The Disillusionment of Travel

Off the Beaten Track-Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana, West Africa

I’ve had enough of your travel elitism and disillusionment! 

Reading a travel article in the New York Times I made a grave mistake. I read the comments. The article, written about “undiscovered” travel locations around the world, focusing on Asia that was admittedly, not that inspired. The locations, such as Laos, maybe a bit exotic for some, but backpackers have pretty much taken over in some cities (Vang Vieng, I’m looking at you!) to the point that it looks like an MTV reality show. But that’s not the point. The comments were mostly snarky, filled with the usual elitism, such as “I visited 20 years ago, now it’s ruined, don’t go.” Or, “once I see a 4 star or above accommodation, I refuse to go, developers have already destroyed the place.”  Based on this logic, one might as well never leave home.

First, I understand. The travel and tourism industry has often had grave effects in terms of preservation of culture. Giant resorts with shady land deals destroying beaches (Phuket anyone?), irresponsible tourism, touts, and on and on. Luxury tourism that succeeds in making a spectacle out of local communities for amusement of wealthy overweight westerners too lazy to actually try and immerse themselves in a culture. They, truly, should probably just stay at home. Or cruise ships that tear in and out of port and give superficial or entirely altered and toned-down versions of the country they visit. And don’t get me started on orphanage visits. So, I get it. I get how tourism can seriously hurt the people who live there, or even destroy it. And, I have some serious issues with an industry that often exploits locals for fiscal gain.  That being said, it isn’t all bad. Though, I’m sure many may argue otherwise. Travel, if done right can give back to a community, provide an extra source of income, or a link to the rest of the world. Travel also encourages understanding through a global perspective. I honestly believe the US could function better as a global power if it did better to understand the different cultures that it inevitably influences, specifically via travel.

So, travel responsibly, agreed. But I’m sick of reading these quips by these travel elitists. Yes, I know, trekking in Nepal was SO much better twenty years ago, but honestly, I still want to go. And I don’t care if you think it’s no longer worth it. I really want to see the Himalayan peaks, and meet the people who live there. Some go as far to say that pretty much the whole world is spoilt and they have no desire to leave home. Well, good, I don’t think I’d want to meet that sort of person on the road anyway. But I would be lying if I said it isn’t a bit disheartening, especially when I’m excited to see a place that is in fact, well-worn and quite “on the beaten track”. I still have a deep seeded romanticism related to foreign travel, undiscovered or not, and I don’t think I’m any less of a traveler just because I’m interested in going to say, Thailand-even if it is now “ruined.” Getting off the beaten track is rewarding, to be sure. There is great pleasure in taking public transportation, not seeing another westerner for days, and getting the chance to meet people who’s lives don’t function around your tourist dollar. But at the same time, I still really want to see Halong Bay and Angkor Wat. Yes, I wish that it wasn’t so popular, or that touts wouldn’t hassle me, or that trash wouldn’t litter the bay. And it’s upsetting to see the ill-effects of my fellow travelers. But, you know what? I’m still going to go, and I’m still going to be extremely excited about it too. So, maybe I won’t take a junk boat onto Halong Bay, but instead find a more independent route with less impact and less mad-tourist herding.  I’m going to be conscious where my money goes, and do my best to have a positive impact, and to understand this is a developing country with a turbulent past. I’m not going to expect to be taken care of, or even treated how I am at home. I’m not going to be entitled, I am going to be respectful of a place I can’t possibly begin to fully understand in my short visit. I’m certainly not going to support mass market accommodations that are doing more harm than good. I don’t know what it looked like twenty years ago. Maybe it was better, probably it was, but I feel lucky to have the opportunity to go anyway. I don’t think I should be made to feel bad about this either. I may think cruises are one of the least appealing methods of travel, but if a friend is excited about her upcoming cruise through the Caribbean, I’m certainly not going to rain on her parade. If she can find joy in it, who am I to dismiss it?

Maybe I’m just a young, naive traveler, but I truly believe there is still great reward in travel, and though maybe we have to dig a bit deeper, and pay closer attention to how our actions impact others, there is still much meaning and beauty to discover, even on the banana-trail. So, please, don’t tell me how much better it used to be, let me go and decide for myself, and allow me to discover these places with no pre-formed ideas of what I should expect. The travel experience is so individual; though you might think a certain place is unbearable, perhaps I’ll fall in love with it, or not, but that discovery is what I crave in travel. So, to all you disillusioned travel elitists, lets just keep our opinions to ourselves, shall we? Or, perhaps, I should just stop reading the comments sections.

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