For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Tourists And Travellers


I'm not very fond of tourists and tourism. I like to think of myself as a traveller - or at times a pilgrim - rather than a tourist. Although we flirted a little with tourism and rubbed shoulders with tourists on our trip round Sicily, we didn't generally share their habits, and viewed them as a kind of alien species. On my recent winter walk from Seville to Santiago I don't think I saw a single tourist. Even world-important sites - such as the Roman theatre in Mérida - had very few visitors.

I know I'm simplifying, but tourists on the whole seek the familiar in the strange, want instant gratification, don't like staying too long outside their comfort zone. They enjoy ticking off the places they visit like items on a shopping list. They want things mapped out. They prefer the hedonistic delights of the beach or the boulevard to the secret, more subtle, less secure worlds of the bayou or the back streets...


Luckily tourists behave in lumpen and predictable ways. They tend to tread the same, well-worn tracks - usually in groups and following a guide - so that, while certain places become tourist hotspots, most places remain relatively tourist-free. We found this in Sicily and along the Amalfi Coast. The Corso Umberto in Taormina, for instance, was awash with tourists from dawn till dusk. But you only had to divert away from the designer shops and trendy boutiques and you were on your own.

In Amalfi tourists kept arriving by the coachload. We noted their behaviour like amateur anthropologists. They would surge into the little square before the duomo, cameras and camcorders thrust aloft like arm extensions. Snap, snap, click, snap. An overpriced cup of coffee and cake at the café in the piazza. A quick browse round the gift shops and a frenzied purchase of ceramic lemons and sun hats. Another surge up and down the short main street. Then they were gone.

To be replaced by another lot. But that was fine. For just off the main street, in a labyrinth of narrow alleyways and stone staircases, and in the lush valley of vines and lemon trees and derelict paper mills which climbed into the hills above town, and in the mountains higher up where huge limestone crags blocked the sun and high thin waterfalls plunged into tiny pools - there was no one. It was amazing. We had these places completely to ourselves...


All the photos are of Cefalù, the next place we stopped on our clockwise journey round Sicily. We tended to stay a couple of nights in each place and then move on. We travelled by local transport - mainly by train, which is fairly cheap in Italy. We had no accommodation booked in advance and no return flight organised. We wanted to travel as freely as possible.

It was quite easy to escape the tourists in Cefalù, though there were not big crowds of them in May. One evening we took a splendid walk along the rocks between the Arabic defensive wall of the historic centre and the sea, and we met not a soul...

8 comments:

The Weekend Dude said...

Intersting slant on the tourism thing. I remember when I was in Peru a few years ago that our guide referred to us as visitors (not tourists) during our trip, as you say tourists get on a bus and drive somewhere then get off the bus and take a photo at which point they get back on the bus and go somewhere else and so the cycle continues. Visitors tend to try to get under the skin of the country and get a real feel for it rather than arrive back home with few experiences but a memory stick full of photos.

Dominic Rivron said...

I too like to think of myself as a traveller, when I travel, not a tourist. But I wonder - is it a real distinction or a necessary self-delusion born of the least attractive extremes of tourism?

gleaner said...

Fully agree - when I travel I often reflect on how fast even backpackers move and how slow I go. They usually have a list of "to see" places whereas I think if I want to just see a place I can look at photos. To know a place you have to stay longer than the click of a camera.

fireweed meadow said...

I see tourism as an extension of our industrialized consumer culture. I think many people go on holidays just to have something to talk about back at work, and because they are desperate not to “waste” their precious few days off - those in EU countries get at least twice as many paid days off as North Americans, by the way - and want to fill them with something that seems important, that makes the drudgery of the rest of the year feel worth it.

I’ve lived in some tourist hotspots in my time and in observing the tourists who came and went, I perceived a kind of hunger/despair in their eyes. They seemed desperate to get the right photos, to buy something, ANYTHING, and to see all the right things. I found it depressing.

Tourists do what they are told, go where they are told to go, and think they can buy pre-packaged, effortless happiness. A traveler is someone who is curious and sees every day as a journey, whether at home or far away. Traveling is about learning, discovery, savouring diversity and honing one’s perceptive skills. Tourism reinforces a person’s worldview; traveling alters and expands it. After a holiday a tourist is ready to go back to the old routine while a traveler returning from a journey is eager for changes, challenges, and growth.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for all these interesting comments.

Fireweed, yes, I know exactly what you mean, and you've developed so well what I was saying. I've always found 'holiday' (in the sense of our 'well-earned' annual 2 or 3 weeks' respite from the daily drudgery of 'work') a rather pathetic concept, and one I react against. I don't want 'work' (bad) over here and 'holiday' (good) over there. I want them to be seamless, with work flowing into holidays and vice versa. (I know this sounds idealistic.) I want to enjoy work enough so that it seems like a holiday; and also to put some work into holidays (eg do a pilgrimage or climb a mountain).

Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

When I walked the Le Puy route I guess I was surprised by how few 'tourists' there were. I was walking through such beautiful landscapes, and staying in interesting medieval towns, but 'luckily' they weren't on major tourist routes. Except for Conques. After 12 days of walking that had included some very cold wet days both before and on the Aubrac Plateau, I knew I had experienced the wilds of the Auvergne in a way that the tourists in Conques didn't know about. I am not really one to label myself as a pilgrim- long distance walker is probably more accurate mostly- but in that instance I felt like a 'pilgrim'.

Grace said...

Most of the time, I'm content just to be a traveller in my own backyard:)

The Solitary Walker said...

Kiwi - met very few 'tourists' on all my 3 Caminos...

Grace - no better place:)