A Sardine out of the Can

I once had a semi-argument with my father about traveling. I was all for independent exploring. My father was for the bus tour. “You’re safer traveling in a group. Your meals will be provided. And you won’t have to go through the stress of finding a place to sleep or where to go next. You won’t have to worry about getting lost. Especially in a place where you don’t know the language.”

We would probably have to agree to disagree. I think it comes down to our differences in our expectations on what one should get out of a traveling vacation and our tolerance threshold for other travelers. Maybe it’s a bit of a cultural and generational difference, too. I was certainly thinking about this when I was reading about a journalist’s report for The New Yorker about Chinese bus tourists in The Grand Tour.

I like exploring places on my own. The problem I have with tours is that they’re so regimented. You’re forced to bustle from place to place, ticking off each monument like another item on an onerous to-do list. You don’t get to linger anywhere. And other people can be annoying. It’s one thing to travel with friends and family. It’s another with random strangers. In a tour, you’re just part of the gaggle. There’s no point when you’re by yourself, able to soak in your surroundings without another camera-wielding tourist blocking your view.

Sure, there are going to be people out there who actually like bus tours. And perhaps it’s a good introduction for a first time traveler. What I object to, particularly intimated about the Chinese travel industry in the article, is that everyone must go on a bus tour with no other alternatives. Tourism itself is an industry, but it doesn’t have to become industrialized to the point that people are systematically bustled from place to place like parts on an assembly line. Everyone has a different philosophy on travel, particularly travel for pleasure. Some people like efficiency–they want to see as much as they can with a set amount of resources. I’m all for travel efficiency when it comes to work. But when it comes to going somewhere for fun, I want to experience as much as possible with what I have, even if it means just staying in one city and poking around. To me, seeing and experiencing are not the same things.

I once went on a bus tour to France for a high school trip. Of course, there were annoying parts. Not only did I have to put up with the lectures and crowds, but I had to put up with teenagers from other schools, let alone my own. The happiest memories of that trip came from those rare unstructured afternoons. I wasn’t the sort to tag along with anyone else, so I almost always went by myself, discovering shops, streets, unusual scenery, and ultimately trying to make my own experience individual rather than cookie-cutter.

However, I’m aware there are a lot of people who can have a great time despite the fact that they’re doing exactly the same thing that everyone else is doing. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that it’s not for me. It’s kind of like country line dancing. There are those who find moving in sync with a whole bunch of other people great entertainment. I’m not one of them. I find fun in doing my own thing.