Travelers. I love you. You are my people. I revel in how many of you I’ve met over the last year and how many more I will meet on my path ahead. But, and I tell you this as your friend, you [we] can be [really] annoying, sometimes even irresponsible.
So, because I love you, could you please just stop?
Complaining So Much.
I met Caroline in a sakau bar in Pohnpei. This was definitely a locals’ hangout, so I stood out like a sore thumb when I walked in. The ex-pat who had told me about the place wasn’t there, so I awkwardly stood, thinking of what to do. Then a few ladies asked me if I wanted to try sakau, and invited me to join their table. They giggled as I sat down, apparently the men at the next table over had wanted me to sit with them. But I’m down for a good ladies’ night anywhere, so I was sticking with them.
We had great conversation and shared laughs. Caroline works for a rental car company, so the conversation naturally switched to swapping stories of dealing with customers. She lamented over canceled reservations that she had no control over and was equally amused and offended by my story of the last angry customer I worked with as a bartender – he threw his burger at me because the lettuce didn’t look like it did in the picture [you can’t make this stuff up, people really are that ridiculous sometimes].
Then, she made one of the greatest points, which I want to share with other travelers.
“I just wish I could tell them, ‘don’t complain so much.’ They come and visit and complain that the Wi-Fi is too slow or that the prices in the stores are too high. But we live here.“
She nailed it with the last part. She lives there. If I find the Wi-Fi too slow or the accommodations too dirty, how is she supposed to feel? If I find the prices in the store to be too high, how must she feel, when that is her grocery store all year long, AND the minimum wage is $1.70 an hour.
She is proud of her country and the progress that they are making, but acknowledges it will be awhile. They’re pretty far behind.
They just don’t need to be reminded of it.
Labeling and Comparing Travel “Types.”
Tourists are great, but what about travelers? Or backpackers? Or holiday-makers or study abroad or voluntourists? Digital nomads or retirees? Short trips and long trips (both in time and distance). Solo, couple, group or family? Budget or luxury? There are SO many ways to explore this incredible globe, and it is often helpful for us to have names for these. But for everyone’s sanity, can we stop comparing? Trying to say which is better? Which is “real” travel?
All-inclusives are not my cup of coffee, but I can see the benefits (especially for, say, family or honeymoon travel). There are styles that are better for me. And that’s all I know. As long as you are traveling and not being a dick, then I’m all for however you choose to do it. Nomadic Matt has something to say about these labels too. So let’s not be elitist about who’s the “better” traveler, or even that travelers are “better” than people who don’t. Different? Yes. Better? Cool your jets.
Smoking. Everywhere. [with seemingly no concern for anyone else around]
Ok, I don’t mean to sound like a total prude here, but it’s 2016. At this point, smoking has been bad for basically ever. And I get it, you have a habit. And when you’re around other smokers and in places like SE Asia where it’s so cheap, it’s tough. At a minimum, when you smoke, could you look around and consider the fact that maybe not everyone else around you smokes? I have been traveling for nearly a year, feeling like I’m constantly in a cloud of smoke and smokers have asked me twice (TWICE) if I mind. Both of these times were when I was eating and they said they didn’t want to smoke around me while I was eating, implying that if I wasn’t, they wouldn’t care.
Literally when I sat down to write this I found myself a nice spot outside to set up. No one smoking nearby. Nice night breeze. I got all my stuff out and settled, opened up to start typing and three people sat down, surrounding me, and starting smoking. With zero acknowledgement of my existence. I’m not saying stop smoking (except now, I’m saying it, you’re adult enough to get yourself to another country, you’re adult enough to stop smoking), but I am saying stop blowing it in everyone’s faces.
Supporting Irresponsible Tourist Activities.
I’m sure that picture of you on an elephant’s back got a lot of likes from your friends. But have you considered what happened to that elephant to prepare for your afternoon stroll? Don’t even get me started on the Tiger “Sanctuary.” Tourism dollars matter. The decisions you make on how to spend your tourism dollars matter. We can collectively shake our heads at animal abuse, but let’s all remember supply and demand real quick. As long as there is a demand, there will be someone happy to provide supply.
Your tourism dollars are demand dollars. What kind of supply do you want to support?
And this one is muddy water. How can something called a sanctuary be bad for the animals? How can something be so popular, yet have such reaching consequences? It starts by asking the question. And it sucks. Like when I got to Cebu with the intent of swimming with whale sharks. How cool does that seem? But then I started to ask myself why the fish were there. I did more research and still felt lost. I reached out to a friend in the field to talk me through it and I’m so glad I decided against it.
That doesn’t mean all animal-related tourist activities are automatically bad. In Tonga, I swam with humpback whales. It’s the only place in the world that it’s legal and I went with an amazing operator who was very clear from before we left port, “if you touch a whale, you will not touch water for the rest of the day, you will never go back on one of our tours and we will tell the other operators.” It was an absolutely majestic experience and the best part about it is knowing that it will be there for generations to come as long as the whales are protected as they are.
Being a D*ck.
This one seems like it should be obvious. And it is relevant to everyone, not just travelers. But everything that’s not specifically on this list that you need to stop can be rolled up into that category.
Littering? Dick. Carving your name into trees or buildings? Dick. Wearing wholly inappropriate clothing to religious sites? Dick. Having sex or generally being loud in shared rooms; packing at 5:00 am? You are NOT as quiet as you think you are. Dick.
The DGAF attitude is not cool. You should give AF. A lot of them. Let it show in the way you carry yourself around the world and in other cultures.
Sometimes you’re a good person who accidentally pulls a sh*t move. It happens to all of us. Own it and move on. I was really impressed last week when I posted in a private Facebook group that I’m in, frustrated with an Instagram account that was following and unfollowing me. What ensued was a nice vent discussion about it. I didn’t use the person’s or account name because I just wanted to talk about the issue, not knowing that she was in the group. She could have ignored it, but she joined the thread and owned it, explaining that she was trying out using a bot and stopped because it was annoying. Follow/unfollow people? Dick. Own up to it in a “public” forum? Respect.
Hey, look. You and me, we’re still great. Things are still good between us. You keep doing you (unless you do these 5 things, then stop those things and otherwise keep on keeping on).