Contrasting Travel Styles

Gaudi’s famous lizard

My son and I just returned from a trip to Europe.  Likewise, my son’s Great Aunt and her son just returned from their own trip to Europe.  The Great Aunt is a very sharp, active 70 year-old and her 43 year-old son is a smart, extremely amiable, professional, single guy.  So at our recent family reunion, we had the opportunity to contrast our two different traveling styles.

a Gaudi book

Our relative’s Europe trip was an 11-day vacation consisting of a flight to Barcelona, then a flight to Prague, then a flight to Munich where they had guided group tours in each of those cities.  The mother enthusiastically shared their photos with people at the reunion where I learned about the amazing architectural genius of Antoni Gaudi (wiki) who graced Barcelona with amazing art!  Before sharing her photos, the Great Aunt first shared a fantastic book showing many of Gaudi’s gorgeous structures in order to help us to more fully understand her photos which were photos of the same structures but many of them with her standing in front of them and other tourists in the background.

my son & our enthusiastic German host

The Great Aunt and her son came back with pictures of buildings and art.  They had no pictures of people, no stories of conversations or encounters of different cultures. And I could not help wonder if I looked at her book on Gaudi’s architecture about 10 times and looked at a few others like it, then 5 years later (if we had a way to compare her and my memories of the art of Barcelona) that our memories would not vary much?  I suspect our memories would be similar except that she could say, “I was there!”  That memory would be missing for me.

My son and my trip was in a rented car and avoided big cities as much as possible during our 21 days.  We couch-surfed each night without plans for the next day.  We let our hosts’ recommendations guide us and spent as much time with our generous, kind hosts as we could — tasting local life.

The Great Aunt and her son had a fantastically fun time in Europe and joyfully shared their photos with many people at the reunion who also enjoyed them immensely — as did I.  But the contrast in our traveling styles was stark.

Question to readers:  What are some travel styles you have experimented with? (PS: please don’t forget to see the photo below)

one of our Tyrolean Alpine hikes near Imst: our exuberant Austrian host, my son and I


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

13 responses to “Contrasting Travel Styles

  1. TimF

    About Travel Style… I travel for business a lot and often have weekends free. During the week, if I find a cab driver that I like (speaks good English, knows his way around, etc), I will sometimes ask him how much he would charge for a full day, you can get a really good deal sometimes. This way I get a personal tour that is usually first rate.

  2. sgl

    i travelled as part of the ‘backpacker ghetto’, staying at youth hostels, where there’s lots of fellow travellers to talk with. it was a little harder to meet locals that way tho. i liked visiting museums and churches, but i also enjoyed just getting lost wandering around trying to find what i was looking for. and also enjoyed being in smaller towns too. fortunately, my trip was long enough to get a mix of both.

    in the louvre in front of da vinci’s mona lisa (behind bullet proof glass, and with lowered lighting for preservation), i saw a tourist come up, take about 5-6 pictures, then leave. i don’t think he even saw the painting except thru the viewfinder!


  3. When I was younger I also did the backpack-and-hostel route through Europe. It was an exciting way to see the different countries, and I did have some pleasant, interesting encounters with both fellow tourists and locals. (And some not so pleasant, like the cab driver in Paris who refused to take “a smelly hippie” (I’d showered that morning!) to the Versailles Palace, or the lady from Iowa who shoved in front of me in order to take a photo of the Alps and almost knocked me over a cliff.) Now that I’m older however, I don’t think my arthritic joints could take the saggy mattresses or climbing into an upper bunk bed at a youth hostel, or hauling all of my belongings in a 50-pound pack. I also enjoy eating at a nice restaurant now and then: dining on a “farmer’s lunch” of bread, cheese and ham for a whole week doesn’t have a lot of appeal anymore.

    As I alluded to in my last comment, I am planning a daytrip by bicycle around the southern part of the Puget Sound, where my son, also a cycling enthusiast, lives. It requires different equipment, like having a rack and panniers on my bicycle, which my son is modifying for me. I also have to be in good shape for this trip, so I’m exercising appropriately and had a checkup with my doctor. Seeing things from a bicycle is so different from traveling in a car: while you are going faster than you would if you were walking, you’re in contact with your surroundings. It’s easier to see small details, a bird’s nest in a tree, a roadside memorial, a feral cat and her kittens eying you from under a bush.

    I also am planning to re-read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” while I’m on the road. Granted, Robert Pirsig went cross-country on a Honda SuperHawk and wrestled with philosophical questions as he and his son crossed the Rockies, something I’m less apt to do: but his descriptions of the experience of riding a machine while exposed to the elements are not unlike the experience of bicycle touring, and are beautifully told to boot.

  4. @ TimF,
    Wow, we share a style.
    I once asked a taxi driver to take us to his favorite places for 2 days when in central Mexico — the best place was his house to have dinner with his family. You sound as crazy as me!

    @ Hangaku,
    Fun stories — thanks. Your bike trip with you son sounds fantastic. Is he a philosophically primed/inclined as you? How do you think he looks at the upcoming trip differently than you?

    @ sgl,
    Like Hangaku and yourself, I have done the youth hostel thing too. In fact, after writing these posts and listening to comment I am inspired to write a bit more on traveling.

    I laughed at the Mona Lisa story. And now thinking, an interesting analogy came to mind: Camera and Religion. Wait, maybe I will post on it. Thanx.

  5. My son declared long ago (well, three years ago) that he is an anarchist (see the Wikipedia article re the word), and hence is against the patriarchal, hierarchical ideologies of Europe, Asia and North America. This always makes for interesting discussions about philosophy, politics, and literature: he might be criticized for being ideological, but unlike his sisters, he’s willing to take an idea and parse it thoughtfully. (My daughters groan and say they hate talking about politics and philosophy because they are irrelevant to “real life.”) So traveling with him is always intellectually stimulating. As for cycling however, that’s his field of expertise: I’m just a piker compared to his knowledge of bicycle design, riding styles, and how to tackle a long, hilly trail. He is a considerate riding companion—he’ll actually slow down and wait for me to catch up with him—but I’ve told him he should set a reasonably quick pace and make me ride at his level. I enjoy the challenge, though at my age it’s unlikely I’ll be able to match his speed and strength. I’m grateful we can share this sort of experience, and I’m proud of his accomplishments. In the end however, he’s a athletic cyclist while I’m just a recreational one. He can ride faster, farther, and stronger than I can. I just want to enjoy the trip!

  6. Fascinating story, Hangaku, thanks. The ride sounds like great fun! I hope in the future I keep as good of a relationship with my children as you see to have with yours. What fun!

  7. sgl

    just stumbled across this really interesting blog post from a guy who’s been travelling since 1999. it talks about how technology (cell phones, laptops) has changed the interactions in hostels to being much less social. fascinating. i guess hostels have changed since i visited them too many years ago.

    perhaps couch-surfing is the replacement for hostels as the place to actually meet and talk with people.

  8. Earnest

    I went to Kerala in India for a week some years back. I met my roommate from college there and we just wandered around for a week. Around day 5 he seemed to get stressed out. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me it bothered him that I was so nonspecific about what I wanted to do. We negotiated that if he detached himself from my goals for the trip he would feel much better.

    I never saw any of the famous Indian arcitecture people usually mention. And yet the trip lives on in my mind as one of the most vivid experiences of my life.

  9. @ sgl:
    Fantastic point. Thanks.

    @ Earnest:
    Indeed! I think if travelers made a vow never to see a tourist attraction on their trip, they will be surprised at how wonderful their vacation will be.

  10. Love the photos and I’d like to see more. It’s interesting what people take pictures of when traveling and then which pictures they decide to share.

    I recently took a motorcycle trip to Newfoundland from Pennsylvania with my father. We had done shorter trips, but this was one that would test my limits for long distance travel on a motorcycle. We didn’t make any plans for specific destinations on the trip. We would get up in the morning pick a number of roads and see where we ended up. This worked quite well most of the time and specifically when we stopped to talk to locals about the best place to stay in the towns we found ourselves in at the end of the long riding days. Our custom was to find a B&B, unpack, change and go out to a local pub for dinner, drinks and whatever local conversation we could find. This worked quite well for the first week because it rained most of the time and it was necessary to get out of the elements. If we would have camped most of the time I think the mental fatigue of traveling that many miles would have become a factor. I noticed the farther north and away from home we people started to become more curious and willing to approach us and have a conversation. I enjoyed this part of since I’m not an overly social person, but when approached I’m happy to have a conversation. My dad and I compromised on visiting cities and small towns. I prefer a city that has a little more going on, he likes to see the simple life in the small towns. We also camped in Newfoundland, which was necessary as most towns on the western coast are spread fairly thin. It was nice to have a few days of wilderness as well. I really liked the “no reservations” method of travel although there was a night when it was getting late and we were road wary and testing each others nerves. Fortunately some locals at a gas station came through with a beautiful spot. I would definitely travel like we did again, but I think I’d also like to map out a few choice locations before hand.

  11. Wow, Ryan, fantastic trip and great thoughts. You are most fortunate to have such a cool relationship with your Dad for all these years. [PS, readers, I know Ryan personally — use to work with him.]

    I don’t know if I will put up more pics. I can tell my whole trip (as I have) by showing the pics of our hosts next to a map and then tell a few fun stories. Maybe I will do that for those curious. The amazing thing about the trip were the folks we met, the talks, the chance meetings etc — very hard to capture with a camera.

    Thanx for the story.

  12. I haven’t really been touristing. I’ve lived in other countries for significant periods of time and really enjoy that. I don’t enjoy travelling, unless by canoe or bicycle, so I prefer to stay in one place and hike from there.

  13. @ prairienymph,
    Like you, I prefer to live places instead of travel them. I have lived for many months in many countries and far prefer that to rocket tours. But this was a quick tour for my son with different purposes. The couch surfing gave it a bit of the “living local” feeling, however.

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