Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Travel Bug

Tyler and me, Milan, Summer 2009

Brussels, Summer 2008

Zaragoza, Summer 2008
I read a fascinating article about travel, discussing how the "gap year"/study abroad/international travel  evolved (to a degree) from when English noblemen would take the "Grand Tour" of Europe and come back to "cultured." The majority of these Grand Tours went through France to Rome as a kind of pilgrimage through history; incidentally, France and Italy are still in the top five of most-visited countries by international tourists.

Here are a few of my favorite snippets from the article:


On the difference between a traveller and a tourist:
A tourist has a number of sites to check off, probably immediately uploads hundreds of mediocre photos to Facebook, counts the number of countries he or she has been to. In other words, he or she approaches travel in a fairly superficial way. A traveller usually understands that itineraries are pretty useless, admits ignorance, and is open to whatever the road may bring. Of course, we have all had moments of being one of the other, but we can try to be travelers.

These words resonate with me because they emphasize that travel is an effort, not a task; an adventure, not an exercise, a constant exchange rather than a one-time transaction, all of it circumscribed by our own curiosities and inevitable failures. Globe-trotters in the 21st century must be prepared to be foolish and to be made fools of, to be foreign and to feel alien, to accept that when we seek most to be a traveller we will sometimes descend into the role of tourist -- to realize, finally, that a failed traveller is better than a complacent tourist.

What it means to 'do' a site:
On the one hand, to 'do' the Uffizi or the Louvre or Teotihuacan or Machu Picchu or the Great Wall is to impose artificial closure. To see a thing as a tourist is, somehow, to dispense with it. On the other hand, is visceral distrust of such tourists truly the proper response? After all, who among travelers has not stood before a work of art, or an inscrutable series of druidical stone structure, and wondered in silence: How long must I stare at this thing before I have seen it?

The importance of traveling while you're young:
More pedestrian concerns drive current travelers, as well: adventurers of the younger generation can stretch their money further in Asia or South America, and they also have the constitution for such trips. One globe-trotting American lady (roots in Italy and England; now living in Cartagena, Colombia) tells me: 'A lot of people think, "I can do those countries when I'm older, but I need to be young to take a bus through Bolivia".'

On why we travel:
'The world was all before them,' Milton writes of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost (1667), 'where to choose / Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.' Like them, 'hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow', we collect experience and temporary ecstasy and, yes, innumerable Facebook photos of our half-holy pilgrimages, still seeking -- like the English protestant in Rome -- some common origin, a moment in history, the roots of myths and bedtime stories. Perhaps, if we're lucky, a place of grace.


I am certainly guilty of being more of a tourist than a traveler from time to time. I like having some plan of what we're doing and where we're going. But still, some of my best memories are the missed trains, the rainy last-minute searches for a hostel. The time when our train in Italy stopped unexpectedly and a man brought a berry tree branch inside for everyone to snack on while we waited. The violinist on the corner, the five gelatos in one day, pretending we hadn't just had a cone thirty minutes prior. Skipping the ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower for a bread and cheese picnic on the grass.

What's your favorite travel memory? Did it come from your itinerary, or was it something unexpected?

Tyler and me, Venice, Summer 2009

Paris, Summer 2008

Tyler, Stranded in a train station, Summer 2008

Pontorson, Summer 2008

Salvador Dali Museum, Figueres, Summer 2009

Tyler, Mont-St.-Michel, Summer 2008

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