Playing The Tourist

In the prison of habit the tourist dreams of mind-blowing abandon.

Before I start properly, can we just complain about that 10 euro “tourist tax” that ski reps take off you on your bus transfer by telling you that it goes towards the upkeep of the resort but that we all know actually goes towards their weekly night off? Thanks.  Now then…

There was a study conducted in China in 2013 that proved what many people already think or know about travelling, and that’s that it can change our “life perceptions”. The scientists tried to probe the respondents’ relationships with society, their perception and appreciation of culture, work, money, and time after they were a tourist outside of the country.

This was done on the back of 24 questions asked of two age groups, one under 21 and one over 40.  The responses given related to strength of agreement with statements about things like happiness.

The study found an improvement in people’s attitude to work, life and government. The changes were most significant regarding subjects’ feelings, mood, sense of accomplishment, and being positive at work/studies.

Apparently there have been loads of other studies along similar lines:

There have been a number of previous studies on the effect of holidays – both during and after the trip – on happiness and well-being. In another Chinese study, Chen et al. (2013) suggest that the tourists sense of well-being was boosted immediately after the vacation and faded after two months. In Hungary, Ratz and Michalko (2011) suggest indicates that age and financial circumstances affect the contribution of tourism to well-being: a person’s financial situation and age determine, to a great extent, the role of travel in their life, and consequently also influences the function of travel as a happiness-inducing factor.

McCabe and Johnson (2013) measured changes in well-being amongst low-income individuals who had received financial support to access a holiday break (‘a social tourist’). The findings indicate that tourism contributes to social tourist’s well-being. There are greater effects in some areas including psychological resources, leisure and family life domains contributing to social well-being. Among the Ethiopian immigrant community in Australia, Filep and Bereded-Samuel (2012) report on a forthcoming research project into whether positive holiday experiences can improve community mental health.

Happiness during a vacation is discussed by Nawjin (2011) and Nawjin et al. (2013). Social and psychological discussions on tourism and happiness include Filep and Deery (2010) and Corvo (2011).


As usual I’m unwilling to pay the $33 to read the full version of the Chinese study so I resorted to reading articles by people who had and I found an interesting line at

and [the tourist] also felt higher levels of needs emerging

Now, that article isn’t written perfectly so I’ll take this with a pinch of salt too.  I’m also going to point out something important if what I’m saying here is read alongside The Science Of The Travel Companion because, much against the popular belief of my friends and acquaintances, I don’t dislike being a tourist.  I just would rather go with someone and I admit that I do sometimes find the thought of going (the actual logistics) to be stressful.  Yes, really.

At the top of this quote I’ve put the tagline of an article written only a few days ago on 26th June by Kirby Farell Ph.D. called Tourist Psychology.  This is beautifully written article, it really is.

Farell seeks to explain why we travel.  He notes, much as I did in Reclaiming The Awful Awesome, that awe and amazement have been diluted in modern times, and things that would once have been truly awesome aren’t as awesome any more because they are instantly recognisable due to the power of media and modern technology.

Using the example of The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Farell provides a metaphor for everything the tower could represent (reaching for the heavens but ultimately starting to collapse) but asks the question why people travel to see that particular tower.

He suggests that the answer is play and backs this up with the evidence of that quintesstial Leaning Tower Tourist photograph.  You know the one:


Tourism opens the possibility to play in such a way, and when you play you can get away in to a world that isn’t really there.  You’re a super hero holding up a falling tower, rather than being stood a hundred metres away from a building with rubbish foundations.

However, the photo isn’t only to play, it’s as a form of substantiation because play is only play and there is a real world to go back to and as part of that real life we have a need to remind ourselves and show our friends that we were really there and to seek attention for it.

I’m not sure I fully agree with the attention seeking aspect.  Sure, we like showing people our holiday pictures including our dinner and a raft of terrible tourist tat in shops, but I think that going just to be able to show off that we’ve been would be vastly self-centred.

However, the point that Farrell leaves us with is why we’re only a tourist on holiday?  Why do we only play when we’re away in a different reality?

This is where part of my indifference with travelling came in.  When I did it all the time to various cities and towns across Europe and America, all I saw was cities and towns and airport lounges.  A building was a building, a road was a road and chicken was still chicken wherever it was cooked!  I started to see its function rather than its wonder.  This is another reason I want to travel with someone, because for me it’s the experience of being with them that makes it important to me.

That is also why, though, I don’t feel compelled to travel but would also live somewhere else if the need arose, because I find it easy to play where I am.  It’s not, for me, the geographical location that would allow me to relax and be happy but who I am with.  There are, of course, some places and things I want to see with my own eyes and wanting to do it is fine and great.  I get that.

What I don’t always understand is the need and absolute requirement for it, the people who think you have to travel to grow because you can’t do it staying still.  That’s not going and being a tourist or broadening horizons; that’s running away.  Sometimes that right and you need a break from things, but otherwise it feels sad to me that we can see ourselves in a prison of habit that doesn’t let us be happy where we are and that we sometimes think less of the people who can.

Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I’m with you
Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I’m with you

La la la la
Take me home
Mama, I’m coming home

I’ll follow you into the park,
Through the jungle, through the dark
Girl, I’ve never loved one like you

Moats and boats, and waterfalls,
Alleyways, and payphone calls
I been everywhere with you (that’s true)

Laugh until we think we’ll die,
Barefoot on a summer night
Never could be sweeter than with you

And in the streets you run afree,
Like it’s only you and me,
Geez, you’re something to see.

Home by Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros

Comments 1

  1. Eleanor Parks

    I love the picture of all the people trying to get the now overdone “holding up the leaning tower” shot!

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