How Travel Has Changed
I am not going to tell you something you already know about how the implementation of security measures has impacted travel. It is underlined each time you enter an airport or get frisked going into a stadium. It is here to stay—and we will comply, because let’s face it, the women and men whose job it is to take care of our security—they do a pretty damn good job.
One of the biggest ways that travel has changed from what I see has to do with the sheer numbers of people on the ground. Cheap air flights have allowed Europeans easy access to other parts of the Continent. Plus the rise of the Asian middle class has contributed to unprecedented crowds. It hit me pretty good a few years back in Venice.
The Venetians, ever the smart marketers, have welcomed tourism like no other city I have seen in Europe. If you stand on the Riva Degli Schiavone, the main waterfront drag, you can see travelers pouring in starting from the early hours of the morning. Their dream of seeing a world outside of their own country has come true. Powered by movie and magazine images and Facebook posts from previous fellow travelers, they have set out to see for themselves, Venice and its canals.
Last year when we were on a tour in Pisa, groups filled the streets leading into the green lawn of the Piazza dei Miracles. They spilled out of the Cathedral, enjoying their adventure immensely. If you did not have skip-the-line tickets months in advance, you could have only looked at the leaning tower and taken a picture of it sprouting from your hand. You certainly would not have been able to get tickets to climb up inside.
I am not begrudging the rise in tourist numbers—it actually has helped my business. Our trippers will tell you the immense help it is to have us guide them around the hotspots. Travelers now need a guide to get around in the most efficient way. Travelers need help with how to skip the lines. People are also busy and have limited time to ‘get it all in’.
However, I see many North Americans making the mistake of not taking the rise in tourist numbers seriously and looking at it from only their standpoint.
I cringe whenever I hear someone saying, “Yeah, we are going to Europe, rent a car and just tool around.”
Hey, this is not Ohio, where you can get in your Suburban and drive around for hours in light traffic. People do not speak your language here, and road driving is only for the very savvy. Do not translate your quiet little town or mid size big city with what you will see on the road in Europe and Asia. There is a bit of disconnect with many Americans when they travel to these places.
Take for example a place called Chagrin Falls, Ohio U.S.A. I have close family members who live there. For a short period of time, an aunt of mine moved from suburban D.C.—a place with real traffic—into town. She coined the word ‘rush minute’ to explain the bit of traffic accumulating in the mornings and evenings.
One cannot enjoy a ‘rush minute’ getting in and out of Bologna, Italy in a rental car.
First of all you will be illegal going anywhere within the city limits, pay a hefty fine (cameras record your license plate and a large bill will arrive in the mail when you return home) and traffic will be dense and fast. I wish you good luck with the parking.
While a significant number of North Americans do not know what backed-up traffic means, Europeans and Asians sure do. Most use public transport (it helps that it is very efficient) or taxis and although they love their cars, they can do without them every so often. You should do the same when you are in their country.
I am a fairly good driver, and my husband is a European driver. We are used to one-way roads, tight clearances, and fast moving vehicles, but when we are traveling we find it easier to use locals whether they be a bus, train, taxi, or private van driver.
One of the slickest traveling moves I have ever pulled off with a group was from southern France (Avignon) to the town of Honfleur on the shores of northern France in a handful of hours. We even managed a quick stop off at Monet’s garden.
We relied on those other drivers; train and bus to get us there. It would have taken us a day and a half to drive it, had we been attached to our car. In this case it was a matter of hours with a high-speed train and private bus.