When I first went “travelling” I remember planning it and thinking: I’ll see the Taj Mahal, Ayers Rock (Uluru), Carnival in Rio, etc etc etc. A bucket list. It seemed a good idea at the time. Since then legions of cheap air fares and general affluence have opened up every corner of the world to Johnny Tourist and even Barak O’bloody’bama has a bucket list. In the media a bucket list is a standard piece of filler for the travel section of newspapers and today a friend re-posted pictures of the amazing rainbow mountains in Peru originally posted by “Bucket List Travels”. They look fantastic.
But really? REALLY!? Are we really all supposed to visit these bloody place before we die? There are 7 billion of us for God’s sake! OK, not all of us are affluent enough to take these holidays but The World Bank reports that the total number of tourism arrivals for 2016 was 1.2 billion!
The number of tourist attractions is minuscule by comparison. On a recent Sunday in Sussex, in preparation for a Sunday walk with The Ramblers, I boarded a bus and found it stuffed full of Germans! But of course. Think about it: Tourists visit the places sold to them by the tourist industry and in England this means Stonehenge, Buckingham Palace and The Seven Sisters in Sussex.
There are far too many tourists clogging up every beautiful place on Earth. The New Zealanders are cottoning on to this as are Berliners. Tourism is wrecking every unique and beautiful place on earth. From the beaches of Thailand to the streets of London.
The counter argument is to present mass tourism as a reaction against elitism and to question why the masses should be prevented from experiencing the wonders of the Earth. The answer is not that they should be “prevented” but that the tourist industry is not some altruistic charity bringing culture to the masses. It is, like all unregulated capitalist enterprise, a voracious profit seeking machine with little interest in culture or sustainability. It is driving ambivalent couch potatoes to destinations they only want to see to say they have.
Why should we allow corporations to commandeer public space for profit? Why should we stay silent while communities are eroded by legions of disinterested “consumers”? It’s not just me that’s irritated by tourism. An excellent video posted recently shows a Nepalese woman chasing a tourist down a mountain path and throwing rocks at her for whining about the price of a cup of tea. Good for her. Perhaps we should all throw rocks at tourists.
When so many people visit Thai beaches or Borough market the experience changes. It’s the tourist equivalent of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. You can’t be alone and serene on a gorgeous Thai beach if surrounded by five thousand beefy faced, pot bellied, jug eared Europeans like yourself. You can’t experience the authentic ambiance and irreverent banter of a working fish market when most of the wholesale vendors have been driven out by the tourist trade.
I visited Rome with a friend and she told me “I only want to see the Sistine Chapel, I’m not interested in anything else”. Then why come? On arrival at said Chapel, after being told numerous times that all photography was banned, a surly American stood videoing, his face pressed to the viewfinder while he growled “Don’t touch me, don’t you touch me” at the attendance asking him to stop. The rest of the Italian holiday we meandered from one objective to another with no real enthusiasm other than getting these things out of the way. Ticking them off the bucket list.
Part of the problem is over population. Scientists refer to the current ecological era as the Anthropocene because mankind is the dominant factor affecting the planet. They also believe that human activity is causing the sixth great extinction event in the Earth’s history.
But the scourge of tourism is also a lack of imagination. It’s reliance on someone else to sell you an experience. Let me make a suggestion: If you you’re visiting Italy and you’re not interested in history or religion then don’t visit the Sistine Chapel. It’s not obligatory. There’s no shame in it. And there’s no shame in having interests outside of the agenda sold you by the travel agent. Consider what you’re interested in and research that. Italy has plenty to offer the keen horticulturalist (Cervara garde) and the car fanatic (The Alfa Romeo Museum ) as it does the religious nut.
During my original around the world trip I stopped in Hong Kong. When grilled about this by a friend he asked: did you see this and did you see that? And I answered no and he said, it doesn’t sound like you saw much at all.
But I did. On my first night I headed straight for Ned Kelly’s Last Stand and ate my first western food in three months (gammon and mash). I then got drunk as a skunk. I woke in in a tiny hotel room in Chungking Mansions where the occupant of the top bunk got frozen feet while the occupant of the bottom bunk sweltered in the heat. I weaved my way through the crowded streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, I argued with theatrically rude camera salesmen. I saw taxi doors that closed themselves and I visited a former colleague in hospital. I drank in absurd English pubs from the 50s and watched equally absurd British ex-pats talking of slacks and Bass (pronounced Baaaaasss) beer and I crossed from Kowloon to Victoria on the Star Ferry. I can still feel the tropical air and the salt spray now. It was wonderful and I planned none of it.
Do yourself and everyone else a favor. Discard your bucket list and let serendipity be your guide.