Traveller vs Tourist: Things that make you go, hmmm

I have long subscribed to being a traveller over being a tourist.

When I ran tours in Europe in the 90s, I’d start each one with the First Day Spiel. It took a couple of hours and ate up the time it took the coach to get from London to Dover. Much of it was around logistics – these were the days before (most people had) mobile phones and the Internet and the Euro. Travel in Europe was tricky at best and tetchy at worst. We changed money, we crossed actual borders, we used fax machines and phone cards. It was HARD.

But, I’d still finish my FDS with a little pontification about the value of being a traveller over being a tourist.

Travellers embrace differences – cultural, culinary, climate, cash. They are patient, observant, engaged and interested. They’ll understand when the Greek ferry is late and when the only thing to eat is day-old bread and iffy cheese. They will try to learn some of the local language, and will be equally thrilled to see locals zipping about Rome on Vespas as the Colosseum.

Tourists, on the other hand, should just stay home and watch Netflix – or perhaps the Travel Channel. They complain, whine, whinge and generally make life miserable for everyone around them.

For the most part, I had travellers on my tours – I am still friends with some of my former clients – but there were the odd tourists.

So, what category do I fit into this year? I have lived like a local, I have travelled, and I have visited family and friends. I’ve been a digital nomad and for most of the year have had my traveller hat pulled firmly over my brow. BUT, there have been a few tourist moments, when I have devolved into an ugly version of my travelling self – when it has all gotten a bit too much and I’ve indulged in a bit of a whinge.


Campuhan Trail, Bali

Beach and pool clubs in Bali will try to rip you off when it comes to Happy Hour. It’s 2 for 1 drinks, right? Well, that means you get 4 drinks every time you order 2. So, when Ben and I would each order a cocktail, thinking that they were half-price, WRONG! 4 cocktails would show up and we’d be expected to pay for two (not one). It happened so many times, we started clarifying with staff what we were ordering and how much we’d be expected to pay – and even then, they’d still try to dupe us. We’d just send the drinks back – all 4 of them.


Cliffs of Kerry

I got sticker shock when I got to Ireland – and that was coming from England. Everything – and I mean everything – cost a lot more than what we’d typically pay in the US, the UK and Australia, especially public transport, food, drinks, coffee, groceries, accommodation and care hire – you know, basically everything.

I kept doing the conversions in my head – which travellers definitely don’t do – sending myself into the financial equivalent of a diabetic coma. A day-pass on public transit within the Dublin area capped out at 9 euros-something cents. The equivalent in London is 6 pounds-something pence – for London. By the way, that’s about 2 pounds cheaper to travel around London, one of the world’s largest and (I would argue) best cities.


IMG_20180915_134734 (1)
Prime Meridian, Greenwich

Ahhh, the land of inconvenience. That’s what my dad calls it and he’s English, so he’s allowed. As a half-English, half-American Aussie, I am also (technically) allowed to disparage the sometimes ridiculous inconveniences of England.

Going to the supermarket, for example, is an exercise in futility. Filling the basket or the cart is fine – there are a lot of choices – LOTS – but checking out is AWFUL. At ALDI – yes, the same discount box chain found all over the world – they won’t start scanning the items until you are fully unloaded, because there is literally nowhere to put them once they’re scanned. You must unload, then dash past the cashier with your bags at the ready, so you can catch your groceries as they fly off the conveyor belt. It’s like something out of a Japanese game show.

If this doesn’t appeal to you, try Tesco or Sainsbury’s or Waitrose, where you could gestate a brand new human being while you wait for the seated cashiers to slothenly (I’ve made up this word especially for them) pick up each item, examine it carefully to determine the whereabouts of the bar code, wave it over the scanner and then place it down with far more care than could possibly be required for a box of dishwasher tablets. They should have free WiFi so you can do your taxes while you wait.

The US


This probably won’t come as much of a surprise and I will risk getting slightly political, but entering trump’s America (note the on-purpose lack of proper noun capitalisation), is super NOT FUN for a non-American, especially one who is on sabbatical for a year, writes books, and doesn’t have a current employer.

I saw three immigration agents on the way into the US at LA. Three!

How long am I going to be here? 89 days (the visa waiver program allows 90 days and I am giving myself a day’s buffer). How did I get my employer to agree to let me travel for that long? I don’t have one. That’s when I was redirected to a supervisor.

So, how are you able to afford being here that long? I work for myself. Uh-oh. Back up the truck. Warning, Will Robinson. You’re working here???

That’s when I got to see the secure room where they take your phone off you.

Fortunately, the supervisor’s supervisor was a reasonable human being and he understood that a digital nomad is essentially self-funded, but may work for clients they have back home from time to time. I was released back into the wild that is LAX. 

New Zealand

Ben and Sandy 4

Nothing – it’s perfect. Duh.

Off the Beaten Track in London

I am currently in London, UK.

Well, not the Buckingham Palace-Tower of London-Big Ben-West End-Leicester Square kind of London, but the real London. You know, where the people live. London people. I have been staying with my sister and brother-in-law (and their son, my nephew) in Isleworth, which is just outside of Richmond, which is just outside of central London. It has some quaint houses and pretty parks.



Within walking distance are three ‘high streets’ where small shop-fronts line up, one after the other, in what can only be described as ‘complete randomness’. The funeral parlour is next to the deli is next to the mirror shop is next to the mechanics is next to the beauty parlour, and so forth. I love high street shopping. As most businesses are owned and run by the same person, it makes you feel like part of the community and you often get personalised service.

St Margaret's High Street
St Margaret’s High Street

Many of the roads around here are one lane each way with parking on each side of the road, but they are just a tad narrower than they should be and buses wait patiently at either end of a row of parked cars, taking turns to navigate the gauntlet. Then they ‘rinse and repeat’ a few blocks down the road. A  bus journey from here to Richmond is enough to make you hold your breath, such are the manoeuvres of the practised drivers. The buses are very nice, I would like to add – modern and clean.


And speaking of Richmond, it really is one of my favourite places in London, especially the view as you cross the Thames into Richmond. The river is beautiful, and I love the buildings along the waterfront.


I have, however, not had the nerve – or any inclination – to go into here, which is just down the road:


I wonder if somewhere nearby is the ‘Working Girls Club’.  Hmmm.

Reading, Writing and Relatives

I am spending some time with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew in London.  They live in the bustling borough of Teddington, where terraces houses are the norm and vehicles try to maneuver down narrow streets without taking off the side mirrors of parked cars.

I have spent most of my time here at home, or out and about the neighborhood with my sister and nephew.

I have visited with two long-time friends, and enjoyed outings to Kingston (shopping hub), Oxfordshire (to see our Great-aunt), and to Hampton Court Palace. I have seen and done some really cool stuff, and usually I would blog all about it.

But I have started this blog post seven times. Seven. My travel writing synapses appear to be broken. Unlike my sister, whose oven is steaming food rather than roasting it, I cannot call a handy-person to come fix my problem.

I wonder if it is because I am reading so much during this latest vacation. Sometimes I am in a writing phase, sometimes I am in a reading phase and sometimes I would rather just watch America’s Next Top Model. I would love for this writing issue to be sorted out, however, as I have made some fascinating observations during my stay, and I would like to get them down to share with my fans. Yes, I really wrote that. You know who you are.

And so I am left with one topic to use as fodder for my post: what I am reading.

Victoria and Mark (aforementioned sister and brother-in-law) love books and have an extensive library in their home. These three books caught my eye.

I love anything about Robin Hood (yes, even that silly film by Costner), so picked up the first book in the series, Hood. It re-imagines the tale, presenting Hood as a Welsh Prince in the 11th Century, whose kingdom is usurped by a French count, who has murdered his father. Loved it. Couldn’t put it down. Read it in three days. I did that thing where you stay up until midnight and you can’t keep your eyes open anymore, so have to put the book down. I can’t remember the last time I stayed up late to read a book.

I bought the other two books on Kindle.

A couple of weeks ago I finished The Art of Fielding. To say that it is a book about baseball is to over simplify a book that is indeed – a little – about baseball. It is a modern American piece about some well-drawn people with beautifully-crafted arcs. I loved it and I don’t mind baseball. The Costner films about baseball were both terrific, by the way.

I am also about 1/5 through Steve Jobs’ autobiography. I loved the start, but it has dissolved into a detailed history of Apple’s rise to infamy. I am not sure what I expected, but I am hoping to learn more about the man and less about the business.

Also on the Kindle and already capturing my attention, is the new Stephen King novel, 11.22.63. This is about a man who travels back in time to stop Kennedy’s assassination. I am fascinated by Kennedy’s reign and time travel.  I also like King’s writing, so I think I will enjoy getting stuck into this one. I should mention that Costner was also in a film about Kennedy’s assassination.

I didn’t read anything today, though. I was too busy out and about with my nephew and sister at Wisley Gardens.

I am glad to have finally finished an actual post. ‘Til next time…

Off the Beaten Track

‘Off the beaten track’ is a state of mind as well as a way to travel.  Many of my travels have been on well worn roads, but my approach allows me to have experiences far beyond the brochures.   

In the past decade travelling has taken me to incredible parts of the world, where I have met people who have influenced my life, and done things I had never considered.  I have greatly embraced the surprises that travel brings, even on ‘well-planned’ trips, and especially when those surprises could have been considered disastrous.   

One of the best days of my life started with a head cold and a scooter ride through torrential rain, but on a Greek Island in the Cyclades, this was the beginning of an incredible adventure and the forging of an important friendship.   My mindset is what takes me ‘off the beaten track’, which is why my Blog carries this name.  

My passionate affair with travel took hold when I was given a life-changing job with Contiki Europe as a Tour Manager in 1997.  With Contiki I travelled Europe extensively and even though our tours stuck mostly to well worn paths, my experiences during that time marked an incredible change in my view of travel.I ran organised tours, yet I saw a diverse range of clients, from tourists who saw Europe through the lens of a video camera, to travellers who sought out their own adventures.   

Armed with these powerful observations, I vowed from then on to always be a ‘traveller’.  Mostly, I have succeeded.  This does not mean that I enjoy five-star luxury travel any less, just that a backpackers’ hostel in New Zealand, serving free soup at 6pm, can bring me as much joy.  The diversity of my experiences is what keeps me addicted to my drug of choice: travelling.    

My focus for this Blog, and the accompanying photographs will be the travel I have done most recently.  In the past 15 months I have been sailing through the Cyclades Islands of Greece, traversed Peru by plane, train and motor cycle, had adventures in Hawaii, New Zealand and Canada, and discovered treasures in the cities of Las Vegas, London, Seattle, Christchurch, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Denver and my home town of Sydney. 

Where next?  This is a lengthy list peppered with must-returns and must-sees. 

I invite you to read, comment on and contribute to “Off the Beaten Track”.