Thursday, September 20, 2007

Travelers and Tourists

I’m going to drop a couple blog entries tonight, just because I’m heading to Tokyo tommorow and thus all the blogs I have in the hopper will feel dated after that. This topic: travel. Big surprise.

I’m starting to feel different about the “traveler” verses “tourist” divide. I’ve long fallen on the “traveler” side, because it seems to be the more authentic experience that falls more into my ethos. For the un-indoctrinated to this debate, “traveler” means that you travel with a backpack, wear a bandana at all times, you stay in the cheapest hostel available, and your ideal trip would involve a 243 hour trip on a non-air-conditioned bus in August through every country that ends in ”stan”. “Tourist,” on the other hand, means that you tour with a roller-bag, wear a fanny pack at all times, you stay in 4 star hotels that were pre-aranged by your tour company, and your ideal trip involves either a cruise, a week at Disney World, or a 7-day bus tour through Europe, staying in a different city every single night. There is no in between.

Obviously, both of these are exaggerations (usually). And it’s easy to see why the notion of “tourism” gets a bad name. But, I’m getting tired with the inherent self-righteousness that comes along with the “traveler” ethos. Look, people get their travel rocks off in different ways. I think it’s stupid to adhere to the hard core tourist mentality, and to have most of your travel experience spoon fed to you by the tour company. But I also think it’s stupid to subscribe to the hard core “traveler” mentality as well, to just stay in hostels in large rooms with people like you and to cook all your own meals. I can understand why people do it wither way, but neither way makes sense to me. Why bother leaving home if you are just going to stay in soulless Hiltons and Marriots and are just going to eat overpriced, familiar food? At the same time, why bother leaving home if you are just going to hang out with fellow “travelers” and are going to cook cheap, shitty ramen or spaghetti in the hostel kitchen every night?

Look, I’ve done it both ways (though usually closer to the traveler way on my own since I’m never rich) and had fun both ways. Hell, on my Hong Kong trip, I did it both ways at the same time - staying in a dirt cheap rats nest, but going to Disneyland and spending a million dollars at bars and restaurants. But, in general, I never stay in hostel dorms anymore (exception - this weekend. Tokyo hotels are fucking expensive.) I like hostel bars to meet travelers, but I like local bars more. I don’t like hostel dorms, because I don’t see what sort of cultural lessons can be learned by trying to sleep on a bunk below some fat snoring Australian. I never, ever cook in hostel kitchens, or anywhere else for that matter. I didn’t come 200-7,000 miles to eat my own shitty cooking. If I can’t afford to eat at restaurants, than I can’t afford to go on the trip. Or, I use credit cards. Also, I at least try the local cuisine, and try my best to avoid eating anything that I can easily get back home. Which, in my coming Tokyo trip, just means no McDonald’s and no Korean food.

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