enjoy your visit!
That being said, I’m just hoping that ideas like Slow Travel or Couch Surfing get more into the mainstream and will be tried by people who – until now – never went out of the “Travel Agency – Hotel – Tourist Attractions – Travel Agency” vicious circle.
And… until the next time … Life is more than one journey, love every one of them! As an end, please listen to this Jimmy Cliff song:
- Final Day in Istanbul… – Istanbul, Turkey (travelpod.com)
- Tunisia defends ‘heavy-handed’ tourist adverts (bbc.co.uk)
- First Day on the Ground in Istanbul (globallyimmersed.wordpress.com)
- Lousey end to a fabulous trip – Istanbul, Turkey (travelpod.com)
- After Playing a Tourist, Angelina’s Back on Set in Venice (popsugar.com)
- Overall, probably just Jaded (frankteng.wordpress.com)
- Sabbtical in Turkey: My First Days in Istanbul (perennialreflection.wordpress.com)
- Fans offered UK film pilgrimage (autonetinsurance.co.uk)
- Turkey’s Moment (businessweek.com)
- London tourist alert: Prince William on horseback (seattletimes.nwsource.com)