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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Are you a casual tourist? Or traveller. The key word being 'casual'.

Leaving the traveller versus tourist debate aside, what kind of tourist/traveller are you? Would you consider yourself to be a 'casual tourist'? Or a 'casual traveller' if you object to being called a tourist at all? While my husband Terry was cooking dinner one evening in the big country kitchen my uncle and aunt have here in Bendigo, Australia, where we're staying while we write some books, we were dissecting a couple of trips they recently did to Spain last year and Mexico a couple of months ago. I'd asked Uncle George if they went to the Frida Kahlo museum in Mexico City as I'd suggested. They have a gorgeous garden here - a wild wonderful garden that's a cross between a romantic 'English cottage'-inspired gardens and something you'd see at a Russian dacha in a Tarkovsky film (there's a mini Birch forest) - plus my uncle's an artist and my aunt's very creative when it comes to interior design so I thought they might appreciate Frida Kahlo's garden and house. But they didn't go. In fact they didn't go to a lot of places I'd recommended. But they assured me they still had a great time. Flabbergasted, I asked: "But what did you actually *do*?" "Well, we just walked," my uncle replied, with a shrug of his shoulders and roll of his eyes, "We did a bit of this, a bit of that... we like to walk." I'm guessing the look on my face must have been one of dismay, but still somewhat enquiring, because then he declared - after swallowing a glass of wine (not that I'm suggesting he needed guts to tell me this - but maybe he did!) - "I think I'm a casual tourist..." "Uh-hah!" and I quickly splashed some more wine in my own glass. And so, over a bottle of wine, and Terry's preparation of another very fine meal, we developed a theory... my uncle's idea of travel can be described as 'casual tourism'. The way he likes to travel is very low key and laidback. He likes to explore, but he doesn't like to do much planning or preparation, and certainly doesn't want his day crammed with sightseeing. In fact, when he arrives he doesn't like to *do* much at all. But he's not the kind to lie on a beach and do completely nothing. He wants to experience a place, and the more atmospheric it is the better. For instance, Jerusalem is a favorite. But he and my aunt like to wander around a bit, see a sight perhaps, maybe do a short tour, eat some lunch some place, but it doesn't have to be very spectacular at all - they certainly don't feel obliged to base their choice on reviews. Then they'll do some more walking, perhaps browse in a shop, stop for a drink and a nibble at a cafe... and so it goes. They don't have tremendous expectations, and so they're not terribly disappointed either. They just seem to appreciate a place for what it is. Wandering around, walking the streets, taking in the vibe... that's their idea of a good time. And actually, when I'm not working on a travel book, that's mine too. Oh, except the bit about the restaurants of course. So, what do you think? Are you a casual tourist? Or casual traveller?


Anonymous said...

Hi Lara, well - my other half is definitley a casual tourist! Which drives me slightly nuts... I like to plan to ensure I don't miss anything. On our last two holidays, I'm there with the map and the tourist book and he's just like... "can't we just wander around and see where we end up?!". Argh! He does want to see things, but he likes to just 'happen' upon them. We still have a fab time though, thankfully not too many arguments, just lots of him taking the p* out of me! :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah this is so interesting. I've been thinking about the expectations of others when you travel a bit. I think I used to feel this incredible guilt if I didn't go to particularly well-known or remarkable places when I travelled or worse if I went to almost nowhere different to the kinds of places I'd go in my own city. But just in recent years I've remembered that the best experiences I've had over the last 30 years of traveling internationally, has been doing very mundane things in a whole different location. I think in some ways this approach is the tonic to that moment that you talked about the other day, where you missed the events at the fountain.
Because I love the people watching and also really experiencing the things that locals do, I do enjoy just doing otherwise boring things like shopping or eating in very mundane places... and a favourite is what your aunt and uncle did... walking down the street and aimlessly discovering things.

I do read travel books... sort of conventional ones as well, in fact for this upcoming research trip I even got a copy of the latest US Lonely Planet guide, but I don't read them to follow them, rather to think about what the writer felt about the place. You go into any small town or large city and you can pretty much work out for the standard stuff by browsing a tourist stand in a cheap hotel, you know? But thinking about something as stock standard as Route 66 and thinking about some of the moments that a writer has on it, can make you (well, me) imagine what adventures I might have on that road or another. I mean, I still haven't seen stucky the dog. You know stucky right? - yeah, see I also don't mean stucky or carhenge ( or other out there attractions... it's the everyday stuff that I love about places, but I think others find it very anticlimactic and I do get the sense that you are both meant to:
1. Go to these important places.
2. Enjoy yourself
3. Take photos of it
and... yeah, really how many more pictures do their need to be of Stucky the mummified dog that got stuck in the tree... or, you know, London Bridge?

I guess more and more, I want to travel for me, not for others expectations. But I don't think I'm a casual tourist, I think that's still a considered position.


Vicky Baker said...

Casual tourist - now I have a name for it! I am definitely into casual tourism. Not always, of course, but I certainly have a natural leaning that way. I'm never happier than mooching around and stopping in cafes along the way. Some of my most memorable days of travel have been doing what others would describe as "absolutely nothing" - a detour through the residential backstreets of St Kilda, Melbourne, for example, or through the suburbs of Côte-des-Neiges in Montreal. No sights, no maps, just a little slice of local life. I don't just save this for foreign pastures. Happy doing it on my own doorstep. Great way to unwind.

Anonymous said...

I am a tourist in the months preceding the trip - reading every blog/website and travel book in the library... however on arrival most of it generally goes out the window and I think I become a casual traveler…. Like spending my whole 2 month holiday in two countries after spending months obtaining visas for 5 (pre Euro). I love the planning but the plans tend to go out the window when I find get to my destination.

I am a librarian who "forgot" to visit the British Library when in London for 2 weeks!

One of my favourite nights in the UK was spent in a pub in London's south east watching the local dart competition and then being invited to hang around after the pub "officially" closed. From midnight - 5am we were taught how to pull the perfect beer by two old men the thickest accents and most amazing stories... That is my clearest memory from that trip. Oh and catching the double decker bus back to our hostel in the morning peak hour…

Anonymous said...

I am not a casual traveller/tourist by your uncle's definition. While I enjoy time to roam around towns and cities (especially through parks and around town squares), I am still keen to see several of the sights (esp those recommended by others).

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Sarah

Oh, that's so funny! I'd love to be a fly on a piazza wall when you travel! ;)

I've often wondered about those articles about when couples travel, and how to survive as a couple on the road... because my husband and I do the like things when we travel. Now I appreciate them!

There are a lot of people who like to follow itineraries, actually - which is why the '24 hours in' and '48 hours in' genre of article is so popular. Actually, you've inspired a post!

Thanks for commenting!

Hi Sandy - oh! THE EXPECTATIONS OF 'OTHERS' WHEN YOU TRAVEL... that is such a great point. Now you've inspired me yet again! Such great points, Sandy, THANK YOU! I really can't wait for your report when you return from this trip of yours... ;)

Hi Vicky - yep, we love the backstreets, the suburban 'hoods too. One of our favorite things to do in Dubai and Abu Dhabi actually. I loved doing the guide to Dubai I did for NineMSN when they asked us to write about where *not* to go

Hi there 'Anonymous' - great points, also! We're tourists at different times - and we can be tourists *before* we travel and then go local when we're there. That's a really great point.

I love the sound of your trip to London - that sounds like a fab time you had! I'm not a fan of London to be honest, but I think that's because I haven't been locked in a pub all night and learnt to pour beers with some old blokes!

Thanks for commenting!

Terence Carter said...

You didn't write about the 'downside' of this. Uncle George said they never had a good 'Spanish' meal in Spain and ate pasta in Mexico. I know Uncle George likes to cook, so isn't he missing an important part of travelling when these two places he's visited recently have such rich food culture and fantastic street or casual food, not just 'fine dining' experiences that take hours of your time?

Or is that for another post?

Rachel Cotterill said...

Hmm, this is a tricky one. I like to feel I've seen all of a place - but that to me means the place as it is to the locals, and often excludes galleries etc. that people say shouldn't be missed... but there's plenty of art closer to home! I like to see what's different about a country I'm visiting.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Mark - yeah, I guess I like to do a combination of those unmissable sights and a bit of casual touring. I'm definitely not one to cram my whole day with sights though, unless we're working on a book of course and then we have to try and see everything.

Hi Terence - thanks for your comments. I did exclude restaurants, so yes, that's definitely one for another post.

Hi Rachel - yeah, I'm a big art fan, so art museums and galleries tend to be fairly high on my list if I have the time. I don't think any one city has better art than another, because there are some cities, like Dubai, for instance, where you can see amazing art from the Middle East, Emirati art, Iranian art, etc, that you just won't see anywhere else, so I do like local galleries. But I definitely know what you mean.

Thanks for your comments!

Anonymous said...

I think I could be characterized as a 'casual traveller'. Anything that resembles an itinerary is too restrictive for me. But I do like to have some points of interest to explore and some restaurants to experience. If you miss something it's a good excuse to go back.

Anu ! said...

Hi Lara,

Good articles, specially the trains in Australia !

I think am mix of both cadual tourist + cadual traveller. Guess there are some places where I do want to be tourist and go around to see the things that place is famous for. But when I travel I keep 2-3 days to walk around and get feel of the place, seeing locals doing regular stuff, eating at small joints etc etc.

- Anu

Vietnam said...

Nice stories! Keep up with the good work!

Melanie@TravelsWithTwo said...

Well, Lara, now that I think about it, Adam and I are a little of both. I guess you could call us...


I'll research a place six ways to Sunday and still, we'll get distracted and miss an icon or three.

Instead of ogling the inside of St. Mark's in Venice, we people watched in the square beside it, then wandered the Grand Canal just before sunset. We completely forgot to have fries in Brussels but managed to spend two hours in a comics museum in an Art Nouveau building. In Bali, we barely put our feet in the Indian Ocean, but snorkeled half a day in the remote Java Sea.

We're still right there in the scene... just enjoying a slightly different take on it.

Sometimes we feel that weird sting of shame that we're not meeting other's expectations (a recurring theme here!)...but we always get over it.

After all -- if an experience widens the world for you, why worry? :)

- Susan - said...

Hi Lara,

how are you?
I have been to Frida Kahlo's house ! And I loved it. All I remember is the indigo blue walls and the courtyard and the looks out of the windows into the courtyard.

I have to say that it was about 17 years ago, long before she become so popular the world over. And I have to say that I was in Mexico City for a 5 week work project. So I had plenty of time to discover the unusual things. And at that time I studied the guide books intensively.

Nowadays I became more casual. Maybe it has to do with age?!? I do not feel stressed to miss something that is in a guide book.
I like to 'float' and discover by intuition.
If I am in an touristicwise important place that I have not read any guide book about, I aim for the next post card sales point and check the motives to make sure I am not missing the ultimate must.

Sarah said...

Hi Lara,

Glad to have inspired a post! I think the key to travelling together, for us anyway, is to understanding each-others point of view and making sure you understand what you both want from the trip before you go, but also keeping a sense of humour and not getting too stressed!... I also was happy to take the mickey out of myself, as you can see from this pic: :0)


Lara Dunston said...

Hi all

Thank you so much for the comments! And the pic! Much appreciated!

Clark - totally agree with you about an excuse to go back! I'm always looking for them.

Suzie - I think it does have a little to do with age... :(

Melanie - Travellists? Does that suggest an attempt to tick off lists? That in itself is an interesting topic, isn't it? So many people love those top 10 lists, 100 things to do before you die, etc.

Thanks everyone!

Solo Road Trip said...

I could be of the same gene pool as your aunt and uncle. My son and I laughed as we blew off some major tourist attractions in China that we were horrible tourists. Friends asked if I saw this, or that, and most of my answers were "no." They were also dismayed. Few of my pictures are of anything recognizable. It's the only way I can travel. Thank goodness my husband is the same.

Lara Dunston said...

Well, I certainly have some of those genes too! I think I'd be more casual if I wasn't a travel writer and didn't have that sense of duty that I have to see and do everything. As long as you're enjoying yourselves, what does it matter whether you see *everything*?

Thanks for stopping by!