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(Anna Seward)– To my mind there are three different ways to travel. You can be a tourist: wandering around historic or otherwise influential sites wearing sensible shoes with your camera always at the ready. You can travel as a visitor and stay with friends, probably keeping a lower profile. Finally, you can travel as a worker either with real employment or doing research. These definitions are fluid, I find, but can mostly describe the great adventure of traveling. This summer, I will be doing a little of all three, which is the reason I’ve started up this series. At the moment, I’m a tourist in a big way as I tour Ireland with Amherst College Concert Choir. Since I’m in Women’s Chorus and not in Concert Choir, I’m not singing; I’m really just along for the ride.
We’re now eight days into our trip (our last real day) and are staying in our third hotel. When we got here I piled into an elevator with three other members of the tour along with all of our miscellaneous baggage and my choir director sighed, “Why do I keep doing this?” Sometimes I don’t even know. Traveling is uncomfortable. At the moment several of us, including myself, are getting over various colds/flus (food poisoning? A particularly drafty cathedral? Stress? Who knows). Herding 37 people from place to place is especially challenging. Someone is always late, or hungry, or has to use the bathroom. Our tour is mostly incredible but has had its tourist low points.
Our tour company took us to a silverware “icons of style” museum and left us to “explore” the two room exhibit and massive gift shop for 45 minutes. We ended up having an ironic photoshoot to entertain ourselves, but really? 45 minutes? (Pictured is my friend Peter, enthusiastically posing with a poster-collage of Linda Hope, Bob Hope’s daughter)
On the other hand our tour has given us a lot of opportunity for the “visiting” part of traveling. We’ve had many nights hanging out in various pubs with one another, listening to live Irish music (or one night, confusingly, American 2000’s hits?) and feeling like locals as we ordered Guinness after Guinness. Or hunting down fish and chips in a warm pub in the small town surrounding the Rock of Cashel on a freezing morning.
I have had a lot of conversations about tourism on this trip, particularly on the subject of photography. When I take a lot of pictures on a trip I’m always thankful later, but am I really getting the most out of the experience in the moment? What do you lose if you’re only looking at a new place through your camera lens? Don’t get us started on instagram/photoshop/filters we could bore you all day (are they improvements? Is fixing pictures to make them closer to “reality” better than just improving them for asthetics? etc). There’s something about pulling out your iPad for a picture of the ruins at Glendalough (we also have a running joke on this trip about “monastic settlements”—it seems we’ve seen maybe a hundred) that just screams tourist. But, then again, what’s so bad about that?
My “audition” piece for AC Voice was a look at my days spent in Paris with my mother last summer as we tried to look at the less seen museums and mansions in the region. Was I resisting tourism just for the show of it? There’s something equally grating to me in people who seem to travel just to complete a checklist as people who will humble-brag to you later, “we didn’t even walk by the Eiffel Tower—too touristy, you know?” This seems to come down to escpaing the “tourist look.” Heaven forbid people from a country know you’re not from there. Also there are popular things that are incredibly worth seeing. Visiting the Cliffs of Moher was easily the highlight of this trip for me and was maybe one of our more “touristy” adventures. When I was sitting in the grass (yes, outside of the approved path) directly over the cliffs with wind in my hair trying to take a picture to capture the moment, I didn’t really care what I looked like.