Pedestrians, please don’t make me hate you.

I’ll admit it, there are times when I am the most clueless tourist there ever was. But, as a rule, I don’t consider myself a tourist. I’m a traveller. I go places, I immerse myself into a location and try to coexist with the existing population. This means embodying the “When in Rome” spirit. In cities always on the go, such as New York City or London, this means walking quickly and being aware of the thoroughfare.

Unfortunately, many people do not do this when out and about in the world.

I was recently in Oxford Street’s Primark in London. That was my first mistake. Even to get in, there were people who were walking 3 abreast, ridiculously slowly. I should have realised this was a bad omen. Please, get out of my way.

I managed to overtake them once we were inside, but then I was faced with the amblers who stopped without notice to look at products beside the aisle. Or they weaved back and forth between the left and the right side of the walkway, preventing people behind them from passing. I grew frustrated and took a detour between racks of clothing to get to the escalator leading to the floor I needed. On the escalator, people blocked its entirety, instead of leaving the left side free for people to walk past, and spoke loudly of their new-found bargain-basement treasures. I excused myself and they let me through, grudgingly. Really? You’re the ones annoyed by me wanting to not spend more time in this hellhole?

Once at my destination, I grabbed what I needed and dashed to the check-outs… where I was greeted by a 20 person line ahead of me. Le sigh. The 2 sales assistants at the check-outs looked worn out and completely apathetic. Given their minimum-wage and unrewarding roles, I couldn’t really blame their attitudes. They were slow, but did things. However, the line seemed to be moving at a pace which makes political progress seem fast. I realised it was the people in line who weren’t paying attention to when the next check-out was available. A sale would be completed, the sales assistant would say “Next customer please”, and the people at the front of the line were often oblivious to this, needing to be beckoned a second, sometimes even a third time. Or they would just look up and not have any idea which counter to walk to. Come ON, let’s go, people!  Watch what’s going on! 

My blood started to boil when, having completed my purchase, a family (parents, pram, baby and two little ones) stood blocking the pathway to the door. Lemme out, lemme out, lemme out now! I can see you have to adjust your family and strap everyone in, but must you block the entire way?? At every turn, more shoppers blocked my way completely oblivious and uncaring to their surroundings. They just saw shiny things and price tags.

I weaved in and out, and skirted around this obstacle course known as “shopping” and finally reached the door to the street. There, I breathed a sigh of relief that I had a metre of space in front of me. I fell into the pace of the pedestrians on the footpath. This was more tolerable. Until people walked out of stores in front of me, turned in my direction but kept talking to people behind them. Not surprisingly, they walked straight into me. LOOK where you’re going! If anyone tried doing that in a car, there’d be constant accidents and fatalities.

I’m generally such a chill person, but experiences like this make me wish many curses upon my fellow man.

As such, the general rules which apply to driving should also apply to high-pedestrian-traffic areas as well:

  • Watch where you’re going.
  • If you need to stop while walking somewhere, find a place on the side of the thoroughfare where you can pause to answer your phone, check the map or dig out your metro card, ie DON’T BLOCK THE TICKET GATE, PATHWAY OR STAIRS.
  • Don’t block the entire walkway. This means leave space on the side for people going in the opposite direction to pass by, or for people wanting to overtake to use.
  • Be aware of the people around you, and roughly what their intentions are.
  • Stick, roughly, to the side of the pathway which reflects the side of the road that people drive on. Eg on the right in the US, left in the UK.
  • If you are waiting for a space to open up for you to move into (eg a sales counter), watch what’s going on. Imagine what would happen if all cars at traffic lights needed to be honked at when the light goes green. The world would be a much more irritating place.

Is this really so much to ask? Don’t make me wish you a horrible, fiery death just because you’re not paying attention to your surroundings. 😉

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Top 10 ways to look like a tourist. (Conversely, how to avoid doing so.)

These days when I’m out and about in a city, I like playing the game of ‘Spot the tourist’. Some people make this game way too easy. If I wanted to make this a drinking game in Paris, I’d get alcohol poisoning within an hour. 🙂

The most effective ways to look like a tourist are the following:

1. Read your map / guide book in public.

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I’m a perpetual traveller, and so can you.

My friends know me as the Traveller. Always planning a trip here or there, and who knows where I’ll be any given month. They wonder how I can afford it.

A few years ago, I read The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. It’s an interesting read, and while I don’t subscribe to all of his advice, some things did sink in for me. For example, he talks about the importance of not leaving all your time off to when you’re old and retired and no longer as energetic as you were in your 20s and 30s. Instead, he recommends mini-retirements. 3 months here and there, perhaps once a year if you can do it. It’s been a lot of fun for the past 4 years. 🙂

Now, for many people, this concept seems downright impossible. In fact, if you ask a random American about their plans to travel they’ll usually talk about how they don’t have any leave left after planning Christmas and Thanksgiving and a single week somewhere else.

But taking 3 months off per year is doable. And hasn’t landed me in debt.

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Sick while you travel? Or sick of travelling?

As I hang out in London mainlining a steady stream of cups of tea with honey, it occurs to me that perhaps I could share a story about being ill while travelling and general advice for dealing with illness while away.

I’ve mentioned this in the past: I’ve travelled a lot. Sometimes it’s been for long stretches of time (6 months, or 3 months a few times), and with the additional stress on your body, illnesses happen.

Between walking huge distances every day (I often carry a pedometer and walking 30,000 steps a day, 20km, is not unusual while exploring a new city), different and inconsistent meals, jetlag, as well as exposure to different viruses and bacteria, your body often takes a battering and succumbs to illness.

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The curse of currencies

When you travel a lot, especially to a variety of different countries where each one has a different local currency, you end up accumulating a lot of coins and notes of various colors and values. It starts to look like play money.

Vietnamese DongCambodian riels

Mixing up money can be a costly affair.

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Chicken Shit Bingo. So now I’ve seen everything.

In November last year I went to Austin, Texas, USA for a long weekend. It was a great experience as I’d never been to Texas before. The Texan reputation for hospitality was certainly lived up to as my host took me to the most important places for a visitor to see in Texas including:

– A Texan Barbeque restaurant,

– A drive through the countryside to see her horse,

– To a trailer which served some of the best Mexican cuisine I’ve ever had,

And yes, on one fabulous evening we went to a local bar – the Little Longhorn Saloon – which indulges in Chicken Shit Bingo games on Sunday afternoons.

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