Travel guidelines

I’m reminded again of the necessity, in certain countries, for the traveller (ie tourist) to submit to the authority of a succession of personal guides. In the Berber village of Chebika our driver and guide, Taher, passed us over to Hassan, a cheery local guide in traditional dress, who not only helped us scramble up the gully to the hot springs but told us of the year it rained and washed away the houses.

Hassan’s story has the authority of local knowledge told many times, and with a cast of actors that includes him and his family. Our driver Taher knows about Rommel and grandfather’s part in the North African campaigns.

Back in Tozeur we revisit the medina to photograph the varied doorways in the austere brick walls lining the now deserted alleys. Except this time we encounter an old man, Jamel, pushing his bicycle, with two litres of water strapped to its frame. He looks as though he’s on the way home, so we don’t mind when he starts telling us about the houses and their doorways.

Before long we are under guidance again, even gratefully, until we end the journey on a terrace with views over the medina, and above a shop. We smile at a clutch of sheepish tourists quietly sipping mint tea, and also empty our wallets of spare notes.

In a free market, commerce latches onto basic instincts, and the habit to deliver guidance is strong in North Africa however it is negotiated. Travel is a companionable enterprise.

I’m reminded again of Tim Ingold’s book about the line. A guideline, such as a preliminary mark preceding an artist’s sketch, anticipates the further arrangement of lines, but provides opportunity for deviation.

A collection of guidelines is local and contingent, like the taut warp-threads of the Berber weaver’s loom that adjust to variations in the weft, in contrast to plotlines, which mark boundaries, and claim universal sovereignty, like the lines of a planning grid or the bounding boxes on an official form.

The human guide carries the authority of the local context, in contrast to the traveller’s equivalent of the plotline: the route plan, the itinerary, which are impersonal devices for obviating the risks of negotiation.

The guideline and the plotline are both necessary, invariably interact, and both submit to communications technologies of some kind, ostensibly plotline technologies in which distance is of no account.

Jamel said he was too poor to own a computer, though his five daughters (and their children) had access. He didn’t use a mobile phone, but we’ve seen other guides phone ahead to prepare the next part of the journey, and the next commercial opportunity.


Ingold, Tim. 2007. Lines: A Brief History. London: Routledge. 

About Richard Coyne

The cultural, social and spatial implications of computers and pervasive digital media spark my interest ... enjoy architecture, writing, designing, philosophy, coding and media mashups.


2 thoughts on “Travel guidelines

  1. I like the travel without passive guidelines. I prefer making plan accordance with my own interests. By doing so, I can communicate with natives and know better about the local culture and the stories. Though I am fond of this way, in fact, ravel guidelines can help visitors to have a more efficient and professional route. Although in my country, joining a touring party not only means more professional route, but also means more “shopping oppotunities”, which may disappoint travellers. In my opinions, this reflects that the local tourism also has to live on the guidelines. Through which the commercial opportunities and revenues will be brought.

    By the way, I enjoy the photos above. I am long for to visit the places as there, because the amazing scenery and mysterious stories there may show me . These are what I love.

    Posted by Xinxin Yuan | December 12, 2011, 6:40 pm


  1. Pingback: As the mood takes you | Reflections on Digital Media & Culture - June 15, 2013

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