11. Sightseeing

Backpacking and sightseeing are supposed to go hand in hand, but they don’t. Lugging a heavy pack all over a foreign metropolis is great fun. Doing so with an implosive hangover is even better. The Lonely Planet is mostly to blame since it conveniently lists off, under “Sights” of course, the must-see attractions of every place on earth. And because the LP is the infallible gospel of backpackers, failure to cover a respectable majority of listed sights is greeted with clicking tongues, shaking heads (i.e. judgement) and lifelong guilt. “You went to ____, and didn’t see ____?! (tongue clicking).”

sightseeing3

Cue "The Imperial March," from Star Wars.

We’ve all checked off our share of sights, beenou. Seriously, that’s what it feels like: a checklist. Big Ben? Check. Machu Picchu? Check. Taj Mahal? Check. The LP and our adherence to it have reduced an awe-inspiring list of ancient and modern wonders to an everyday grocery list.

If I see one more museum, gallery, cathedral or temple, I might just go insane. I went to the Louvre and actually liked two paintings and one statue. The statue had no head, by the way. That was out of 7,000 works I made a point to see because it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” It took the whole day and I only saw a third of the place. I also bought a $20 sandwich for lunch that day. Awesome deal. I went to the Vatican at 8 a.m. to beat the line-up and when I arrived, it was already snaking around two blocks. It, too, took the whole day. Is it even worth it?

Sometimes, the sights are so spectacular they’re worth it. You’re glad you saw them. That photo of you pushing over the Leaning Tower of Pisa with your index finger is indeed a priceless memento. Very funny and wildly original. But most of the time you’re left thinking, “That was IT?”

sightseeing2The crowds often ruin the experience. Massive throngs of Japanese tourists, although cute (the Tilley hats get me every time), are not people I care to hang out around. Their tour guides are inches away from committing suicide. People are jockeying for position to get the best photo and you’re avoiding collisions more than you’re actually enjoying the sights, exhibits or landscapes around you. Even when you say excuse me, they either don’t understand you or can’t hear a thing ‘cuz they’re knee deep into an audio guide. Besides, Asians (especially old ones) have no concept of personal space.

Some backpackers genuinely enjoy sightseeing. They will bypass boozing nearly every night so they can get up at dawn and see EVERYTHING. Most of these backpackers are women. The sightseeing female backpackers make up one of the two types of lady road warriors – more on that later (see 3. Where are the Hot Girls?).

The rest of us are too busy struggling with our packs or nursing hangovers to care about sightseeing. Or we’re male. Men (especially straight men) are lazy and wonderfully apathetic travelers. Which is why we have so much fun and don’t remember much of our trip. Oktoberfest? Check.

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3 Responses to “11. Sightseeing”

  1. mike says:

    What I love about Taiwan is the random temples that litter the streets in the south. A lot of them are very old indeed, but will never be in a tourist book. They’re still a part of everyday life, and the artwork with all its stories you’ll never understand is pretty epic.

  2. alart says:

    what is the point of taking climing backpack to city ? isn’t it better to take the bag with wheels or (Oh my God !) leave luggage at hostel ?

  3. problem? says:

    This is absolutely ridiculous, doesn’t this defeat the whole purpose of traveling? Seeing the world?

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