A Trichotomy of Tourism: The Lost
Russell Degnan

Assignments pending, and not particularly inspired to blog right now. Next week will be worse, the week after much much better. Also see The Crazy and the The Dumb

Uncultured, unlettered and uncivilised, but learning.

If one wanted to talk to a tourist, and it does have its benefits, then one should always aim to find one who is lost. Where the dumb tourist treats the local resident as an artifact for study, and the crazy tourist has no wish to speak to locals not interested in potentially killing him; the lost tourist is generally happy to speak to anyone, happy to let what turns up turn up, and happy to seek advice on what place best offers them the opportunity to see a lot without terribly much effort. If only they could speak to the locals to ask!

They seem relaxed, because the lost tourist has no plans, no aims, no goals, and a seemingly unlimited time to achieve all those things. For the dumb tourist, the guidebook is the bible that tells them what they ought to be seeing; for the lost tourist it is a security blanket, in case that street over there turns up nothing, or for when they accidentally fall off the narrow path beaten by a thousand passing backpacks.

And yet, by themselves, the lost tourist is basically a useless filler of town squares, cafes, train stations and hostel beds. They are so perennially broke, living for the most part, on bread, chocolate and as much alcohol as they can suffer from the cheapest dive any of them has found; and staying at the houses of friends or just met acquaintances whenever, or wherever they can find them; that the only economic losers if they were to disappear completely would be the hostels and the Canadian flag sticker and patch industry. While their knowledge of what they might see is generally hopelessly misinformed, lacking in any reason to want to see it, apart from it being there, and them being in the general vicinity.

Sure, they know about the Spanish Steps, on which they will happily pronounce that they are, in fact, as you'd expect: steps. And they'll stumble over the Colloseum, the Pantheon, the Vatican, and, with a bit of luck, the Trevi Fountain. But otherwise their local experience is limited to the personal and the inane: the street they found the internet cafe on, or the only cheap food in an otherwise helishly expensive tourist hotspot. Until that is, that they find the fabulously unexpected.

Because, taken together, the lost tourist is no longer an aimless vagabond of uninteresting facts about otherwise extraordinary places. Together they are part of a massive network of quirky and unusual places, events, activities and people, that have been dutifully passed on in the grand oral culture that is the hostel common area. Find a place with a decent kitchen and you'll meet twenty people all ready to chat, and if you're lucky, to share a meal.

The lost tourist, after all, is a contradiction. They want to see and find things, to experience culture, to chat with locals, and learn a little history. But they don't want to be constrained by those things in their quest for aimless self-discovery. While this information is in the guidebook, on the internet, or at some forgotten tourist information bureau, to consult them is to admit that they have a plan, when really they don't. Instead, their fellow lost tourist carries the burden of knowledge. They are all lost together.

During the off-season, when half of them will be Australian, and most of the rest Canadian -- who, for reasons I've never been able to determine always travel in pairs and are obsessed with card games -- the chat is a never ending narrative on where you've been, what you've seen, and what you hope to see next. The humblest visitor to Avignon becomes an expert on Papal politics during the Great Schism; to Antwerp on the history of printing during the Dutch revolt; and to Prague, the cheapest and best way to fall over and dump your guts into the gutter.

Which is not to say there is one true way to travel as a tourist [1]. I, obviously, am proudly lost, having equally proudly left my guidebook at home, flaunting my lack of excessive book baggage to anyone willing to ask for one. Being crazy is fun too, and there is much to be said for visiting some of the more important cultural landmarks directly, instead of merely stumbling across a crowd of people and a vaguely familar building. But lost is where I like to be, as it appeals to the inner spirit; an inner spirit that says "I don't like to plan anything properly". And what better way to travel than that?

[1] There is of course the unusual idea of travelling to have a holiday, and even a little lie down. But they are not tourists.

Days Spent Away 3rd June, 2006 03:11:35   [#] 


A Trichotomy of Tourism: The Lost
What if you find yourself travelling in Europe with your parents as a 7 year old?

Bill Degnan  6th June, 2006 16:01:42  

A Trichotomy of Tourism: The Lost
In that case you would be Dumb and Lost.

The parents, on the other hand, are definitely Crazy. :-)
Russ  6th June, 2006 18:01:41