Ahhh… here it is. This post has been a long time coming. After nearly a decade of working in the travel industry, I just have to get this all out. Even if no one is reading this, I’m enjoying writing it.
In my last post, I was talking about the biggest passion in my life, which is traveling. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I went anywhere new and exciting, and I really miss it. It’s something that I think is so great and so important to the whole human experience, and that’s why I get so worked up when I meet people who are doing it wrong. I know I sound pretentious when I say that “people are doing it wrong”, and I’m really not trying to sound snobby or pretentious. It’s just that vacation time and money, for most of us, are things that are precious and often quite scarce. We have to work really hard and save for a long time to go on a trip that we have been planning or dreaming about, maybe for years. Why not get the most out of it?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that as tourists or travelers that we should never get stressed out, pissed off, nervous, annoyed or cranky. I know as well as anyone that it’s easy to have a bad day or a bad trip that can ruin an entire vacation or trip. Things happen and that’s normal. My point is that traveling is one of the most enriching things we can do in our lives. I don’t know who first said this, but one of the truest quotes (yes I love quotes!) is “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” It really does teach us about the world more than any book ever could, teaches us about ourselves, opens our minds, makes us more caring and compassionate and inspires us. It’s something that everyone should have the chance to do, and unfortunately most people can only dream about it. Think about it. Traveling is something that a fairly small percentage of the population gets the chance to do. Consider yourself lucky if you have ever had the means to buy yourself a plane ticket. You’re one of the lucky few and you’re also an ambassador of your town or country; you’re representing the place from where you came and for that reason, hopefully, a trip should really bring out the best in you.
In my many years of working in the tourism sector, I have met some really amazing and wonderful people who have inspired me with their own stories and backgrounds. Maybe I’ll write about those some other time. But for now, I’ll say that this post is dedicated to all who do this kind of work, my current and former colleagues, tour guides, tour leaders, travel agents and study abroad educators. As I said before, this is a long time coming… THE LIST of the people who inspired me to write this
rant post. We all know what the Good is about being a tour leader: the glamorous aspect of visiting beautiful and exotic places, getting paid to travel, getting to meet interesting new people from all over the world every day. There is also the Bad and the Ugly.:
(This list is by no means comprehensive, and I invite anyone reading this to add to it in the comments section. This is meant to be light-hearted, by the way. There is no intention of offending anyone or sounding condescending or judgmental. OK maybe a little bit judgmental).
The Scared / Nervous / Defensive Tourist
Distinguishing features: Super sweaty, breathing heavily, pissed off and/or terrified look on their face, and an arsenal of prescription medication that takes up half a suitcase. OK… Maybe I should be a little more sympathetic. I get it, sometimes when people are in a new place where they don’t speak the language, they feel threatened and scared. Then again… this is the person that walks right up to their tour leader, does not say hello or good morning, but instead just starts yelling or complaining. They are often seen yelling at their husband/wife/travel companion for any given reason because their anxiety makes them cranky and unreasonable. This is why tour leaders should be allowed to carry horse tranquilizers and gin and tonics.
The Naïve Tourist
I have mostly funny memories of these guys. The Naive Tourist is known for asking hilarious and absurd questions that at the moment irritate the shit out of you, but then at the end of the day when you’re winding down with a cold beer or a glass of wine, bring a smile to your face. Example questions: “What do you mean the Leaning Tower of Pisa doesn’t have an elevator?” “How far away is Florence from Tuscany?” “We have enjoyed seeing Michelangelo’s David here in Florence, but how can we go see the Mona Lisa?” “Why did they make the streets so narrow, cars and trucks can’t pass through!” and worst of all “I let that nice man help me put my luggage on the train and then the next thing I know, all my luggage is gone!” Ay, caramba.
The Great Expectations Tourist
This is the one that usually goes home the most disappointed, and goes hand in hand with also being The Naive Tourist. This is the old lady who got really pissed off at me on a tour in Tuscany in October because she “thought I was going to take her to see the sunflower fields and the red poppies” even though sunflowers are only out in late July and the poppies come out in the spring time. This is the dude from Florida that came to Italy in December wearing shorts and t-shirts because he had seen in all the movies that Italy is sunny, so why the hell is it so damn cold, why didn’t I call him at home and tell him how to pack? This is the woman from New York who was disappointed because she expected to see “more little old ladies out in the countryside wearing black veils and hanging up their laundry and you know, that sort of ‘typical Italian scenery’.” This is the old couple from Virginia that only like to eat bland food and microwaveable hamburgers that disliked all the food in Italy because the service was so slow and they need to be in bed by 6pm and the food gave them indigestion. This is the hundreds of people I have met who had never been on a bike or motor-scooter before in their lives, and decided that the first time they were ever going to try to go on one was going to be in the hilly countryside of Chianti, on winding roads with no shoulders, and then got angry because it was hard, scary, or, surprise surprise, they just hopped on a bike and then tipped over like a sleeping cow. Take a moment to picture that in your mind. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
The Impatient and Pushy Tourist Who Just Wants Things Done His/Her Way (aka The New Yorker)
OK so to be fair, they weren’t always New Yorkers, sometimes they were Aussies too. Kidding! Sort of. But this is the one that is going to experience frustration anywhere outside their natural habitat. These are the weirdos that for some reason like to wake up at 5am and insist to the hotel staff that they need coffee, even though coffee shops and breakfast rooms in Italian hotels do not open until 7am. These are the folks who sit down to dinner and freak out that dinner lasted 2 hours (you’re on vacation, what’s your hurry?) These are the ones who go to a restaurant and order something off the menu, only to deconstruct it and ask for something totally different in the end (“Can I have the spaghetti with tomato and basil but with no olive oil, and the tomato on the side, and instead of basil can I have oregano?”
The Hostage Taker
My least favorite. These are the ones that take us hostage with their threats to leave a bad review on Trip Advisor or Yelp because they were probably one of the above mentioned types of tourists who just did not get their way, demanded a refund and said that if we didn’t give them back their money, they were going to take serious action. In the foreseeable future I think I want to write about the evils of websites like Trip Advisor. Ugh. Just go away and don’t come back.
The One Who Won’t Put Down his Phone/Laptop
It happens from time to time that you have to work when you’re on vacation. That blows but now thanks to smart phones and wi-fi, a lot of people have a hard time disconnecting from work or can’t resist the urge to check their emails and text messages. That is really too bad for you but even worse for your travel companions. It does take some planning on your part to be able to take calls or answer emails so as to not disrupt the trip or be rude to your travel mates. So if you say to your tour leader “Hey Beatriz, I know you have some stuff to say on the bus to the group, but I have to take an important work call at 10am, can you have the driver stop so I can get out and make that call? Or can you stop talking so that I can concentrate?” when there are 30 other people with you, the answer is going to be a smile and a big fat NOPE. Perhaps the one that takes the cake is the guy who had such an inappropriate relationship with his Blackberry, that for the duration of a 6 day tour of Tuscany, every time we passed a beautiful village, a field of flowers, or a charming caffè, and I would point it out to him, his response was to look away from the scenery, look down at his phone and then Wikipedia or Google the very thing we were looking at.
The Speed Tourist
Anyone who has ever done a back-packing trip around Europe or other part of the world is guilty of this, including myself. You’re somewhere far away, it was a long and expensive plane ticket to get you there, and you don’t know when you are going to be back, so you try and cram as many places as you can into the limited time that you have. When you get home, you look at all your digital pictures and can’t remember where the hell you’ve just been because all the places you saw have blended together in your memories. Is this Rome or Naples? Did I eat that amazing dinner in Vienna or Amsterdam? Oh this guy, he was my tour guide of Paris, or was that in Lyon? Honestly, that’s ok. It helps if you keep a travel journal so that you don’t forget everything. Just don’t do that one thing that makes my skin crawl. When I hear people say “Oh yea we just got back from vacation and first we did London, and then we did Dublin, then we did a bunch of cities in Italy before doing Paris, all in 10 days.” I’m sorry, you did what? You didn’t “do” those places. You “went” there. If you “did” those places then I suggest you get yourself to the nearest clinic and get tested.
The Rick Steves Worshipping Tourist
ARRRRGHH Rick Steves, this guy is such a DORK! Why do so many people buy his books and use them as travel bibles? No, no, no… I hope he doesn’t read this and then sue me. I, along with many of my colleagues, have a big problem with this guy, starting with his tweed jacket. The problem with Mr. Steves, as well traveled as he is, and yes, I admit, knowledgeable about places, is that he cannot deliver an authentic experience. The places he writes about end up becoming incredibly touristy, which makes them more expensive and reduces the quality of say, a restaurant or a bar. But the thing that irks us the most is when he tries to lecture about certain customs and cultural tidbits. For example, he tells his readers not to tip when they’re in Italy because no-one in Italy tips. Listen, dorkface. Italians probably don’t tip all the time, but if you come from a country like the US, where we do tip, and you’re visiting a country whose major industry is tourism, like Italy, you should probably tip because chances are the waiter or waitress or tour guide makes a living mostly from tourists, and wages in Italy are low and taxes are high, so help them out a little. Did you get good service? Good. Leave a tip. People who work in service jobs don’t make tons of money like Rick Steves does. I shake my fist at Rick Steves and his crappy restaurant recommendations! If you want great recommendations on places to eat or places to visit, ask a local or read a travel blog. If you’re looking for an authentic experience off the beaten path, leave the books in the book shop.
The Psycho Tourist
Hey, crazy people go on vacation too. Like, really crazy people with real mental afflictions. I’d love to tell you about an incident involving a lady pooping on the floor of a hotel lobby and then pretending she didn’t just do that (true story, happened to someone I worked with), or the crazy guy who came on a 6-day hiking trip in Tuscany who wore moon-shoes on the trails, or the crazy lady traveling with her two grown children on a bus tour in Tuscany who kept falling down and saying that she broke a bone, then getting back up again and reassuring me that “this sort of thing always happens”, or the grown man who traveled with his puppet and every time he spoke to me, he used his weird freaky puppet. They’re out there I tell ya.
The Cheapskate Tourist
Hey, traveling is expensive and it’s a good thing to have a budget. But if you insist on eating all your meals from vending machines, gas stations, fast food shops and tacky tourist traps that have pictures of their food on the menu, it’s probably not fair to go home and then say to everyone, “The food in Italy was CRAP!” That is all.
The Super Self-Righteous One
You can go on Trip Advisor and read any number of bad reviews. I would say that 20% of the bad reviews are legit and well-deserved. Your hotel had insects, your waiter was rude, your meal was cold, your hotel lost your reservation or you driver or tour guide got lost. It’s perfectly understandable to be dissatisfied. But the other 80% are borderline hilarious, yet terrifying. Take for example, the dude on Trip Advisor who gave Michelangelo’s David a 4-star review because his pubic hair didn’t seem quite real, but he did give the McDonalds in Rome 5 stars. It’s like when you hear someone who is staying at a 5 star luxury hotel and they complain that they don’t like the kind of shampoo in the bathrooms, so they tell everyone they know that it was a horrible experience. #FirstWorldProblems people. Maybe instead of little bottles of shampoo, they should put giant bottles of perspective in your shower.
Aaahhh. There. Now I feel better. 🙂