When what you do represents so much more than you.
It’s a strange view from here.
We sit in the middle of two worlds. A no man’s land of sorts. Learning and experiencing travel on the road while still being able to stay in touch with the goings on at home.
Most of the time it’s great. But sometimes, not so much.
Checking in on social media feels like we are watching home from behind a plexiglass window at the zoo. We are detached. We have the benefit of not being barraged with bad news all the time except when the only thing on Facebook is bad news.
When we go on, it’s hard not to get depressed by the time you finish scrolling. We have somehow normalized vent posts, frustration updates, anger, spewing hurtful comments, judging people you have never met before or better yet telling each other what to do.
Does this kind of malaise come naturally now? When did everyone become such dicks?
Or do you think anyone ever stops to think that every time they post something shitty on Facebook they have the potential of bringing other people down due to the collective dicklike activity already happening there?
Don’t worry though. It’s not just Facebook.
They are plenty out there in real life. But there are also plenty of amazing as well.
Respecting the culture locally and of tourism
One of the best ways we have learned about hidden bits of awesome is simply by chatting with other long-haul travellers. We connect when cooking in hostel communal kitchens. We screenshot recommendations via social media. We discuss must-go places and did-you-knows as we hang out together on tours.
As we have chatted about best experiences, we were surprised how often we would be presented with “don’t go to X, it’s become too touristy”.
What exactly does that mean?
Well, as far as we can gather it means too busy, too common or too western. No longer that different or unique travel experience people want to take home with them.
So a place starts getting a buzz and suddenly a massive amount of tourist economy floods into a developing or under-developed country. Travellers arriving daily, spreading money around like its going out of style and presenting locals opportunities for more. Perhaps build a business or more importanly get out of struggling to cloth and feed their family or send their kids to school. To allow dreams to take shape and to see farther than they ever thought before. That kind of opportunity lends itself to a hustle state of mind. You do what you gotta do to make it work.
Yet tourists, who were part of creating this culture in the first place, don’t like the ickiness of the hustle.
So don’t be a dick.
Tourists having cake and eating it too
You opted to go to this country. The internet is FULL of information of what its like to travel there. You can’t say you didn’t know. Not nowadays.
Sadly, we have been witness often to someone from a developed country complaining about the people, communication boundaries, conditions of their stay, the washroom, the food, and cultural behaviours WHILE they are in said country.
It’s baffling. The demand of the tourist is to have an experience that feels authentic but in the end, the question becomes, do they really? Authentic means immersing and connecting with everything the destination is providing. Yet, in doing so, it takes tourists out of their comfort zone and forces them to look (& possibly realize) that living conditions in other parts of the world are extraordinarily different and can at times be heartbreakingly poor.
It seems tourists want to view the local surroundings from a bubble. It can give them clarity into the daily life and struggles, history and future of a culture, without the necessity to getting their hands dirty or suffering from slow Dial-Up internet. They want 20 minutes of ‘life as a local’, followed by some hand sanitizer and tsk-tsking, certainly not 2 days actually working in the mud trying to coax rice to grow in an overworked field.
What Can You Do
Planning itineraries in advance is ideal but with it comes with added mark-ups at every distribution point. A big tour company typically sub-contracts to a regional or local tour company, they in turn hire the guides. The guides make very little of the actual fees charged, so the closer you can get, the more you are supporting the local community. Book and support local wherever you can. A great option to source is via Facebook search. We have connected with many local guides and drivers by simply geo searching to find them through social media.
Support businesses that might not otherwise be able to market to the masses
Tripadvisor is still by far the most trusted resource in terms of local recommendations. Yet there are new networks coming on the scene. Collaborative companies like Backstreet academy in Asia helps bring awareness of local, expert businesses that can give you a genuine, off-the-beaten path kind of experience. Be sure to help local friends by reviewing their services via Trip Advisor, Google or Facebook. Search is how you found them. Reviews help search.
It was hard to watch as we saw women with bandeau bathing suit tops arguing to go up the steps of a Buddhist monastery this past week. We as travellers have been given a gift in being able to be in this country. We are owed nothing but we do owe something. Respecting local culture traditions like removing footwear, being covered in sacred spaces or handing over money with two hands are easy things to learn. As is the word THANK YOU. An easy one to learn in every language.
My daughter once schooled me when negotiating with a man in Bolivia. I was getting frustrated over the added charges (when I look back it was ultimately between $5) and she reminded me of something I had told her. “Everyone is part of a family”. So when you are in the process of negotiating or speaking with someone local on your trip, don’t just think of that moment. Think of them as a father or mother or daughter or son or sister or brother. Learn something about their family. It’s amazing how much less of a dick you end up being, when you create human connection.
Make a choice
You aren’t just representing yourself. You are representing your country. You are ambassadors.
You can get upset about the too touristy piece or you can accept that everyone is as excited as you are to be there and in that moment.
Choose when you go to a major destination spot. Go in off hours or off season if you hate the tourist part so much.
Make a choice to not only think of yourself but who you are representing. And what that means in the worldwide stage of travel.
So what’s our number one rule?
Don’t Be a Dick.