Tourists, Travellers and Wandering


Somewhere between Cambridge and London,

Well, another bit of local travel, a little bit of thinking, and another Sunday with a hangover, ruing limited Sunday services and how it always takes about two hours longer to get home than it does to get anywhere. This time it’s a trip to Cambridge (or was) to go drinking with an old school friend – a good time but generally nothing out of the ordinary on a piss up to really write about, but in doing it I flew down through London as the price was about the same and it saved a couple of hours (on the way down, less so today on the way back). While I was sipping on my usual gin, I flicked through one of the inflight mags, and came across an article slating travellers (as opposed to tourists).

This really got me thinking – I’ve long defined myself as I traveller (or at least I wish I was one) and not a tourist. Tourists do packaged holidays. Flit in and out of a city only seeing a couple of major sights in a big tour group before heading back to a fancy hotel. While they may see a few things, they don’t really engage with the culture; they don’t immerse in a city and live it for the few days they are there.This article defined travellers as the anti-tourists: the ones who refuse to go to the ‘big’ sights, skipping the cliché and the overdone because it is that, and just doing the culture, the local, the odd.

It doesn’t quite ring true for me , or anyone I’ve ever met on my wanderings. Is this because we bridge this odd gap? Or is this just a gross misrepresentation/misunderstanding of the travelling and wandering type? This article (Now and Ben: Reluctant Tourists in BA’s Business Life, March 2014) complains about how the modern traveller is only concerned with the ‘patient observation’ and searching for the city’s ‘true smell,’ all at the expense of actively avoiding the ‘touristy,’ things like galleries and monuments.

The ‘modern tourist’ (or traveller), much more than just ‘a snob,’ is looking for more than just a couple of holiday photos of a cathedral, before going back to their sterile hotel, eating the same food they get at home and the same drinks. We go, we see the sights, although maybe not attached to a horde of tourists in a guided group, but then we embrace the local too – the food ordered through gestures because it’s the only common language; the cup of tea with the local who tells you amazing stories about the town/country/cafe over the years; the random local beer in whatever little market you can find. This is what the ‘modern tourist’ is about, not avoiding the sights, but seeing them in context; not just a few bricks but a centrepiece of a humming, thriving (often) ancient city.

That’s what we do, that’s what we see – we’re not snobs, we get much more out of where we go by seeing all of it, not just a few holiday snaps that you could buy in the postcard shop. 

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