When we were in China, our guide remarked that she previously used to work with Chinese groups but that she much preferred dealing with foreign tourists like ourselves. She said that Chinese sightseers were very demanding and out to squeeze as much sightseeing as they could into one day. As a result, she said she had to work much longer hours , often starting at 7 Am and working until almost 10 PM or later. In between, these groups would try to cram as many different sites as possible.
Their viewpoint is quite understandable though it was hard on her and her fellow guides. Those Chinese sightseers could not afford such trips very often and , when they could, were out to get the most for their money. The hordes of Japanese tourists that one sees rushing from one European museum to another, stopping only to take photographs of themselves at the most well known sights , are motivated by the same impulse. For many of them, this is the first and only trip they will take to the Continent and they are going to try and make the most of it.
When we first started traveling , I must admit I was the same. I thought that traveling meant seeing every museum, every palace that we had read about, flitting from one scenic spot to another. Gradually it dawned on me that I wasn’t enjoying myself. After a couple of hours or three, even the Louvre begins to pall.
Then I read about a couple that was interested in soup ( yes, soup) and traveled to various countries to taste the local soups. I began to ask myself what it was that I liked about travelling and what my purpose was in doing so. The answer was that I liked a) to see what life was in other countries and how it differed from my own and b) the history and geography of the place and c) the food and drink.
Over the years , I’ve realized that in the one week span of most vacations, one can at most get a flavor of the place …one can never know a country after a week or even a month. So in each city, we try to pick out a few sites to see, few enough that we are not rushed. We try to walk as much as possible, within a city; it’s the best way of really seeing it.It gives us a chance to see the local people going about their work and it also gives us an opportunity to stop at any interesting cafes that we come across. A visit to a local market or supermarket is a must; not only is it interesting in itself but we get a chance to see the local people buying their daily necessities and a better idea of their lives.In Kyoto, the Kinkauji Temple was wonderful but so was the Central Market where the food was jewel-like in its presentation. When it comes to food, we eat at small places where food takes precedence over ambiance. Street food is sampled wherever possible ; you cant get more authentic than that.The chicken yakitori that we scoffed at a roadside stand on the way to Mount Fuji was the best I’ve ever eaten.We try never to eat in luxe establishments or at the hotel where we are staying. We also eat only the local food though, if we get tired of it, we repair to an Indian or Chinese restaurant. I have stopped buying souvenirs or picture postcards ; we rarely used to look at them once we got home. Photographs also are kept to a minimum for the same reason. We try to be travelers rather than tourists.
The pre- and post travel periods are also enjoyable. We read up on each place before we go there and after we come back there is a more extensive reading up on the history of the places we have visited.
This may not work for everybody ( after each of us is different) but I find that it does for us. Our travels nowadays are less rushed and more memorable than before.