Thursday, 10 April 2008

No sense of adventure

A piece in the Telegraph today points out that the British tourist - and I'm pretty sure this goes for other tourists too - is a lazy devil with no sense of adventure.

"This week a survey found that, while we're flying further than ever before, we're being lazier than ever when we get there. Almost half of us fail to leave the hotel compound for the duration of our holiday, and three quarters of us make no attempt to speak the local language (probably just as well)."

The writer makes the point that there is no 'terra incognita' left. There is nowhere to 'explore'.

What a lie.

Exploration starts when you step out of the door - or out of the hotel compound. Exploration starts when you decide to learn Turkish in a week. 'Bir patlican kebap, lutfen'; 'merhaba'; 'gule gule'.  (One aubergine kebab please; hello; goodbye.) It's rubbish but it gets a smile - you made contact.

Exploration starts when you decide to wander down a street just because there might be something at the bottom of it, or when you look up and smile at someone hanging out of their apartment window. Exploration starts when you decide to walk instead of take a taxi from one sight to another, or when you peer over a wall to see what's the other side.

Exploration starts by being curious. By being willing.

Willing to put in the work. Brain work. Leg work.

Now this guy says you're not a 'traveller' rather than a 'tourist' just because you've got a backpack.  And that's true. I am always amazed by the number of backpackers who aren't experiencing foreign culture, they're just meeting other backpackers of their own age who like the same bands and have the same backpacks.

But you're not automatically a 'tourist' just because you go somewhere that other people have been before.

You're a 'tourist' if you let *yourself* be packaged, rather than your holiday.

I hope he enjoys his next beach holiday. But if I just wanted to eat and drink and relax, I'd do it at home. Why spoil a good time by having to fly to get there?

A sense of adventure is not something that depends on virgin territory. You don't have to be Indiana Jones. But you've either got it, or you haven't.

Ten tips for adventure:

  1. Take a good map and learn how to read it. This liberates you from the need for taxis, tour guides, groups - you can go wandering about to see what's there, and still know how to get back on track.

  2. Talk to people as best you can.  All kinds of ways of learning the language - look at the labels in markets to learn the names of basic food; learn the words for local football teams and the words for 'good' and 'bad', you'll get a laugh that way from local football fans who'll be keen to tell you that their team is a good one. Learn hello, goodbye, thankyou, please. And learn 'toilets' - the one word that can really get you out of trouble!

  3. Listen to your instincts. Sometimes you just get a feeling about someone, that they know what you want to find out, and can help. Often, it's right. Play your luck - in Sofia, I found that an old friend of my father's was a bagpipe fan, and we spent a day searching among the music stores for a good djura gaida. I found it! In Istanbul, we found the one man in the market, purely by chance, who could tell us to go to Unkapani to find the best music shops. If you're looking for them, you'll find these people.

  4. Walk, walk, walk. I'm sure I could see more 'sights' if I took more efficient transport routes, but I'd never find all those back streets, those unexpected views.

  5. Get up early. You can have Hagia Sophia or the Alhambra almost to yourself just for ten minutes if you're up good and early. And then the crowds come. Besides, if you're a photographer, early morning light is the best.

  6. This is difficult for some of us, I know it is for me; but be willing to become a 'tourist sight' yourself, for the locals. You are something from outside their world - they're interested.  This can be extremely annoying - but equally, particularly with younger people, it can be a real chance to meet someone and make contact.

  7. Keep your eyes open. One of the most striking things about Rome, for me, is the number of eighteenth century notices prohibiting littering - beautifully carved on fine marble. You'll miss them, though, unless you're looking.

  8. Adventure can be strenuous. Remember to take a day off from time to time, whether that's to go for a country walk, laze about by the seaside or in a park, or pamper yourself in a classy hotel. When I walked the pilgrim's way to Compostela, I came down to Cahors late at night after a long day - and booked into an extremely posh hotel. Then I had a 'rest' day looking around Cahors. It was well worth it - I'm sure I was walking faster the day after!

  9. Read up on where you're going. Before you go and when you're there. Read every information panel that you see (there are particularly good ones, shaped like oars, in Paris - in both English and French.) Maybe you don't need to know all that stuff, but it gives you a context you might not otherwise have. And sometimes you learn some very interesting things - not just about the sights, but about the local attitude to history or building. For instance, did you know that every single Sultan of the Ottoman Empire was a saint, a poet, and a good man, and most of them were also champion wrestlers? At least, that's true if you read the information panels in their mausoleums - which are I think just a little biased!

  10. Take delight in both the ordinary and the extraordinary, the ancient and the modern, the classic and the spontaneous. Be open to new things. That's exploring.

1 comment:

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