I’m almost finished this beautiful book Villa Serena by Domenica de Rosa. Towards the end of the novel, there’s an exchange in a restaurant between two key characters, one Italian and one who has emigrated from the UK to become a resident of Tuscany. The Italian jokes that normally sightseers take pictures of every single bit of wine and food, becoming pretentious along the way; the British woman responds, “And they take photos to prove that they’ve seen it” (pg. 289 – Headline Publishing Group, 2007 version).
This exchange forced me to reflect on the word sightseer and its verb to sightsee and think of the inherent meaning and ideas that are presented merely within this concept.
The word literally means that the doer of the action is seeing sights. No more. No less. Just seeing. If you and I aren’t careful when travelling, this is all we will do. See sights.
And this is beautiful and wonderful. But it misses out on utilizing the other human senses that make us go from mere observers to those completely and utterly overwhelmed with the emotions that can transpire from experiencing anything, especially something new.
It’s easy to do. It’s easy to merely glance out the window and observe. It’s easy to check into the hotel room, eat the hotel food, and sleep the night away. It’s easy to go to the restaurant and read a book if you’re alone, or simply talk to your travel partner.
But this isn’t truly experiential travelling. This is mere sightseeing. To experience, we need to encompass all of our senses.
We need to hear: hear conversations, listen to others from the culture, take out our earbuds and take in the sounds of the world around us: the music, the honking horns, the greetings, whatever sounds “make” that community.
We need to feel, both literally and abstractly. We need feel the beauty of the nature around us. We need to touch the new foods, the clothing, the furniture, the handicraft – feel whatever is tactile and important to that community. But we also need to feel abstractly. Let yourself be overcome with emotion. Document the emotion that you’re feeling. And don’t let any emotions pass you by. If you’re frustrated, think about why. If you’re angry, process it. If you’re happy, embrace it! But feel.
We need to smell – good, bad, normal, mundane. Smell the food. Smell the life. Smell the nature. Smell the exhaust pipes of the cars. Smell the animals mixed with cooking street food mixed with gas along the roads. Smell. Absorb.
We need to taste. New foods, new ideas, new art. Let your senses be embraced by the culture.
Seeing is an importance part of the process. But if all we’re doing is seeing, we are not truly experiencing all five of our senses. Sight might be the easiest sense to use (for those of us blessed with sight), but the other senses add richness, depth, and emotion to our travels.
They say that the sense of smell is most closely linked to our memory. But we must be intentional about smelling, and embracing those smells, to even place them in our brainwaves in the first place.
In the age of devices, we text while seeing, listen while observing, read while listening, and smell while tasting while blogging.
Put the device down.
Put the pen down.
Take the earbuds out.
Embrace your senses. Experience the beauty. This is how your five senses work together, most brilliantly, most beautifully, most effectively, to help you truly see the world.
Epilogue (can a blog have an epilogue?): When my husband and I go to Italy in a couple of weeks, we are doing a “sketch and tour” of Florence. I will update you all on our experience touring the city through an art class – ‘sketch art’ being something neither I nor my husband really do (Exhibit A – painting above!)