Many people like to describe tourism as “going out to see the world,” or going abroad to “see things.” In this way, travel is considered a purely visual exercise, and the “tour” in tourism is taken very literally as if at all times you are following a guide, going where he goes, in line, and looking where he points. You go to a place to see the thing that you are told you should see: go to Paris for the Eiffel Tower and the café patrons, go to Berlin for the Brandenburg Gate and to see people eat currywurst outside a U-Bahn station. You go to the place to look, idly, at the view you have been told will be there, and so you have experienced tourism at that location.
This, of course, is a terrible way of looking at travel. Instead, you should enjoy travel in its entirety, along with every sunburn, aching foot, crowded train car, and noisy hostel room. After immersing yourself in a rough-and-ready American road trip or European train vacation, the cliché “it’s about the destination, not the journey,” really rings true. More often than not, the best vacation you will have will be the wild, backcountry, 3-star one over the transport-provided, tour-included, 5-star one. You go to Jamaica or Johannesburg to see things, sure, but also to experience whatever happens along the way, to appreciate the act of travel.
The person who goes on the first type of vacation, the one to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, is not inherently wrong, nor are they doing anything we haven’t all been guilty of at some point in time. But rather, they are missing something. Urry writes that “experiences are only of importance to the tourist because they are located within a distinctive visual environment” (Urry 1). Hence, it is not necessarily seeing the Eiffel Tower that will make your trip to Paris so great, but that you can have a glass of champagne, eat a pain au chocolat, or simply have a nice conversation while surrounded by the beautiful and novel visual scenery of Paris. As Urry says, “sometimes, tourism indeed appears to be understood as little more than a collection of a range of often disparate and relative unconnected sights,” when in fact we should be equally appreciating those moments in between the photo-worthy ones (Urry 6).
Generally, when we head into a vacation destined to be like our Eiffel Tower example, it is because we have over-planned. We are following the guidebook, which as we know from de Botton’s piece, often makes us unable to truly see and appreciate what is around us. The argument here is then obviously not to look at our surroundings when on vacation, but to not focus too much on planning and following the sightseeing list. We should avoid being the blind, bumbling tourist, but not because this is some terrible crime, but because in doing so we would miss half of the value of travel.