Questions from a tourist

Traveling is an act, from my point of view, profoundly transforming

The visit was at an end. She had just left one of the women's pavilions in Birkenau. Daylight was already scarce, because in winter, in addition to the leaden gray sky, which permanently portends snow (and is perfectly described by Primo Levi), the sun sets early. The darkness seemed to get worse, after long hours traversing the scenes of one – if not the greatest – human tragedy, designed and managed by men.

He walked behind the leash, in silence. Next to her, a couple of tourists want to talk (he's more than her) and I can't help but hear them, as they're effectively the only ones in the group who talk. – «You know, my wife was very curious and wanted to come here, because she saw many films on the subject». Okay, less bad. A movie is an excellent way to awaken our interest, to learn, or to seek knowledge about something. I was alert and it seemed to me that I was looking at someone who had prepared for her visit, who was going to take away something important for her life and for the history of that particular trip. – “But I have to ask you a question, because I didn’t quite understand her explanation: after all, who won World War II?”

Instantly and without managing to change my attitude, I looked at the guide, a Polish woman, in her forties, who, like almost everyone I met, was polite, but distant and formal and, throughout the whole route taken, he had given many notes on the war, on the actors in the war, on the outcome of the war, not least because it is the war that motivates the existence of this place of death and it is its end that allows the world to know it. An end that, it was explained to us, implied the arrival of Russia and the progression of the allied countries in the liberation of the whole of Europe. I noticed that her expression changed.

She was stunned and there was a brief second of silence, imperceptible to the tourist couple, but absolutely significant to me. She answered them, in the same tone of voice as before. I was the one who was no longer able to hear the answer. I went ahead and looked for the bus that would take me back to the starting point, so I could continue my journey.

This moment would be insignificant, if it did not point me in a direction that I think I should take, as a student, researcher and working, precisely, on the issues of tourism and communication and which implies a profound questioning: what drives us to travel and how prepare to discover the place that will be our destination? What do we do during our travels (what do we see, who do we talk to, what do we eat, what interests us)? What do we keep and tell about these moments and these encounters? Traveling will never be a simple “collecting places” (1)…

Traveling is an act, from my point of view (and that of a thousand other authors, who wrote on the subject, such as Herodotus, Marco Polo, Darwin, Saramago and many more), profoundly transforming, if we face it, effectively, as a special time , a time when our availability and attention are focused on the capacity, not to look, but to see.

That is, in our readiness to understand everything that surrounds us and consequent ability to interpret (of different types of signs, which may have a direct relationship with the history, language, customs and traditions of those we will meet); but also from our desire to establish a relationship with all those who will share this complex process that is a trip (Destination Management Organisations, hosts, tourism agents, media, etc.).

In this communicational relationship, in this intercultural dialogue (of which the World Tourism Organization speaks), in this training, for me, deeply implicit in preparing, experiencing and telling, which is the process the traveler goes through, lies the quality of the trip. And the competence of the tourist. What I call Tourist Literacy.

Santiago Tejedor (a specialist in travel journalism) says about the trip: «We travel to places, but we also travel to another» (2).

Return to Birkenau. On the short bus ride, I can't stop thinking about that couple and the real reasons that took them there. Even more, in what they will tell about what they saw. What will they say about Auschwitz and World War II? I'd love to know, at the same time that I'm still enveloped in a double sadness: the one that's impossible not to feel in the face of the monstrosity that lived in this place; and the one that makes me doubt that everyone who made the visit, coming from so many places in the world, can really understand what they saw, because they don't see the trip as that Ethos based on discovery and understanding, on respect and encounter, in communication and learning. Before, during and after.

And so I remain, among the questions of a tourist. Not the ones that surprised me, but my own, which will be eternal and that's what I want.


1. Tejedor, S. (2021). Manual for the Creation of Travel Guides. How to tell the world in the Covid-19 era. Barcelona: Ed. UOC, pg. 28.
2. «We travel to places, but we also travel towards the other» (Free translation. Idem, pp.- 25-26).


Author: Sandra Côrtes Moreira has a degree in Social Communication from the FCSH of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, a Master's in Educational Communication from the Faculties of Arts and Human and Social Sciences of the Un. from Lisbon and Algarve and Master in La Educación en la Sociedad Multicultural by the Universidad de Huelva. She is a doctoral candidate in Educomunicación y Alfabetización Mediática at the Universidad de Huelva.
Superior Language and Communication Technician at the Municipality of Faro, is also Advisor to the Information Office of the Diocese of Algarve, member of the Pastoral do Turismo and ONPT team.



Read some more!
A strong region needs a strong press and, these days, the press depends on its readers. We make all Sul Infomação content available free of charge, because we believe that it is not through barriers that the public approaches responsible and quality journalism. Therefore, your contribution is essential.  
Contribute here!