We think... • September 2015
A little less planning can lead to some unexpectedly memorable travel moments, says Amanda Morison
“There are two worlds: the world of the tourist, and the world of everyone else. Often they’re side by side. But the tourist doesn’t actually see how people live.” So said author Paul Theroux, who has spent a lifetime chronicling his travels.
Wherever you fall on the tourist/traveller debate, one thing is certain: sightseeing is hard work.
Let’s start with queues. Even when you get in line outside the Louvre’s pyramid, well before the museum’s 9am opening time, it usually takes at least two hours before you can have sight of the Mona Lisa. As visitors spend an average of 15 seconds actually looking at her, perhaps this explains the subject’s gaze. Maybe she’s simply asking “Pourquoi…?”.
Heat and dust are other reasons to ask yourself why you’re sweating buckets to see something you might enjoy better in an art book. Peak season is so called for a reason, and city dwellers decamping to the beach or mountains during the hottest months should tell us something. But still we persist in creating snaking, ill-tempered queues everywhere from the Taj Mahal to Machu Picchu.
If you like stress and spreadsheets, you’re probably a fan of sightseeing. Both are necessary with a pastime that involves booking in advance, navigating unfamiliar transport systems and probably getting lost on the way, thereby missing your designated slot. You’ll need deep pockets, too, because the world’s top sights aren’t cheap. And when you invest in a discount initiative, such as a Vienna Pass, you can end up in an exhausting sightseeing frenzy to make sure you save money, and not remember a single painting.
Queueing to see an iconic landmark can be a chore – or an opportunity
In my gap year, I inter-railed across Europe with a school friend. We had £10 each a day to live on. Desperate for a shiny album of tick-box sights to wow friends and family with back home, we positioned ourselves smilingly in front of everything from the Eiffel Tower to the Parthenon. We couldn’t afford to climb or enter anything, so the photographs are our only record. And very proud of them we are, too.
But in the same way that I’m not best friends with Keanu Reeves despite once sharing an elevator with him, I can’t claim to know much about Theroux’s ‘how people live’. And as some of my happiest travel memories are from unexpected moments – coming across a flamenco lesson in Seville, and being given a free glass of Champagne in a cool New York bar because of my ‘neat dress’ – I’m going to stick to the non-sightseeing sightseeing.