>What do people get out of travelling?
See the world, meet people, make friends, have good sex, find love, learn something new, buy something you don’t need, buy something you DO need. I guess for me, its all of the above. But more importantly its a chance to get out of my own skin, to be in a place which is different, to see, touch, do what I don’t usually do or see.
And to do that, I do like either visiting a place that is very different (one day, I will visit Africa!) or peek into a culture that is unfathomable and intriguing (Japan), or travel in a different way (train as opposed to flight).
Fundamentally, it means I can never travel in a herd. I feel extremely chafed and constrained just thinking about it! When I see groups herded by disinterested tour guides, or hear stories about the kings’ ransom in tips these tourists have to pay their guides, I shudder. And I wonder if these tourists really get to see the heart of the places they visit?
Case in point – Venice. By day, the place is packed to the gills with pigeons and assorted tour groups. Everyone congregates in St Marks Square. They see the Grand Canal, they see St Mark’s Basilica, they see the Doges Palace and maybe they walk a bit and see the Rialto Bridge.
Then they all pile into their tour buses and go home. But what do they miss?
They miss the quiet snaking lanes that lie far from St Marks. They miss walking on the silent bridges that criss cross the city. They miss the stumbling upon an ancient stone church in a tiny piazza where boys play football while black-dressed mamas go and pray. They miss the transformation of St Marks Square into a huge ballroom by night as the orchestras of the famed cafes take turns to play, warm light streaming from the restaurants onto the great dance floor. They miss sitting down and watching the moors strike the clock while nursing a gelato. And gondolas swaying with the tide at night look very different. Venice by night is pure magic. Tourists miss all this. Travellers don’t. Travellers who stay on the island, travel by train or car, are free to wander the narrow streets, saunter beneath lines of laundry in places where Venetians live and tourists do not venture.
I’ve always travelled alone, independently and each time, my experiences tell me this is the right way to travel. From the first time I took a plane on my own to visit my aunt in Melbourne, I was hooked. I was on my own and the exhilaration of being “on my own” was mind-blowing.
In contrast, my uncle once told me that he hates getting lost, hates the hassle of finding his way around, “negotiating with the locals” and grappling with the language, struggling with backpacks and luggage etc. Hence he would just prefer to take a tour or hire a guide, stay in a posh hotel, have his meals catered, travel in airconditioned limousine comfort. His guide brings him to point A and B and so on, and if he didn’t like what he saw, he would just tell the guide to bring him somewhere else. No offence, but I think him would get more kicks out of a National Geographic documentary on TV and save his money that way.
This uncle was the same one who gave me a blank look when I enthused about the culture, the dichotomy of the Japanese personality etc as I tried to sell him on travelling in Japan. His eyes glazed over and when I finished, he asked: So, what is there to SEE?
But for me, and I hope, for my kids, I hope that they would love travelling. There are no extremes, but I think if you travel solo, without a group tour, you’d be able to experience so much more. Touring in a herd tends to insulate because one tends to seek comfort in the familiar, in the tried and true, and stick to the group. But travelling on your own brings up a whole lot of new opportunities and experiences.
Yeah its no fun getting lost when you’re really lost and its getting dark and you’re tired, hungry and cranky. But the experience will be worth it.
For instance, I will never forget travelling in Tasmania, arriving on a cold, rainy night in Hobart with no accomodation, a scenario worthy of great horror stories. KH and I ended up with a flat in the historic district of Battery Point just by knocking on doors. Little did we expect that flat to be seriously haunted! Our stay there was hair-raising but so memorable!
In a similar scenario on the Big Island of Hawaii – cold, wet, misty and drizzly, no prior accomodation bookings and we ended up following a fern-lined road in the mist to a wooden farmhouse which later turned out to be more than 100 years old. We stood at the door knocking, shivering and hoping for accomodation and who should open the door but Santa Claus himself! Or his twin brother! The man was white-bearded, glasses perched on his nose, twinkly blue eyes and he had an Akita dog the size of a small horse. They were such a welcome sight! We got a room in his attic, and the chance to bathe in the first cedarwood tub we ever saw. Again, memorable. But we’d never have known if we never tried, if we’d never travelled independently.
There will be adventures galore like this, and this is all part of the fun, the excitement of travelling. In my life, I hope I will never be a tourist, but always a traveller. I hope my children will be the same. Life can only be richer this way. The road less travelled may seem rougher, with few assurances and less of the creature comforts, but it will almost always be richer in the long run.