Awhile back, "Ask The Pilot" writer Patrick Smith labeled the selfie stick the scourge of global travel. I get his point: hordes of people waving metal poles, so intent on showing people that they were There that they forget to enjoy Being There. I like a few self-produced travel memories, but I don’t want to document so much that I forget to do.
Patrick got made me think a bit about what I consider the scourges of travel. To be clear, they’re not ruining travel for me, but they could be screwing yours up. (If I’ve left something off the list, set me straight in the comments.)
Ridiculously Doctored Travel Photos
I’ve been to some photogenic places. I have some beautiful photos from travels hanging in super sizes on my walls. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen photos similar to mine processed beyond all reason into cartoonish facsimiles of themselves.
I’ve seen more than a few travelers post these photos and say "that’s where I’m going!" No – you’re going to a real place, not a rip in space and time where the scenery looks like it’s been abused by a cheesy photographer who plays with high dynamic range too much. These photos set up expectations that are hard to match.
Time for Some "Best" Control
Go to just about any travel discussion forum online. Count up the number of threads with the word "Best" in the title or subject line: "What’s the best food truck in San Francisco? What’s the best underrated cosplay-themed hotel in Belgrade? What’s the best miniature golf course in Sheboygan that caters to cross-dressing dwarves who work as assassins?" (Blame Bill Fitzhugh’s book Pest Control for that last one.)
Look, anyone with a functioning brainstem should know that nobody will ever agree on "the best" of anything. What’s wrong with asking for 5 of your favorite recommendations for -- well, whatever category you’re interested in?
Giving the Plot Away
When it comes to their entertainment, people are terrified of spoiler alerts. But when it comes to travel? It seems like people want to iron the surprises out, that anything not scheduled is ruining travel. Sure, a certain amount of research helps people get the most out of their travel – that’s the entire reason this blog exists! But do webcams, drone footage and virtual reality tours not suck the anticipation and surprise right out of the experience?
My advice: Do your homework, but leave room for spontaneity, for surprise.
Extreme Cheapskate Antics
I love a good deal. My specialty is scanning air travel routes and prices, mulling a huge list of variables (airline, alliance, aircraft type, schedule, reputation, etc.) and distilling that into a good deal. Not the cheapest, but a perfect intersection of value that fits my budget. It’s a beautiful thing. Sarah applies this same thinking when she digs for hotels and activities.
But when I see someone from a prosperous nation posting online for tips on free things to do in Mumbai, the blood vessels in my eyes feel like they’re about to burst. That’s another frequent topic – name the location, and people are looking for the cheapest, free-est things they can do; I half-expect someone to post about fun things they can get paid to do while traveling.
My friends, travel costs. Experiences cost. I have never regretted a penny I’ve spent on travel. I have, however, regretted money I didn’t spend. I have a list of things I should’ve done, but cheaped out on. That’s what I regret. And if you really, absolutely, positively must do something for free when traveling abroad -- simply walk around with your eyes open. I promise you’ll enjoy it.
Oh, and there’s a special hell reserved for travelers who pull all sorts of antics to save the equivalent of 25 cents when bargaining with someone who makes a 20th of their income. I’m not saying be a sucker – I’m saying “don’t be a cheapskate.”
"How can I experience Place X like a local? How can I eat in Location Y like a local?" These are some of the silliest questions to ever take up 1s and 0s online.
You experience a place like a local by becoming one, or tagging along with one. And that last one is even questionable; your local will probably show you the cool stuff, not the routine places she actually frequents. Locals like to put their home’s best foot forward.
And here’s something else to remember: Locals eat at Applebee’s, too. They go to chain restaurants and drink over-roasted, over-sugared, vaguely coffee-flavored confections at Starbucks, too. That’s why there’s a ChipotleSmashPizza everywhere short of Olympus Mons.
Am I Just Getting Cranky?
I sound grumpy. Shit. I’m glad that people travel abroad at all. But it would be great if the people we send to each others’ countries might be more than walking travel cliches who exist to do something more than share their photos online.
Go forth and travel, people. But try to think about it a bit, eh?