The Two Sides of Travel

Sarah E. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from The Potomac School in Virginia.

Over the past month, I was able to experience two amazing but very different types of viajes or trips. First, in January I went on my first independent travel trip with a few friends to Bilbao, a city in Pais Vasco, which is located in northern Spain. Since there were no pre-organized or guided day plans, everything was up to us. We spent our days wandering around unfamiliar streets, pointing out cool buildings, trying new foods, or just relaxing in a cafe. Of course, there were a few “must-do” activities that we had to cross off the list, such as visiting the Guggenheim Museum (in which we ended up spending almost 3 hours). However, I think my favorite memory from that trip was our impromptu picnic on top of Mount Artxanda. 

It was this last-minute decision to split up, grab some snacks from the closest market, and take the cable car crammed with mountain bikers to the top that ended up being the most memorable for me. Even though it did start to rain about 10 minutes into our mountaintop picnic, (which we definitely could have planned better if we had checked the weather), the majority of the other tourists ended up leaving and we were able to enjoy having the view to ourselves. All in all, my first independent travel opportunity taught me that you don’t necessarily have to have everything in order to have a quality travel experience. 

In contrast, this past week we split up into three different groups to travel to different cities: Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia, with other SYA students and teachers. My group went to Barcelona, and before the trip even began we were given a detailed horario with scheduled tour guides and a list of Barcelona’s most popular sites to see. Even though we had a good amount of free time, we were encouraged to aprovechar, or take advantage of our visit by going to at least one or two of the “must-see” places. I ended up going with a small group the La Sagrada Familia, and I can say I definitely understand why it was on the list. 

We also went on a few tours with tour guides that explained the history and meaning of the architecture and related to a lot of the classes I’m currently taking here, such as my Cine class or Historia del Arte. I ended up really enjoying these tours because of how intertwined the information was with what I’ve been learning about Spain and its history, and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of information I already knew. 

Reflecting on these two contrasting types of travel, I thought about my Sociology course in which we’re currently discussing the phenomenon of “mass tourism”, and how that ties into social pressure related to travel. During our last class our teacher, Antonio, asked us if we think there is a way to be in-between (not fit into the stereotypes of typical tourism while still learning and exploring in a new environment). Looking back on my two travel experiences, I would say yes. To a certain degree, we all have to be tourists when traveling, even if we can speak the language, or are familiar with the country as a whole, there are still unique elements to every new place you visit. The question is in how we embrace our “touristness”, and I think the answer has two different sides. On one hand, it’s easy to make a list of the “must see” sights, cross them off, and feel satisfied, and before I came to SYA, that’s more or less how I viewed traveling to foreign places. On the other, it may be even easier to not make any plans, get lost in a new place, and just go with the flow. However, I’ve realized that there is value in both, and having a balance between typical “tourist” activities and unplanned spontaneity is an idea I will carry with me on my trips to come.   

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