Locals are overrated: travel's eight biggest myths busted

There is no shame in being a tourist.
There is no shame in being a tourist. Photo: Alamy

Anthony Peregrine's manifesto for a happier holiday remakes all the old rules.

It is about time some truths were told. Here, I am addressing mature people of all nations: from now on, we should do what we want on holiday.

This is more radical than it sounds. At present, we are under two-pronged pressure.

On the one hand, we are urged towards faster, smarter, more prestigious travels.

The thrust is to get to places quickly, tick off "must-sees" at a canter, ski glaciers, spot rhinos, hike Peruvian trails, see the Van Gogh exhibition and stay out all night at Skopje's hippest bar.

On the other hand, and in reaction to the above, we have the "slow-travel" movement, son of the slow-food thing developed in Italy and now worldwide. Initially tempting - calm down, relax - it turns out to be as prescriptive as all the rushing-about, must-do, glamour directives.

Slow-travel websites and publications are all in the hands of ideologues hectoring people about carbon footprints, interacting with communities, eating local organic food, travelling by yak and wearing only natural materials. There is nothing specifically evil about any of that. It is just unbelievably irritating. So today we launch a third category - "tranquil travel" - which avoids the pitfalls of both fast and slow travel.

This involves binning directives and instructions, in order to follow your own fancy.

Its starting point is the fact that holidays should be for enjoyment, not for impressing people.

And it has a manifesto (below) which you are free - indeed, encouraged - to ignore.

1. There is no obligation to visit big-hitter sites.

There are no must-sees. Or, to put it another way, if you are not interested in art, do not go to the Louvre (Prado, Hermitage, Uffizi). These places are full of folk trooping around whose sole desire is to get out. They would be happier, and richer, if they had never gone in.

You could go instead for a beer, to a soccer match or, in Paris, the Musee de l'Erotisme (72 Boulevard de Clichy; musee-erotisme.com, $15).

2. We are ceaselessly encouraged to get off the beaten track. There is no need.

The track is beaten for a reason. Wherever it leads, lots of people want to go. Why shouldn't you? There will be bars, shops and things to do - whether it be in Torremolinos, Stratford-upon-Avon, Florence or Dubai.

Those who say they prefer holidays "well off the beaten track" are making a geographical statement, not a moral or aesthetic one.

3. "Because it's there" is also a good reason not to climb a mountain.

By all means, go off clambering over Mont Blanc, cycling up the Himalayas or sweating through ironman triathlons. This does not make you a better person - merely one with holiday tastes different from those whose mountaineering needs are satisfied from the hotel terrace.

When you return, invigorated, and ask why I have spent all day on a lounger, the reply will be: "Because it was there."

4. Locals are much overrated.

They are simply people who happen to live where you happen to be. This does not endow them with special powers, charm or interest. Nor does it ensure the cafes and restaurants they frequent are particularly noteworthy. Locals will eat some dreadful muck.

Bars full of locals (as recommended in guidebooks) are also useless, unless you speak their language well. You will be far better off in the nearest Irish-themed pub chatting with anglophones who have heard of West Bromwich Albion, Strictly Come Dancing and a place with clean toilets up the road.

5. Group travel is not to be sniffed at.

Yes, I know. "Group travel is not for the likes of me, thank you very much." Well, OK, but consider this: organised group trips take most of the worry out of holidays. All you do is show up at the right place, bung your bags on the train, plane or coach and that is it. Someone else shoulders responsibility for almost everything else.

And, the enormous plus: it comes with built-in company.

I recently joined a coach tour on the Cote d'Azur, and could not possibly have been more content.

6. Your evenings are your own.

How tired I am of being advised towards the coolest places in town. These are invariably behind unmarked doors overseen by XXXL clowns, with electro-lounge-Latino-funk music and cocktails at $25 a throw.

So, let's make a few things clear:

(a) Establishments where entry is filtered by the clowns mentioned above before we can spend our money to pay their wages are having us on - every single one of them.

(b) There's bound to be a cheerful, cheaper bar nearby where they are actually pleased to see us.

(c) "Tourist trap" cafes and bars - on ports, in old towns, near popular sites - are usually jollier, serve recognisable food, and are equipped with people who speak English.

7. There is no shame in being a tourist.

We all are, the moment we leave home on holiday. Those who pretend otherwise are fooling themselves. Travelling to Bhutan or Borneo rather than Blackpool or Benidorm is a difference of distance, not of kind.

So, embrace tourism full on. Ride that dinky little visitor train. Drink sangria. Buy that pottery mollusc from the souvenir shop.

Eat at restaurants with photos on the menu. Eat a full English, if you wish. And, please, don't join those who say: "We always avoid other tourists on holiday." Why?

We're terrific people, and the only ones with whom you might have a proper conversation.

8. Don't be cowed by techno-tourism.

If you love your smartphone, that's great. If you don't, or don't even have one - so no access to apps guiding you to Baroque churches, water taxis or every Korean restaurant within 5 kilometres - this is not a failing.

Guidebooks still exist. They also ensure that, in Granada, when you should be contemplating the Reconquista, you don't get tempted away by online porn.

What are your rules of travel? Do you think travellers try too hard to do things to impress people, rather than just have a good time? Post your comments below.

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