Airport flight monitor duty-free area Heathrow

Not long ago at a Sydney Writer’s Festival, I attended a discussion with Michelle de Kretser whose book Questions of Travel explores the travel phenomenon in a world where today millions of people are criss-crossing the planet like ants. 

Asked by the moderator to define the difference between a ‘tourist and a traveler’,  the award-winning author offered all sorts of theses ranging from people taking genuine holidays to those forced to uproot themselves, as in the case of refugees.

In between these extremes she said, are people traveling to seek work, to visit relatives and for medical reasons but she omitted — what is to me the essential difference between a tourist and traveler — which is time. 

Having no rigid itinerary or set destination, the traveler meanders rather like old man river, engaging with local citizens and absorbing local culture.

Slow travel while not necessarily the nine months Robyn Davidson took to cross Australia by camel and clearly not the thirty-five years taken by the 14th century Berber Ibn Batutta to travel between his native Tangiers and Quanzhou in China — is the only way to savor foreign lands.

People hurtling through a dozen and one countries taking selfies on their smart phones are tourists. Having booked a holiday, they know exactly when and from where they will return home, often having had no contact with locals except in hotels where the staff as likely as not are migrants from a different country.

For me slow travel  has always had priority over the must-see attractions rated on Trip Advisor or the recommendations by made by travel writers in articles answerable to advertising.

I think Elizabeth Bishop nails it in a line from her poem Questions of Travel (published in 1956) whose title Ms de Krester chose for her novel.

“But surely it would have been a pity/ not to have seen the trees along this road …”

BWK001_Christine Osborne with friendly Masai 1972
Masai women painting my face in Kenya in 1973
Dates for breakfast with the Bedouin in Dubai in 1974


BWPAK004_Christine Osborne 41st birthday Sukkur Pakistan
With Mohana children on a houseboat on the Indus river in 1981
Christine Osborne in the incense souq in Salalah Oman
Discussing incense with  a trader in Salalah, Oman 2002.

About Travels with My Hat

Australian photojournalist and author. Used London as a base for nearly forty years while freelancing in the Middle East, Arabian peninsular, Africa and South Asia. Have written and illustrated more than a dozen books and travel guides. Operates a well regarded religious images stock photo library: Live in Leura in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
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  1. REVERS Jean-Paul says:

    Des photos superbes! Un texte à envier!

  2. One of the things I loved doing last time I was in England was hopping on a local public bus from Oxford and going wherever the bus took me. I ended up meandering through the Cotswolds and had drivers tell me which stop to to get off at and where to go for a walk or what places I should visit and which pub had the best lunch. I followed their instructions and then came back to the bus stop where even waiting for the next bus was a delight. That’s travelling.

    • CO says:

      Thank you Margaret. I looked up yr own blog about the Cocos Islands: now that is an off-the-beaten-track destination. My memoir is as much about encounters with locals as it is about the destination itself. (By the way, Cocos (not Cocus) if you don’t mind my saying so). Thank you.

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