By Rick Schleicher
We, the Come to Galápagos family, have been in the business of bringing visitors to the Galápagos for more than fifteen years now. These are personalized, private tours, so we get to know our guests fairly well.
There’s the list of the most stressful things in life, depending on who is making that list, but surprisingly marriages are way up there, often vacations along with. What we’ve witnessed is somewhat of a controlled experiment in that our guests all receive basically the same kind of pre-trip planning, information, care and attention once they are here, quality of hotels as they request, exposure to the wildlife, quality of guides, etc. As one might expect, the net perception of our guests’ experience can be as varied as they are. Most are over the top happy.
This is rare, but occasionally people arrive with their first goal being to complain about something, anything, ”the pillow is too soft or the bed too hard” the point of which is showing us “who’s boss” (it happens) or the people that arrive with serious internal conflicts within the group (we had a couple divorce after a trip, any dysfunctional relationship gets amplified by a vacation and we’ve seen some whoppers) will always have some kind of, often several major “snafus”, the inter-island airline runs out of fuel, someone in their party gets sick or falls and needs to be hospitalized and even more to the point, the animals disappear. Well not completely, but it is as if the animals know and don’t want to have anything more to do with these people than they absolutely have to.
We also observe the opposite far more frequently. For people arriving with the simple goal of enjoying their vacation there can be occasional, unavoidable “snafus” (delayed flights, lost luggage), but the attitude is different. Rather than these being unmitigated disasters they are, “things happen when you travel”. These are the people that animals practically perform for, pods of dolphins show up, killer whales, mockingbirds fly down and perch on their shoulders, tortoises stampede. We’ve seen this so many times over the years that within the first few hours of a group’s arrival we can generally predict what will happen for them regarding the animals.
Travelers are all individuals. Most come complete with delightful quirks and idiosyncrasies. That being said, we have come to recognize some definitive traveler types.
Forgive me the following “tongue in cheek” stereotypes.
“The Retro Traveler”
“The Retro Traveler” enjoys his or her vacation far more after the fact. This can be true of anyone on any vacation. The retro traveler, however, knows this going in, embraces that they are here for the sake of their future conversations when they will not be here. I’m not knocking it. It has innumerable advantages, is quintessentially pragmatic, evidence of a cultured/experienced, self-aware persona.
In a retro vacation, mild, even major intestinal problems have been forgotten, irritating things with time become funny, the boredom of long plane flights completely disappears. Retro traveling can be taken to extremes though, the results of which are a preoccupation with “Kodak” moments, an absolute need to purchase souvenirs and a mild desperation reflected by that little nagging question sitting just off the corner of consciousness, “How will I spin this? I know I’m having fun, but am I having enough fun?” Oftentimes retro travelers will spin that “spin” question into their Galápagos vacation slideshow/narrative and receive a round of applause for their efforts.
“The Avid Photographer Traveler”
“The Avid Photographer Traveler” is generally quite content here because of the myriads of unique subject matter. They are interested in everything, shades of light, rocks, leaves, sand, clouds, etc. Their “focus” is on catching something special. They seem to innately understand that at any one place, at any one time, so many opportunities abound, that it is better to “focus” on one rather than attempting to gather as many as they can like kids below a broken piñata.
I had taken one of my wife’s best friends, an avid photographer, to a spot where I knew I had the best chance of getting her to be able to “shoot” a sea lion playing with a marine iguana underwater. I nailed it, right tide, right light, no one else within kilometers and there they were, this sea lion pup just kept messing with this marine iguana while he was attempting to feed. My problem was, my wife’s friend was more interested in the formation of some algae on a rock than the silly wildlife. To me, the algae is not going anywhere, but the iguana and sea lion pup are and did. She explained one of the things people don’t understand about photographers is that the taking of the pictures is as, if not more important than the pictures themselves. I guess for her at least, it’s a kind of Zen thing.
“The Agenda, Check List or Broken Piñata Traveler”
“The Avid Photographer” is diametrically opposed to “The Agenda, Check List or Broken Piñata Traveler.” The agenda is to see as much as possible in as short a time as possible. These people tend to be fast movers, often asking, “What’s next?” When the time comes for what’s next being they return to their hotel, they look to their guide or to me if I happen to be there wanting an explanation. This is tough for us. The explanation is that they were in such a hurry to move on that they missed the baby dolphin and mother, or they were so intent on their checklist, they had no consideration or longing to have an appreciation of what they were checking off. These people at best leave here suspicious of us or Galápagos hype. At worst they feel as if they have somehow been taken advantage of.
“The I’m More Interested in Talking About Myself Traveler”
These people are often very interesting and provide a welcome relief from answering most of the typical questions, at least in detail as they will frequently interrupt. They prefer to talk about their travels, their jobs, their kids. Some of this I believe has to do with self-disclosure and a longing to develop interpersonal relationships with myself or their guide. We may be about to swim with a pod of dolphins in the middle of the ocean, but they have been to Nepal and dined with the Dalai Lama. They tend to blog a lot and almost universally write about their amazing experiences in the Galápagos.
“The Happy Camper Traveler”
“The Happy Camper Traveler” We get a lot of these and they tend to be, well, happy. They are going to have fun no matter what happens. They have cast their vacation into a stranger’s hands (ours) and arrive without much of any agenda other than to enjoy themselves. These people are happy standing around the airport. Give them a lost luggage and they’ll turn it into a Galápagos shopping spree complete with ice cream cones.
“The Critical Vacationer”
“The Critical Vacationer” or the glass is clearly half empty: The nicest aspect of these people is their willingness to look for areas that can use improvement and kindly point them out. Of course, there are always areas that can be improved, “I think I would have enjoyed that sea lion pup blowing bubbles in my face more if it happened a little closer to the boat…”
“The Virtual Traveler” and “The Going Through The Motions Traveler”
“The Virtual Traveler” You may be astounded to read that we’ve never actually seen a single one of them.
“The Virtual Traveler” should not be confused with “The Going Through The Motions Traveler”. Neither should they be confused with the “Kick The Tires” travel planners who actually could and are seriously considering traveling halfway around the world to get here. “The Going Through The Motions Traveler” knows at the outset they are not going to make this trip. “The Going Through The Motions Traveler” requires that we go through the planning motions with them, for fun. Real estate agents and car salesmen have a lot of experience with this and most of them do the same as we do, take them at their word, go through the motions. It’s part of the job and can actually be fun. A woman once wrote, insisting she be able to take her “fully vaccinated” pet duck with her to the Galápagos.
“The Inter/Safety Net Traveler”
These are people who would never in their lives have dreamed of venturing forth into traveling the world before there was the internet, just too risky, too many unknowns. Now with Tripadvisor, travel blogs, etc., they have been unleashed on an unsuspecting planet.
These mostly gentle souls are taking courageous steps, leaving their literal or metaphorical cubicles with a staggeringly unjustified confidence. They can book their flights and hotels on-line, they have access to the internet once they arrive, their cell phones work, etc. etc. They can go practically ANYWHERE and blog about it to boot. While many of them end up with a wonderful story, too many are the people found in third world hospitals because nowhere on the internet did they read that it is a bad idea to: go swimming at the mouths of polluted rivers, stick their hands under rocks, pitch their tent next to flesh eating ant hills, try to pet a Gila Monster, etc. Too many can be found in third world jails because they assumed they could buy their anti-psychotic meds at the local Walgreens.
While one hates to discourage people from getting out of their cubicles, “start with baby steps” ought to be a required, cautionary advice/warning throughout travel related web sites. The first baby step that comes to mind is “attempt to keep track of your passport for one week, you have to have it with you at all times, see how that goes.” Not that I haven’t lost mine a time or two.
“The Packaged Adventure Travel Traveler”
This is the more prudent version of “The Inter/Safety Net Traveler.” They annually or bi-annually take a trip to some far-off exotic destination with a company designed just for them, economical, safe. They are perfectly happy passing their “vacation” time as part of a group of twenty people, Thailand one year, Kenya the next, Galápagos. After a few short years they have literally traveled the world, albeit in a cocoon, sheltered from even the slightest need to look out for themselves in a foreign country that speaks a different language than their own. It’s a popular way to travel. Needless to say, their experiences tend to be more of the “canned” variety.
“The Three Kings Traveler”
“The Three Kings Traveler” arrives bearing gifts, good will and few expectations. They are closely related to the Happy Camper Traveler, frequently are happy campers who have found their life circumstances involving offspring and some discretionary income.
“The Psycho Traveler”
“The Psycho Traveler” or we take ourselves with us wherever we go. “The Psycho Traveler” (PT) emerges from the most ordinary looking traveler. It manifests in myriads of forms and degrees. Foreign travel can be hard on nerves and suppressed psychotic tendencies can sneak their way out when their host is far away from home and exhausted.
We all have a little PT in us. I could imagine myself at my wits end, stuck on some desert island with low blood sugar saying the following which is a direct quote from a “middle aged” gal who here there to for had been having the time of her life, “Can you do something about those animals? They are either trying to play with me or completely ignoring me. Make them run away or stand still. I’m trying to enjoy my vacation now, please!”