I talk about travel a lot, I write about travel a lots, I read about travel a lot and I think about it a whole lot more. In all this travel chatter, I’ve come across a few common assumptions and beliefs perpetuated in the modern travel discourse that drive me absolutely bananas.
1. You “do” cities
This is just semantics, but when I hear someone say they’re going to “do Munich” or have “done Vietnam” it makes me wince. It sounds harmless, but it insinuates that they’ve gone somewhere, absorbed it entirely and have no reason to return.
You do your laundry, you do your taxes and you do the dishes but you do not “do” a place. it isn’t complete once you have left nor have you completely absorbed it after you leave.
There is always more to discover, experience and observe. This is why I’ve visited Paris four times in the space of eighteen months. One time I was studying there, but the first, second and fourth times I was travelling through Europe and still found a million reasons to return. I’ve travelled to new places on every trip too, but it doesn’t have to be this way at all. Places aren’t as static as they seem in photographs, and between a changing city and an ever-changing traveller (ie. everyone), there opportunities for new experiences with every visit.
2. You need to “do” as many different places as possible
I am aware of the opportunity-cost of spending a night in Paris rather than a night in Cambridge or nearby Lyon, or Lille, for example. I am aware of the opportunity cost of returning to France rather than visiting Mexico. I think it is a fallacy that you need to tick off a bunch of different countries or cities or continents to have valuable travel experiences. To think that I’d be done with Florence, Athens or New York would be incredibly ignorant. I’ve got other cities in my sights, but I’m going where my head and heart take me.
Maybe if I was a one-woman guidebook there would be some onus on me to tick off far-flung destinations around the world. The beauty of being just another traveller is that my travel plans only have to enrich my lives and those of my travel companions.
I’m excited to push myself further out of my comfort zone in different countries but I also realise the value in finding the deeper and more subtle nuances within a culture with repeated exposures too. Even a trip an hour away from home is potentially a great adventure!
3. Contiki Tours are for drunk bogans, not true “citizens of the world”
I rarely listen to the opinion of people who are doling out advice for experiences they have not experienced themselves. The cities you visit on any tour are the exact same city the independent traveller standing a few feet away is also experiencing. Sure, there are less road bumps along the way because all accommodation is pre-planned however you’re still free to wander away from the herd as much as you like. Some people get drunk every night and are too hungover to appreciate what they’re experiencing the next day however I think if you check into almost any European hostel at 9am in the morning you’d find many proud independent travellers in a similar state.
I’ve met so many different people on tours that it would be impossible (and narrow-minded) to lump them into one category.
There are advantages and disadvantages of doing group tours and I’m not saying everyone should do one. Personally, I’ve done a few tours and with some travel experience up my sleeve, Contiki Tours just aren’t for me anymore. Some people will decide a tour might not be right for them. That’s fine. It just frustrates me when people take a moral high ground for not doing a tour.
4. Staying in hostels makes you a more authentic young traveller
I don’t think there is a set formula for travel, even when you do your first big around the world (or around a continent) trip. For me, staying in hostels isn’t the only way to go.
As far as I’m concerned, whether you stay in The Ritz or a backpackers in Montmartre, all things are equal when you step out your front door every morning. How you travel is dependent on your actions each day, not where you sleep each night.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve only stayed at a hostel once. I’ve never stayed at a fancy hotel, but have always found a middle ground. Often, for not that much more than a hostel and often it is much closer to the centre of town. I don’t see how one’s preferences for privacy, security and hygiene determine the authenticity of their travel experience. I can meet other travellers without staying in a room full of strangers where, if photos are anything to be believed, I’m likely to wake up in a room with a half-naked backpacker passed out on the floor. I also find it easier to meet locals when I’m out and about, without a crowd of people from back home. I know that the typical young traveller experience is to stay in a hostel, but I don’t think I missed out by not doing so.
5. Your new friends are only as good as their passport
I think all people have equal potential to be interesting and important.
Whenever a local lothario tries to impress me with the fact that he’s from Italy, I feel like congratulating him for being born with a nationality. I’ve met Australians overseas, but I’ve also met French, Italian, Croatian, Swiss, Swedish, Japanese, South African, Canadian and the list goes on. They’re all equally interesting and important in my eyes.
Meeting locals is great, meeting people from other English speaking countries is great, meeting other Australians from different cities and even the same cities is great. I love meeting people from different cultural backgrounds but it’s cool meeting Aussies too. It’s only a shame when you’re discounting either group in the favour of meeting people just because they are more like you or less like you. A person is not their passport.
6. Travellers > Tourists
Does the whole “travellers vs tourist” debate make anyone else feel nauseous?
I understand the premise of the self-righteous semantics about how travellers are so much more enlightened than tourists. I get it – make an effort to experience local culture, try new things, be mindful and respectful of your surroundings. These are all important ideas, but being proud that you’ve never touched a map, consulted a guide book for ideas or history and that you’re too cool for a photo with the Colosseum doesn’t make you a “traveller, not a tourist”, but a bit of a bore.
For me, the terms are interchangeable. I understand the negative connotation of the word tourist; they take lots of photos but rarely just stop and observe, they eat the most familiar food on the menu and they don’t learn a single word in the native language of the country they are visiting.
I agree that many travellers/tourists could show more respect to their surroundings and that engaging more with the local culture would enrich their experience. But as as long as you aren’t hurting people, animals or the environment, who is to say you’re doing it wrong?
Travel challenges everyone in different ways, even the guy who is sitting in a hotel room in Berlin all morning because he’s secretly missing home. Your fellow travellers may not seem as brave or open minded as you, but they probably left home with a very different set of values, attitudes and beliefs than you did.
I’m never embarrassed to take yet another photo of the Eiffel Tower, because I can’t get over it’s beauty. I want a photo with the stunning Duomo in Florence so I can look back on it in years to come. I’m going to walk around with a map in Verona because I don’t have a Google Maps chip lodged in the back of my head. Walking with a map simply admits there is somewhere you want to go but you haven’t walked there before.
I try and take in as much of my surroundings on the way as I can too and I still like to make time for other wanderings where I can just follow my nose.
Traveller = Tourist
7. You have to quit your job to see the world
There is so much to see, sometimes it feels like the only way to see “enough” is to quit your job and travel full time. There are a lot of people who travel the world because they quit the “9-5 ball and chain” and became “digital nomads.” This is awesome, and certainly a lot tougher than it looks, but it’s not the only way.
You do not have to quit your job.
You don’t have to turn travel into your job to see the world. You’re allowed to be a multi-passionate person. You’re allowed to love your career and living in your city and all the perks of a fixed life, such as having a place to call home, having pets and maintaining a relationship with your partner, family or friends.
You can make the most of long weekends and annual leave. You can take leave without pay. You can travel more extensively in between jobs, go on secondment with your company or find a flexible working solution if you really want to travel more than your work typically allows.
And yes, you can quit your job. The important thing is to find what works for you, not do what you “should” do.
How many people can make a positive impact on the world and chase their potential while travelling? I have a handful of travel blogs that I read religiously, and they all live an exciting life of travel, but they all do it differently.
Alex in Wanderland is a digital nomad, but she’s more than that – she’s a seriously talented writer and photographer, making her blog a delightful and invaluable resource for travellers from every walk of life. C’est Christine has travelled the world, but now lives in New York City – an adventure in itself, with lots of long weekend trips and daytrips thrown in. Young Adventuress is an expat, from the US, who has lived in Spain and now lives in New Zealand. She blogs about her experiences travelling outside NZ, but also has done a tremendous job of sharing NZ’s beauty with the world.
All three of these women live a life full of travel, on their terms. All three of them are also wonderful writers and photographers, which makes them stand out in the sea of successful travel blogs that are run by good marketers, rather than talented creatives.
Next time you read an article that makes you feel like you’re wasting your life away for working at the much maligned desk, in a big, bad scary office when you really should saying “Sayonara suckers!”, remember that there is no RIGHT way to see the world. Maybe quitting your job will bring you more happiness. Maybe a year spent travelling is really what you need. Maybe it’s a total career change. Or maybe the problem isn’t your job or your hometown or your friends, maybe you just want to live a life of travel – whatever that means to you.
I’m all for travelling more, but I don’t believe you have to sacrifice everything else to see and experience “enough.”