Sunday, May 26, 2013

Travel and Tourists

The NY Times has a small piece on travel. As the author states:

But not long ago, on a journey through India, I began to see things a little differently. For two weeks, I had been fairly battered by the daily chaos of budget travel. Then, on my last night in Kolkata, I met up with some particularly affluent friends who had spent their vacation escorted by private staff from one security-gated refuge to the next, and who were staying in a palatial five-star hotel on the outskirts of the city. In their cocoon of opulence, they quizzed me about my comical but vivid excursions, which had left me both exhausted and exhilarated. I began to realize that they suffered their own form of travel envy. The sense of control money provided them had also served to deaden their experience.

The economic gulf between travelers is part of a great tradition. Since the birth of leisure travel, aristocrats have been devising creative ways to isolate themselves from hoi polloi.

 Now I have traveled a great deal. I have started companies in some twenty countries and can manage about six languages. Perhaps that is the key.

I am reminded of my first trip to Russia as a tourist. It was 1995 if I recall and we went via a FinnAir tour, but unlike the rest of the Americans we went local. We stayed in the InTourist hotel, the old KGB managed facility, where Russian was required, took local cabs to meet our rich American fellow travelers at the Europa.

When we went to the Ballet we had a ticket for $0.75 each since I dressed in a local style and spoke in Russian, the other Americans paid $75 from the Concierge. My tickets were from the local box office. We hired a local Russian driver, a fried of our InTourist guide, but since we spoke Russian, and dressed not as Americans, we were shown St Petersburg the way only a Russian would be. Later my Russian partners were always amazed that I would rather take the metro in Moscow than a limo.

In Thailand I managed to disappear into the countryside, with a few words of Thai, and in Italy my limited Sicilian allowed me to get places no American would be allowed.

After 9/11 I was stranded in France, and off to Normandy, where my French was accepted and the people were wonderful. We lived in Bayeux for the duration. We did not wear shirts festooned with logos, no sneakers, always had jackets, shirts, real shoes. A few words of the language and we saw the soul of the people.

I remember my days as a US corporate executive, the limos and managed tours, one saw nothing, one walked away from the opportunity with nothing.

I remember sitting at bars, speaking a little Russian and Greek, learning more of the world than any CIA analyst in Langley. Even more so, more than any Secretary of State.

Why does one travel, to escape, to learn, to mingle? Or perhaps if one has excess of funds just to show off. Yet than one can do that with less exercise.