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.


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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.

NZ ’13

I was a lucky bugger and I won a trip – an all-expenses-paid trip – to New Zealand. 25 words or less on who I would take to NZ and why, and a couple of months later Ben and I were winging our way to Wellington. This is a retrospective of our 7 night, 8 day adventure along the New Zealand Classic Wine Trail. Kia Ora, New Zealand!!


We arrived in Wellington where it was a little windy and wet and the locals kept apologising for the weather. Settled in at the Wellesley Hotel rather quickly, we then made our way to the Te Papa museum for a private tour. At both places we were expected and were greeted with, “Are you Sandy and Ben?” We decided that we could get used to this treatment, which we received at many of the places on the rest of the trip – others seemed to have forgotten that we were coming (oops). Either way, though, the Kiwis are lovely and gracious people and we were generally treated like the rock stars that we think we are.

Te Papa, by the way, is phenomenal – NZ’s history, culture and natural wonders encapsulated in one impressive structure. I was particularly struck by the Colossal Squid exhibit.

official photograph (not mine)

The next morning, we drove north-east for about 4 hours to the Hawke’s Bay region.


The sun was high in the sky as we pulled into Ash Ridge winery for lunch – the first of MANY wineries.

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After lunch it was into Napier, a town on Hawke’s Bay that was destroyed in 1931 by and earthquake and completely rebuilt. It has one of the world’s finest collections of Art Deco buildings and architecture. We were taken on a walking tour of the town by the Art Deco Society.

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Back at their HQ, the Art Deco Society showed us a film about the town – with footage from the ’30s and gifted us with some souvenirs. How lovely!


The next day we were driven out to Cape Kidnapper’s to see the gannets. Actually, when we arrived at the appointed time, we waited (and waited) and finally decided to call our contact. Her immediate response when we said we had arrived for the gannet tour was, “But the gannets are gone!” Then she realised that we were “Sandy and Ben – the prize winners” and roused her hubby out of bed to drive us out there anyway.

We were on private property most of the way – it’s a working farm and golf course owned by an American billionaire. The views are ridiculous. And there were a few gannets waiting for us at the cape – the late bloomers who had yet to depart for the winter.

This little guy kept a close eye on us.

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After Cape Kidnapper’s (so-called because when Cook arrived, the Maoris mistook one of his crew, a Tahitian, for one of their own and kidnapped him. Cook and his crew got him back and sailed off around this cape and he named it at that time), we were due to collect bike for a 1/2-day ride, but instead we found Clearview winery.


We were greeted by a lovely lady who took us on a guided tour of their tasting menu and then deviated from it a few times. She and her partner had found a couple of unlabelled cases the day before – and ’00 cabernet and an ’02 cabernet-merlot – and she gave us a pour. Holy guacamole. She said she would price them while we had lunch – which we thoroughly enjoyed – and we bought a bottle of the ’02. Pricey, but we’ll save that for a special occasion.

We did end up grabbing the bikes for a couple of hours when we got back to Napier. We rode 8kms to the closest wineries – Mission Estate and Church Road – and bought a bottle from Church Road (a Riesling). It is easy to excuse yourself from buying when you’re on bikes. And it is a little harder than you might think to ride back into town after tasting at only two wineries – not that we were too tiddly, but after a few days of no exercise, lots of sitting and lots of wine, the body can protest a 40 minute bike ride (each way).

The next day we drove south, heading towards Greytown where we would have $100 to spend at Schoc chocolates.


At a place where the 75g bars are $11, this took less time than you might think, but we tasted our way through their menu too – and found some great selections. Dark chocolate rose – yum.

And on the way we saw some cool stuff, including 2 giant kiwis and a Viking (for Ben’s mum, who barracks for the Minnesota Vikings – and for Ben, who is descended from them).

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We even met this little gal, at Loopline, one of the first wineries you will come to heading south on the 2, just before Greytown.


She rushed out to greet us at this beautiful  place.


It has a simple tasting room, where you’ll meet the winemaker and his lovely dog, whose name we never caught. Still, we bought a bottle of their Riesling, because it was dry and delicious.

Into Martinborough, which is a lovely town reminiscent of small towns in the south-west of Australia, like Bridgetown, we were shown to a spectacular suite, which had an equally spectacular bathroom.


We just had a night there, and popped across the road to the local where we had great wine, and great food – and met the locals! Packing the next morning was a little tricky – we had a kilo of chocolate, 5 bottles of wine, we still had Marlborough to go, and we were getting on a ferry that afternoon.

We headed towards Wellington, and miscalculated the arrival time at the (not so) stunning ferry terminal, so got to spend 3 hours there. On the ferry we were treated to the executive lounge, and had a lovely late lunch and wine as we headed to Picton on the South Island. The views were rather gorgeous.

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That night and the next we were at the Marlborough Vintner’s Hotel, where we woke up both mornings to stunning sunrises over the vineyards.


Our full day in Marlborough we were treated to a private winery tour, with our guide (other) Ben. He took us out to Cloudy Bay.


And then he took us to Cloudy Bay.


We got private tours and tastings at 6 wineries, and stopped for lunch at Wither Hills, where – again – we bought the Riesling. Seeing a trend??


The next day – my birthday – we returned via ferry to Wellington (back to the Wellesley), where we were greeted with champagne and a Devonshire Tea. Did someone mention it was my birthday? We decided to skip Zealandia, which was supposed to be our afternoon activity, but the weather was not great for an outdoor nature experience, and we really just wanted to go shopping. Wellington is a hip city, reminiscent in many ways of Seattle, although (sorry Seattle-ites) the Wellingtonians dress FAR better than the average Seattleite. The 40 and 50-somethings had the coolest style. Diggin’ the Kiwi vibe.


That night we decided on a cocktail (no more wine, please!!!) at Matterhorn and then dinner at Monsoon Poon. Both places gifted me with a complimentary cocktail (thanks!) and the salmon at Monsoon Poon was crazy good. We even got a massive booth, with some cool signatures lining the walls.

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How’s that for a cross section of celebs? Sachin Tendulkar, Nora Jones, and Gordon Ramsay.

The next morning, we began the long journey home.

Thank you as always to my darling travel companion, Ben, with whom I row merrily.


Pure Glee

I was having dinner with my friend, Patrice, and she described her best travelling moment as sitting on the lawn of a resort in Papua New Guinea, and eating coconuts. It was her first time on grass in three years, because she had lived in a concrete jungle, and the resort lawn overlooked the ocean. The coconuts were fresh from the palm tree, and were sticky and delicious. There she sat, eating and slurping away as she gazed out at a spectacular view and scrunched her toes into the grass. It was pure glee.

Glee is not only a great word (try saying it out loud – you’re smiling now, aren’t you?), it is a wonderful state of being. Glee only comes when you are right in that moment. When you’re in the thick of glee, there is no thinking and there is no worrying; there is only divine joy. There is no real formula for glee either. It is hard to seek out, because it just happens, and before we know it, we are basking in it.

For traveller’s, these are moments that we remember with clarity, the emotional snapshots we file away in our memories to revisit when we need them most.

Since that dinner, Patrice’s story has inspired me to write of my own moments of emotional alchemy, when I have experienced glee while on my travels. I thought I’d start with my encounters with creatures.

Snorkeling off the coast off Maui with green sea turtles was what started my love affair with these serene beauties. They move so slowly and gracefully, as though there is all the time in the world. All fears I had about being in the ocean vanished as I dreamily paddled above them, and I was delighted when a grand old soul popped his head up above the surface about two meters from me. I am sure he gave me a wink.
Ben's Sea Turtle
Ben’s shot of a green sea turtle

Llamas are my favourite land animal. They have spunk, and are damned cute to boot. When traversing Peru on motorcycle with my guide, Geraldine, we stopped at a llama farm. I was still recovering from salmonella poisoning, but my weariness was forgotten as I walked amongst alpacas and llamas. They ate from my hand, and I laughed out loud like a delighted child. “Llama, llama, llama.”
There's something in my eye
There’s something in my eye
Shall we shag now, or shag later?

Up the New South Wales coast, at Copacabana, my friend Paulie has a beach house (It is his home and it is stunning, and I am jealous, but this isn’t the time or the place). The kookaburras love to come and visit Paulie’s beach house, because they know they will get a feed. This fellow hung around for about 20 minutes and ate raw meat from my hand, which intrigued a fellow party-goer aged two.
Look at you
Look at you

For some reason, dogs love me. This has taken some getting used to. I have a long-held fear of big dogs since I survived a childhood attack by a German Shepherd. Regardless, dogs do not know this, and in my travels I often make as many canine friends as human ones. On Siros, in the Cyclades Islands of Greece, this dog met me and Ben in the main square, then took us on a tour of the town.
Our dog
Ben’s shot of Siros, our dog

She was such a lovely spirited dog, and a little naughty too (she chased and cornered a cat, and wouldn’t come until we threatened to leave without her). After a couple of hours, she led us back to the square and we thanked her for the tour with a bag of chips. Many of the dogs in Greece are homeless, but this one had a collar so she belonged to someone. For those two hours, however, she belonged to us.

I love kangaroos. They are almost as cute and cool as llamas. My dad (Ray) and step mum (Gail) live on the south coast of Western Australia in the tiny hamlet of Denmark (yes, that was intentional). Their home is in a semi rural area, where the roads and gardens are shared with the native kangas. When I wake, and before I drink my freshly squeezed orange juice, I go and say good morning to the mob. They look up from their eating, perfectly still, except for their mouths that continue to masticate. After a few moments, they decide that I am not as interesting as I obviously find them, and they go back to their breakfasts.
Breakfasting kangas
In the afternoon, they lounge, or fight if they are boys and are bored, and eat some more.
Lounging Kangas
Dad tells the story of a joey, fresh from the pouch, attempting to hop across the road. He was hopping with all his might, while his mother waited for him on the other side, but for all his efforts, he was only hopping on the spot. Yes, kangaroos are funny creatures.

Lambs like to frolic and there are few things more adorable than a frolicking lamb. I saw hundreds of the things all over New Zealand as we drove the winding roads. Leaping, jumping, running, frolicking. I would laugh aloud, as they are even clumsier than me.

On our quad bike tour I got to pet a lamb, which was probably not as much fun for the lamb as it was for me. He, she, it was bleating like I was choosing it for its shanks, but I just pet its curly little head instead.

Some days later, Ben and I were driving to Christchurch, and found ourselves being unseasonably snowed upon. We stopped at a tiny town – one church, and one abandoned shack – and took in the silence that comes as snow falls in the middle of nowhere. Well, almost silence. I could hear bleating. I went off around the back of the church, and there hiding in the woodpile was this little lamb.
Little Lamb Lost
He came to me like a dog would, and stayed close by my side.
My Little Mate in the Snow
The poor little mite had wandered too far from mum, and like in a lost kid in the supermarket, was scared. I pointed it in the right direction, and it ran off to reunite with mum (who seemed indifferent to her terrified child). I had lamb shanks for dinner that night. Yes, true!

I am not Dr Doolittle, but I do talk to animals. It is a reflex response now. I can’t help it. My voice travels up a few notches, and before I know it, I am having a one-sided conversation with one of mother nature’s creatures.

I remember once in a hotel in New Zealand I asked Ben a question. He didn’t answer even though he must have heard me, so I asked again. “Are you talking to me?” he replied. I looked around the room, empty of people except the two of us. “Um, yes.” He smiled at me, “I thought there must have been a bird outside and you were talking to it.” How could I argue with that?

I guess I talk to them, because I am in a moment that I don’t get to have everyday. These animals intrigue and engage me, and before I know it, I am not worrying or thinking about anything else. I just feel the glee.

More later on gleeful moments in natural beauty, glee in response to human beauty, and glee from loving where I am, who I am with and what I am doing.

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”.