My wife’s colleague recently took some time off work and together with his wife, went on a tour of Europe. They did a staggering 11 countries in just 13 days!
I follow this guy on Facebook, and this is not the first time he’s taken on some whirlwind and nigh on logistically impossible sight-seeing tour. I’ve got access to his holiday snaps and frankly, they leave me in awe. One minute he’s posing for a photograph on a bridge in Prague, the next day, he’s on a narrow-boat chugging down a canal in Amsterdam and the day after that, he’s sipping cafe-au-lait on a pavement in Paris.
The Asian way
I call this ‘the Asian way of doing travel’ - to cram in as many countries, capital cities and tourist attractions as possible in the shortest space of time. It’s a mindset that often divides my wife and I when we sit down together to make travel plans. In my opinion, this is not travel; you are simply ticking names off a list. You’re not actually ‘seeing’ these places. It’s a bit like saying you’ve been to Dubai when all you’ve done is a 3-hour layover at the airport.
There are dozens of Thailand-based tour operators, who for a very cheap price (and they are certainly cheap!) will fly you to a destination on some knees-around-your-chin, low-cost airline and from that point, it’s five days of different hotel rooms, clambering on and off coaches, eating meals at pre-arranged restaurant stops, and cramming in enough temples, museums, art galleries and photo opportunities to make your head spin!
But most Thai travellers just seem to like it that way. There is almost a fear of missing out on something.
Independent Thai travellers have become far more adventurous over the last decade or so. With many countries relaxing visa rules and welcoming the Thais with open arms, there isn’t a corner of the globe they don’t get to. Whether it’s driving around Iceland, hiking in the mountains of Pakistan or doing the instagram thing in the Turkish bazaars, Thais are everywhere now!
But like the less adventurous that get herded onto tour group buses, the independent travellers still try to squeeze as many experiences as possible out of a short holiday. Who cares if there’s an 800-mile drive ahead of you and you might end up losing a night’s sleep or two along the way?
When I travel, be it for 7 days, 10 days or whatever, I like to base myself in one location. Be it Amsterdam, Paris or Delhi, it always takes several days to even begin to get under the skin of a city.
After a few days, something magical happens. You become familiar with how the public transport system works. You become accustomed to the neighborhood and begin to find short cuts down back-streets and the fastest way to get to places such as the nearest metro station. The proprietor of that wonderful little breakfast joint starts to recognize you as a regular and nods and smiles each time you pass. Simply put, you start to belong! You get to know the ropes.
What a crying shame to gain all that experience and then have to pack your bags to move onto the next destination and thus begin the learning process all over again in a different city.
Day trips rule
There are always ample opportunities to get out of whatever concrete jungle you are in by doing day trips - and that’s the way I like to do things. It might be a four-hour round trip by local bus or a relatively long train journey, but after a full and tiring day out, you‘ve had the time to see a new place before returning back to that reassuring, familiar neighborhood.
I’m still immensely proud of the fact that I took my wife to Paris for 11 days and we never got see The Louvre Museum. Couldn’t be bothered. Who wants to queue in the cold and rain for an hour? But the thought of going all the way to Paris and not squinting at The Mona Lisa from fifty feet away would send a shudder down the spine of the average Asian traveller I’m sure.
Who are you?
My change in attitude came about from reading a travel article. Sadly, I forget the name of the writer but he dished out the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard. When you travel, take a long hard look at yourself and decide what kind of person you are. What are you doing walking around an art museum if you’re neither an art or museum person? Why head straight for an old temple just because it’s the top of everyone’s must-see list, when you’ve seen enough old temples to last you a lifetime?
I think this writer was spot on. When I look back on my last couple of decades, where I’ve been lucky enough to visit so many fabulous places, my most memorable photographs have rarely been standing in front of major tourist attractions. The best memories always come from just wandering the streets, getting off the beaten track and letting the stories unfold.