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.

An Inconvenienced Truth

I am not a good traveler. There it is: the truth.  In my head I could win the Amazing Race. In reality, the first time we (my imaginary race partner and I) missed a plane I would shed hot, frustrated tears and settle into a pissy mood that would last the whole episode.

Last Sunday I missed my flight to Vegas.

It was not my fault, but a comedy of errors performed by United Airlines. We spent two hours on the tarmac before takeoff from Seattle en route to San Francisco. Then in SF, where at least a third of the plane was connecting to other flights, they told us the wrong gate for the Vegas flight. It was 75 (right next door to the gate where we landed), not 79 (on the other side of the terminal – and a long run with hand luggage).

By the time I realized the airline’s error, I had missed the Vegas flight. When I was informed that I could squeeze onto the next flight, which was in four hours, I was less than delighted. Four hours when you’re flying from Seattle to Vegas is longer than a direct flight takes. Irony tastes even more bitter when you’re faced with airport food rather than a meal cooked by your mother.

I asked for a meal voucher to make up for being inconvenienced. “I wish I could help you, but our airline stopped issuing meal vouchers for delayed passengers last year. Sorry.” I believed that he was sorry, and then I did what any sane and reasonable adult person would do. I cursed under my breath, and then I cried hot, frustrated tears.

As I walked away from the service counter, I wondered how in the hell I was going to fill four hours in stupid, boring , horrible San Francisco airport (to be fair, I would have thought that about any airport under the circumstances). I continued to curse to no one in particular, because cursing is my pressure valve. There are times when it is the only way for me to regain my equilibrium.  I may have looked like a crazy woman wandering the airport muttering to myself with an angry look on my face, but it was not long until the cursing did its job and I felt better.

I fixed my face, bought some more magazines, and braved the airport food court for dinner.

That killed a whole hour.

Skipping ahead to the return flight: different airline, on time, seated in an exit row. Feeling good about getting home to Seattle. Two new magazines to read. “Ladies and gentlemen, we will be turning off the cabin lights for take off and the duration of the flight. However, if you would like to continue reading, there is a light above your head.”  No reading light.  Broken.

The man next to me noticed my small predicament, and said he would turn his light on so I could see. He did, and then promptly broke it while trying to angle it towards me. “Oops,” he said as the light went out. “I suppose they don’t move.” It was a sweet gesture.  I stopped the flight attendant and asked if they had a flashlight I could borrow.  “Sorry, no.”  I suppose they need those to be fully charged and working in case there is an emergency more pressing than my broken reading light.

I soon realized, however, that if I leaned all the way forward, resting my head on the seat in front of me, and angled the page towards the aisle, I could make out about a third of the text. It grew tiresome.

We landed early (Hooray). We waited forty minutes for our luggage (Boo!). And as I stood there at 10pm alongside a baggage carousel that remained stagnant, and looked around at other annoyed passengers, I started to question the whole, ‘I am a traveler’ thing.

This brings me back to my opening: I am not a good traveler. Actually, it is just that I hate flying. I have said this before, I know, but the hatred is starting to overshadow the excitement of going somewhere new. The whole flying thing is much better with Ben by my side. He is a great travel buddy. Mainly because he humors me when I behave like this.

hee hee

But also because he is far more laid back about delays and little inconveniences. When we’re delayed and we’re together, we play Yahtzee or Peggle (the world’s greatest electronic pinball game).  He keeps me grounded when we’re grounded.

So all of this begs the question: Am I a bad traveler, or is it just the transit that gets to me? Maybe I am just a bad ‘transiter’.

Once I get to where I am going, I am just as amenable to sleeping in a rustic cabin as a five star hotel. I will gladly climb, hike, swim and cycle my way around the wilderness. I happily drink with locals and share my table with strangers. I love to explore tiny curio shops, galleries and museums in tiny towns. I like to eat, try and experience new things. I equally appreciate the majesty of nature and architecture, and I am all about learning some of the native language.

Phew! I am still a traveler. I just don’t transit so well.

Next post:  When Venice isn’t Venice.