There are so many things that make our traveling easier these days. Apps, Tripadvisor, online maps and GPS, travel blogs. And still I wish for more. I wish for an option “to set back all the novelties – and travel like in the old times”. I am not so old yet (well, it depends on the perspective, my 37 is a stone age for the teens :)), but sometimes I feel like a
grumpy old-fashioned lady from another century. When I start recollecting, I wonder if there are still many people who could understand what I’m saying. Let’s do it for a while!
Do you remember travelling without google maps? When you had to ask strangers for the way and figure out the instructions in any language. The best were Spaniards. On my feeble and polite “Hablas ingles? Do you speak English?”, followed by their energetic “Si, si, si” – “Where is this place?” they would almost grab my hand and go: “Mira, guapa, todo recto, de recha, al fondo, primera – no, segunda – si”. And I would just read their hand movements and improve my Spanish vocabulary immediately.
The worst was in Prague, in 2005, when I arrived to the main station, by train from Salzburg. My hostel was located just in the station building, but still I couldn’t find. I repeatedly asked some clerks in the exchange offices, and they waved “just go up the stairs” – and I spent an hour circling the station, growing desperate. No internet on the mobile then, no google map. Until one taxi driver had mercy on me and explained with his hands and broken German.
Apropos language – remember traveling without google translate? Anyone here who used those
funny phrase books? In Egypt I was hanging out with the locals and noting down the useful phrases. “How do I say “leave me alone” but in a polite way?” – my companion waited for a second and came up with this: “Ana megaueza. I am married. No, wait. Ana megauza masri. I am married to an Egyptian. Because then…” – he did a cutting-throat gesture with his thumb. So, if you are married, that will not stop them from hitting on you – but not if your husband is local. Lifehack for solo travelers, girls! Google translate won’t give you this option 😉
Remember collecting info about your destination – before the travel blogs? What did you do? I would go to the library and borrow a travel guide. On my first trip to Egypt, a solo trip, I took an impressive volume, covering both cultural things, useful phrases (like “Go away” that you could say to kids trying to sell you something, but not to adults), and health tips like “Don’t eat milk products and fruit that cannot be peeled”. In the end of my first trip I was eating yoghurts and strawberries (how would you peel them?) – which I bought on a local market, after some bargaining. On my second trip, I was sitting on the shop floor with my local friends, eating the take-away – the grilled fish – with my fingers. So much for the hygiene rules! And that was unforgettable! What do you do now, modern travelers? What kind of precious info do you get from the travel blogs that make your journeys unforgettable? (honest question, not playing to be superior).
I appreciate people doing this job, the travel blogging, but I, particularly, almost never read the posts like “places to eat here” and “top things to do there”. I like to explore the city on foot, at the best – with no map. Losing and finding myself, taking trams I don’t know direction of. Letting the life take me wherever it wants – and then be amazed, eventually bored, at what I found. And I find food along my way too. Rejoicing like a kid on a scavenger hunt when I find good solutions. Once I spent a week in London, on the au-pair budget, and I wandered around in search of cheap food, getting happy to find a little supermarket, buy some bread and a salad there and picnic in the local park (no fancy setup in Instagram style at that time. And it was October :)). Those moments were as precious as finding all the sights. Then I discovered that a diet of breads and salads and fries from McDonald’s was not good for me, and there I made another discovery – a cheap but oh so good soup in Subway. Though it was ten years ago, I still remember that feeling of finding a Subway accidentally – like winning a lotto. How do you get so much fun now, with all the maps and Tripadvisor restaurant reviews?
I love watching pictures of travel bloggers on Instagram but sometimes I wonder if their work did better (or worse) for the tourism. They get up at 5am to take the perfect shot with no crowds, some even photoshop people away. There they stand, in their floating dress, a hand on a hat – in a serene landscape with the perfect hues of pink or purple. And in the heat of the day this sight sees thousands of people who don’t get to experience that atmosphere. They just overcrowd the spot, selfie sticks in their hands, trying to take the same pic in a floating skirt.
I mean, it was not better before: people would go traveling not to explore the local soil and soul, but to take as many photos of them in front of monuments and cathedrals – to show them proudly to their friends and family at home (I remember showing pictures from Paris in 2003, and my friends exclaimed: “but where are you?”. Like me in front of Eiffel Tower would make her so much prettier). But it looks so small-scale and almost innocent – viewed from the modern-day perspective. When social media plays with our instinct of “keeping up with the Joneses”. When every teen is subscribed to a gang of influencers and has a bucket-list of all the featured locations. When the mass tourism seems to be killing the local life, driving the authentic shops and cafes away, replacing them by cheap souvenir shops, bad ice cream parlors and international coffeehouse chains, turning the cities like Venice and Barcelona into theme parks.
Apropos theme parks. When in Rome, watching all those crowds (hello, Fontana de Trevi, I passed by four times, and every time it looked the same), I wondered if all these people really need to come and stamp their feet in the eternal city. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to make a theme park “All of Europe” or “All of Italy” with all the major highlights included? With easy access from sight to sight, plus souvenir shops and ice parlors, of course (nobody has to lose their jobs :)). So that all those selfie hunters could go there, take their snaps and cover it all – for less time and money? (practical, eh?) While people who love to explore the local atmosphere and catch the original vibe could come to Rome and have it all to themselves? Wouldn’t it be nice?
Do you have memories of travels in prehistoric times? Please, share them in the comments below or on your blog! It would be lovely to hear from you!
And may you walk
with a selfie stick in beauty!