I’m a Bad Tourist because…

bad tourist

Hello, my name is Tiina and I’m a Bad Tourist…

I’ve been to London / Paris / Barcelona / New York etc several times. Yet, the list of ‘must-see’ tourists attractions that I have never seen is impressive: the London Eye, the Shard, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sagrada Familia, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty…

And I have no plans to visit any of them any time soon, or ever.

Why? Because jockeying for prime position with other tourists is my idea of hell.

Call me lazy if you want, but I don’t queue for anything, whether it’s Mona Lisa or summer sales. Life’s just too short for that. I’d rather peruse local antique markets or small galleries. Yes, I know you can book tickets in advance, and if there is an interesting exhibition I might do that. But usually I don’t like to plan too much in advance.  A holiday is the time to ditch the ‘to do’ list, not add to it.

Lizards Tourist

What makes me a bad tourist?

I seldom plan my trips in advance; I often ‘do my research’ on the plane, that is if I manage to find a guidebook at the airport…
I don’t really have the wanderlust, either; I have no burning desire to see new, exotic places. In fact, I seem to have a seasonal ‘migrating pattern’ that takes me at regular intervals to places I already know quite well.

Now, I’m not saying that I dislike travelling. It’s just something I do, like some people drive a car (I don’t) or sail (ditto). I’m not even sure if should call what I do travelling… Let’s just say that I have been living out of a suitcase and / or flying around most of my life.

Bad Tourist 6

This is how it started:

Once upon a time there was a little girl who used to take the plane all by herself… Actually, it was the 1970s and it wasn’t very common for children to travel unaccompanied. Yet, there I was taking the plane to go see my father, a few times a year. My mother took me to the airport, handed me over to a friendly and slightly nervous flight attendant (air travel was so much less complicated back then…) who escorted me to the plane and then handed me over to my father after we landed. It was really exciting for a little girl to be travelling alone, except for the name tag the flight attendants put around my neck. Now, that was humiliating… I mean, what am I, a piece of luggage?!? I’m a frequent traveller, a woman of the world, I’m almost ten!!!

And of course there was the time when my always calm and composed mother would accuse my father of ‘losing her child’ when he was due to ship me back the same way… He had failed to mention that it was not a direct flight, and that I was safely stowed away in the flight attendants’ break room while I waited to board my connecting flight. What neither of my parents knew was that there was a frantic flight attendant running around the airport looking for a little wannabe globetrotter who had had enough of being treated as cabin luggage and had wandered off to do some ‘taxfree’ shopping (= buy chocolate)…

Bad Tourist 5

Fast forward to today:

I’m one half of a multicultural (three languages, two countries) couple commuting between our two homes every week. This means that I take the plane to either Gatwick or Heathrow (depending on the airline) at least once a month (and my husband, Professor M, does the commuting when I don’t). The excitement I felt as a little girl is long gone; these days I find air travel frustrating and boring, a bit like taking a bus that is crowded and stuck in a traffic jam…

To make life easier, I have streamlined the whole process of getting from Homebase 1 to Homebase 2 with the least amount of hassle, with or without luggage. I check in online, book the same seat whenever possible and pack anything I might need during the flight so that I can find it easily. Commuting between Britain and Finland has become routine. So much so that I operate on autopilot: arrive 30 minutes before boarding, head straight to security control, then to e-passport gates, stop to pick up a bottle of water and a magazine, gate 37…. Last winter I was on my way to Copenhagen for a weekend trip, and I was about to hoist my cabin luggage onto the conveyor belt at security control when I suddenly realised that not only was I heading to the wrong gate, but I was in the wrong terminal…

Bad Tourist 4

What about holiday trips?

There are two types of holidays Professor M and I take together: a long weekend / a few days’ city break, usually in a place we already know, and a work-related trip (for him) followed by a weekend somewhere further away.

The first type of holiday is a break from our complicated and hectic lives (e.g. I have two homes in two countries, 5-7 employers, and a job that keeps me running from one place to another). Therefore,we have high demands for the hotel (good location and amenities, preferably with breakfast), but there is no itinerary or schedule and very little advance planning as far as activities are concerned. We don’t go sightseeing, unless you count wandering around more or less aimlessly as that…

And while we both hate ‘touristy’ activities, we might take a boat cruise or and excursion if the mood strikes us. We aim to go to one museum or an exhibition per trip, but only if we happen to come across something that interests us (and usually it is a small gallery with local artists’ work that we end up going to). The point is, we don’t plan ahead. Still, even after ten years of going to Barcelona once a year, we always manage to find new areas to explore. And maybe one day we get to see Sagrada Familia, too (provided there is no queue outside…).

Bad Tourist 3

The second type of trip is a bit more stressful. Obviously, Professor M is attending a conference whereas I’m on holiday (and quite capable of entertaining myself in a strange, new place) … I hardly see him, except in the evenings, and then we  might have different plans: after being cooped up indoors the entire day, he is dying to go out, whereas all I want after a day in sweltering sunshine is a bath and room service… This type of ‘holiday’ only makes sense once we get to the after work weekend part and can have a day or two to revisit the places I saw while he was working.

What’s you preferred way of travelling? And do you distinguish between holiday trips and other trips?

Coming soon to an airport near you…




  1. Anonymous
    1 July 2014 / 10:30 am

    I am with you, standing in line to see the major tourist attractions is just not my idea of fun either. I prefer wandering around and finding the little things that make a place so wonderful!

    • Tiina L
      2 July 2014 / 8:34 am

      And wondering around assures that you find something that is relevant to you personally, which is always a good reason to go back later…

  2. Rachel
    1 July 2014 / 10:56 am

    I can really relate to this in that I don't actually love traveling, I don't have noticeable wanderlust–I usually enjoy a trip, but traveling to some extent or another has long been a part of my life so I suppose I don't crave it….

    • Tiina L
      2 July 2014 / 8:35 am

      Yes, it can become a lifestyle, for one reason or another, and then it's what you consider 'normal', or life as usual.

  3. The Cynical Sailor
    1 July 2014 / 11:08 am

    I loved the story about traveling as an unaccompanied minor. My sister and I used to do that when we were little it was back in the day where it was very laid back like you described. I remember that the pilots would always let us come and visit them in the cockpit. That sort of thing doesn't happen anymore! Cheers – Ellen

    • Tiina L
      2 July 2014 / 8:38 am

      Yes, and back then parents also trusted their children more, or expected them to be independent. Most of my friends travelled on their own, too, to see their fathers or grandparents. But it was usually by train.

  4. Van B.
    1 July 2014 / 11:25 am

    You're commuting between Britain and Finland? Well heeeelloooo, if that isn't a major deal I don't know what is. It certainly would go on my nerves though. I mean I love to spend time abroad but I really hate the actual travel part. Totally stresses me out! Anyway I love your story, especially the little girl's part ;) I wouldn't have been able to travel "on my own" at the age of 10! ;)

    • Tiina L
      2 July 2014 / 8:41 am

      Well, that's what happens when you and your spouse work in different countries… The travel part gets on my nerves, too: delays at the airport, the idiots who don't know how to pack their liquids and hold up everyone at the security control, and then there's usually a Tube strike when I have to catch the last train…

  5. Madaline
    1 July 2014 / 12:04 pm

    Hahah great post (and story of your childhood airport "fun"!). I too don't really find the "big" stuff all that great – my now husband and I went to see the Coliseum and we were so unimpressed. I tend to just like "living" life on vacation.

    • Tiina L
      2 July 2014 / 8:43 am

      Yes, when you've seen lots of photos of something, and then see it yourself, up close, it tends to be a bit disappointing. When I saw Mona Lisa I remember thinking that it was so dark and small and what the heck is that fuss about…

  6. Katie Cunningham
    1 July 2014 / 2:04 pm

    Oh, puppies make every post better! I hardly ever do any research before I'm travelling as well. I usually just pick up maps and things as we're walking along or go to places that are recommended by people we talk to. It hasn't steered me wrong yet!

    • Tiina L
      2 July 2014 / 8:44 am

      Yes, travel should be about discovery, not ticking boxes…

  7. Camila
    1 July 2014 / 3:21 pm

    oh man, I'm the same, I've just stopped going to big touristic place, I got a bit off the beaten path which usually makes for more personal experience and also I avoid big masses of tourists and queues! If there's one thing I hate, it's queueing. And that's crazy about your childhood, I don't know how I would have felt travelling alone as a child, I'm a bit too scared of things in general for that.

    • Tiina L
      2 July 2014 / 8:47 am

      I hate crowded places, too, and tourists are often herded like cattle (a past trip to Egypt comes to mind..), and that's not what I want out of my holiday. Well, you know, children were pretty much left to roam free back in the 70s anyway, so travelling alone is just an extension of that. I guess it was a different world back then…

  8. Trina
    1 July 2014 / 10:23 pm

    Tiina, your kind of travel sounds exactly what my husband and I go through, both for work and for pleasure so I hear you loud and clear when it comes to what you call "being a bad tourist". I won't bother standing in lines at my age, I much prefer finding the local hangouts, which I have found to be quite rewarding and beautiful.

    • Tiina L
      2 July 2014 / 8:49 am

      Yes, instead of following a herd of tourists ticking boxes it is much more interesting to just explore a bit and see if you find something that you like.

  9. Sammy Dorn
    2 July 2014 / 10:19 am

    This is great! I love reading about other people's travel styles. I can imagine how tiring airports get when you are in them as much as you are. I know what you mean about tourist attractions… I do love being a tourist and seeing all the big sights, but I do draw the line at ridiculous queues. I was in Barcelona once and I refused to line up for hours to go inside the Sagrada Familia – I went and got a drink instead ;)

    • Tiina L
      2 July 2014 / 11:28 am

      Yes, there's always so much to see, but waiting in line is just wasting time, when you could be doing something else, getting excited instead of frustrated.

  10. Mrs C
    3 July 2014 / 2:20 pm

    Tiina, what would I do during these boring summer day in the hot and humid Dubai without your piece to read? You made my day! Just a few minutes ago I wanted to strangle the delivery guy that rang my bell on mistake and now, here I am grinning from ear to ear recovering from a big laugh! I am the opposite of you.. I got on my first flight when I was 19 and was freaking out when I saw part of the engine collapsed at landing (well, that's normal apparently) I cherished every opportunity to travel back then even for a day. Fast forward now, married to a pilot, I am part of the airline family and travelling is cheaper than a meal for 2 sometimes. I still enjoy travelling and since I've seen most of the must see monuments of the world, I am now into a different kind of travel. We chill more, take our time and follow our own tempo. We still go to the tourist packed area if it means we get to see once in our lifetime something worth seeing but we would make advance reservations, get the tickets delivered to the hotel before we even arrived and this normally comes with the no waiting in lines advantage too. But mostly we love getting lost in unexpected places and discover little surprises around the corner (not in the shape of a man with a knife hopefully!) Oh, I hate the actual travelling part, now.. no first class suite can take that away

    • Tiina L
      4 July 2014 / 7:03 am

      Thank you, that is so sweet of you… It's interesting to hear that even someone whose family travels as much as yours still finds it frustrating. And I can relate to the desire to stay out of the hot sun, I've never been good with hot climates. And it doesn't even have to get that hot, or what you would call hot (I'm sure winter in Dubai is probably 'hot' for me…) I had a really hard time in Korea because of the weather, and yesterday I was complaining about the hot weather in England. Yes, England… Everybody thinks I'm crazy…

  11. Jamie | North of Something
    3 July 2014 / 7:42 pm

    Wow a little traveler at 10 – that's amazing! It's such a different world of air travel now. Sounds like you have grown a lot as a traveler. What a cool way to start out, though!

    • Tiina L
      4 July 2014 / 7:07 am

      Well it was a different world in the 70s… And I guess my parents thought it was a safer way to ship me around, a short flight rather than a long train trip. That being said, I have a cousin who puts his 3 children on a (direct) flight from China to Finland, and their grandmother picks them up… Maybe it's a cultural thing…

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