A car pulls off the highway and parks in an overcrowded lot. Four tourists stumble out of their rental car. They carry with them four overly large cupcakes in a pink, cardboard box. A 200m paved path leads to the base of a waterfall. They immediately pull out their cameras to ‘capture the moment’. A few generic photos later, they dive into their stale, excessively sugary, opulent desserts. The quality of the cupcake is poor, but they eat them anyways. Photos safely instagramed and carbs safely consumed, they head back down the path, stuff themselves back into the car and spend the rest of the day driving past beautiful vistas without even taking the time to pause.
I honestly never thought that I would be a part of this story.
When I lived in Alberta and spent time camping & hiking the Rocky Mountains, I would see this type of tourist. They would pile out of the bus, snap a few lacklustre photos, and then pile back in before moving on to their next stop to repeat the process. I always felt sad for them. They thought they were on vacation, seeing the beautiful Rockies and enjoying nature, but they weren’t experiencing what made the place so special. They would never know the smell of the crisp, cool air as you stop, close your eyes and just breathe. They would never experience way the forest could be completely still while teaming with life. They would never realize that the most interesting sights were the ones around the corner from the tour bus stop. They would never know that the beautiful views are the ones earned by hours of uphill hiking. They would never see the unique places that make the rugged mountains worth visiting.
I promised myself I would never be that kind of tourist. Granted, I was lucky enough to know I would have another chance to experience the mountains, so I could take my time without the fear of missing out. But I always thought that even if I had limited time I would rather see one sight really well than the whole damn place out of a car window. Recently, while visiting Kilarney National Park in the Republic of Ireland, I became one of those tourists. And honestly, I hated it.
I hope to keep this knowledge in mind when taking my trip to Italy and Croatia. I want to go slow, stop to enjoy the moment and actually experience what I am meant to be experiencing. One of the benefits of travelling solo is that you alone set the pace of your travel. So while I might miss some of the famous landmarks, I might not visit every museums, I might let somedays pass me by with a book and a glass of wine, but I will endeavour to be present in each and every moment.
Today I say yes to embracing what I believe makes travel special. To taking time and making my own way. To the beauty of this fascinating, ever-changing world.
Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going. – Paul Theroux