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Experimental travel

The phrase is in the news because Lonely Planet yesterday published its Guide to Experimental Travel. One author is Joel Henry, a 48-year-old television scriptwriter from Strasbourg who is said to have created the idea in 1990 (though the term is more recent). It’s also called experimental tourism. As a surreal alternative to the standard trudge round tourist venues, he suggests that you should “challenge your perceptions of a city and increase your receptiveness as a tourist” by trying alternative ways of seeing. Alphatourism, for example: identify the first and last streets in the A-Z, draw a line between the two and follow the route on foot (a variation might be to draw a random shape, superimpose it on a street plan and follow the route it marks out). Or aerotourism: spend a day in an airport enjoying its facilities without going anywhere. Or nyctalotourism: go to a foreign city at twilight, look around all night and leave just before dawn. Or cecitourism: let a trusted friend or partner walk you blindfolded round a place, describing the sights. If these are all too mundane, you might try horse’s head tourism: don a horse’s head costume and walk around to experience the way that people react to you.

About 20 miles further on, I drive past Bodiam Castle, a 14th-century fortification. This, of course, is a conventional tourist attraction, but experimental tourists are permitted to visit such places, as long as they indulge in contretourism. This involves turning your back on the monument in question and taking a photograph of the view in the opposite direction.

the Independent, 9 Feb. 2005

“You see,” he says. “That is the thing about doing experimental tourism, it gives you a special feeling. It makes you into a person you are not.” I think about this but I don’t think I’m sure enough of the person I am to know that I’m not the person I’m not. But then, this is precisely the kind of topsy-turvy conundrum that experimental tourism throws up the whole time.

the Observer, 22 May 2005

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Last modified: 11 June 2005.