How Do We Travel in an Age of Travelers?

How do you take a group of people to see the Sistine Chapel? A guided tour of the Vatican Museums is a rugby match between 50 teams at once, played out in beautiful corridors that are nearly invisible from the scrum. But if we set people loose with an audio guide, they don’t get the human, reactive, present-tense experience that really makes it come alive. Same for Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. Is early in the day actually better anymore? We couldn’t even get reservations for Saint Mark’s in Venice this year, and the Louvre closed that door long ago. There are just too many tourists. Has tourism succeeded itself to death?

These were the topics (and background fear) this morning at our first meeting for the 2023 tour season. I may not be home yet from last year, but it’s time to prepare for the 2023 challenges ahead. Traffic has gone from part of the scenery to a logistical threat. Prices have climbed 30% or more. And we’re seeing the old comment of “there were a lot of people but I loved it” lose that second half. How many people leave the Sistine Chapel with more memory of guards yelling “silencio” than of the art?

This breaks my heart. The A List things are (mostly) worth seeing, whether they’re a statue like the David or a place like Venice, and when I hear someone say “we didn’t care for Amsterdam” I feel like I have failed them, even if the second half of the sentence is “it was just too crowded.”

If the crowd is too big, you might miss the guys with swords

It’s also threatening my tongue, given how often I have to bite down against saying “Well, you chose to come to Paris. Did you think you were the only one who had heard of it?” Or even more important to not say is “You know, there’s a neo-Renaissance castle every bit as beautiful as this one in Romania, but about 80% less crowded, and a fraction of the price.” By that time, it’s too late, and I’ve come to accept that going someplace insufficiently endorsed by popular culture is beyond many people’s comfort level.

Luckily for me, the thriving love of travel is creating more veterans and intrepid souls who are both able to look beyond a moment’s discomfort and willing to seek out something new. So while I will always savor the first-timer’s awe at seeing places they’ve dreamed of for years, it’s a different pleasure to watch someone expand their experience of this big beautiful world of ours.

That’s what I was thinking as I finished the meeting and saw two more sign-ups to see Romania with me. I have a handful of spots left of my small group tour of somewhere new, and we probably have 20,000 or more signed up for the big company versions, so the human desire to travel and get to know ourselves is still going strong.

And I give thanks for that. Happy Thanksgiving and happy travels, whatever kind you choose!