Foreign travel talk is the “dish” of the 60+ set: The trips you have taken, will take, hope to take, can’t afford to take, or wouldn’t dream of taking. Listen and watch as the high school mentality surfaces. Out pops one upsmanship, snobism, superiority, copy-catting, phoniness and other unpleasant posturing as our cohort judges who is a true traveler and who is a mere tourist (said with a sneer).
There seems to be agreement that a true traveler is the one who has “authentic” travel experiences. These involve a search, not unlike a pilgrimage, for a place that is “unspoiled” and offers real interactions with people from other cultures. Backpacking. with stays in hostels, rather than luxury hotels, tends to be favored by “real travelers.” These travelers eschew tours unless the guides are native to the culture and can orchestrate unique experiences for outrageous sums of money.
On the other hand, the tourist is stereotyped as superficial, trivial and a boring consumer of well-known sights. He is an object of derision, that paunchy guy in shorts and a Beatles T-Shirt talking too loudly, grousing at the fact that he can’t find anyone who speaks English. The tourist lacks a sense of adventure and sticks with the foreign country’s universally vetted attractions, food, and lodgings.
Deep down we really do know that travelers and tourists have experiences that fall somewhere between these polar opposites, and are as variable and and unique as these foreign visitors’ expectations and personalities. Some want to be ushered through unfamiliar vistas in comfort. Others are in search of an individual spiritual experience. One type of traveler wants to share local lifestyles, eat unfamilar food, and get blasted out of his or her comfort zone. Another type wants to focus on architecture, art work, or food.
I want to promote travel talk that focuses on listening for the story behind the story of people’s travels: Why they chose to travel in a certain way or visit a particular country; What their expectations were for their trip and whether or not those expectations were met; What excited or disturbed them most about the trip, and how they might do things differently if they traveled to this country or that city again. No judgements. No false dichotomies. No travel snobbery.
Well, you already know my views on this as I sit at my Sheraton Hotel on the grounds of Charles DeGaulle airport (is that travel snobbery :-)?). I believe that ANYTHING that exposes you to a culture or environment different than your own is mind expanding. Doesn’t matter how you do it, it is the fact that you do it that counts. And you are right…unfortunately one upsmanship is the name of the game. Do we always have to look for new exciting experiences? We just have to judge our own comfort zone and go with our instincts.
Welcome back to a whole other kind of journey where many find their travel urges satisfied via cyberspace. Regardless of the back story, travel is the quintessential educational experience. But it is fascinating to dig into the agenda. There certainly are those that travel to say they’ve been “there” and done “that.” Call me a travel snob, but I cherish every trip for its purity of personal gifts bestowed upon me: the widening of the heart and spirit.