Sitting at home last weekend, I was enjoying a lazy day on the sofa catching up with my favourite YouTube channels. A travel blogger who I subscribe to popped up on my menu with a video about Travel Shaming. After the 10-minute video of her frustrations with travel shaming, I sat back and started to look back at conversations I have had over the last years with friends, colleagues and family members and all the negative comments I have received about how I travel.
“You didn’t go inside the Sistine Chapel when you went to the Vatican City? Well you’ve not really been to the Vatican City then.”
“So you were only in Antwerp for the day? That doesn’t really count as visiting Belgium does it?”
“Why on earth would you go to McDonalds when you can try all that local food?”
“All your trips are an utter waste of money and time.”
“Going to Europe really doesn’t count at travelling.”
“You can’t be considered a traveller because you haven’t stayed in a hostel/went inter-railing/travelled longer than a month/been to Australia/ been to more than 3 continents etc….”
As I grew disgruntled with all the reminders of things that had been said, I felt the increasing urge to write about it and highlight in more detail my adventures and I am sure that a lot of people feel the same way that I do and hope that explaining my experiences brings you some comfort knowing that you are not the only one who receives these sort of comments and quite frankly, why it doesn’t even matter.
Firstly, for those who say that I have not experienced a country/place because I have not visited (insert object, event, building, museum here). From my own travel experiences, there have been many points of interest that have been closed. The Sistine Chapel, Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, almost all of the popular tourist attractions on the Isle of Mull and the Prague’s astronomical clock to name but a few. These things happen, having lived in tourist hotspots liked Edinburgh and London, I appreciate things are going to be closed, especially during off-peak tourist season. That doesn’t take away the essence of visiting these places. I’m not going to fall to my knees and wail “MY HOLIDAY IS RUINED!” just because somewhere is closed for filming or restoration works. I still get to see the outside of buildings that were closed and there are many other sites to visit and things to explore. If anything, it’s something for me and Mr Ramblings to laugh at over a few local wines in the evening (especially if you opted to walk 5km on a poorly constructed walkway to visit it!).
One of the largest shocks I get is that when I was in Kraków, I didn’t visit Auschwitz. Originally, my main purpose of visiting Kraków was to visit the concentration camp but upon arrival, the city was swept with a mini heatwave and I encountered so many beautiful things I wanted to explore, Wawel Castle, Kazimierz, the Old Town etc. I was put off with tour guides offering leaflets with a cheery tone saying “Auschwitz? You want a tour of Auschwitz?” I spoke with Mr Ramblings and we both agreed that we were having too much fun seeing other things as our list of things to do was adding up with curiosity with every street that we wandered down. We made a compromise on visiting Galicia Jewish Museum to be informed of the history that happened in the area.
Back in 2011, I was fortunate enough to visit Beijing for a month. It was my first (and only to date) experience of travelling alone. I was there for an internship and out of the month I was there, had a mere 8 days to take in the city. My evenings were crammed with visiting night markets, shopping malls, seeing tourist attractions light up at night and my weekends were for visiting big sites like the Great Wall of China and Tienanmen Square. The internship group I was with (who I didn’t know prior to the trip) were from an array of backgrounds, most of whom had been to Beijing before and we arranged that we would meet up in the hotel lobby one weekend day to visit the Summer Palace. I woke up in the morning with an incredible headache and feeling drained, mostly from the intense culture shock and humidity of the September weather. I sent a text saying I wasn’t feeling up to going out at sat in the lounge of my apartment in floods of tears watching subtitled Australian Master Chef as I ate my weight in unusually flavoured Oreos. It wasn’t until I finished the box of biscuits that I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to complete my Lonely Planet guide cover to cover in 8 days. Beijing is a huge city and I got to experience so much more that the words on the pages. After all it’s a travel guide, not a travel rule book. I wasn’t going to hang my head in shame after the 12 hour flight home and tell my friends “Well, I didn’t really see Beijing just because I was too tired to see the Summer Palace.”
Mr Ramblings for years proudly stated that he had a 2 hour layover in Abu Dhabi airport therefore he had been to Abu Dhabi. I feel that going outside of the airport and spending a reasonable amount of time (6 hours or more) in a city/town centre can justify that country being ticked off your list. Over time and a few trips later, he slowly understood what I meant and agreed that he had not truly experienced Emirati culture and had not got a snapshot of the Emirates.
To add further to the point, just because I went to Bratislava doesn’t mean that I know everything about Slovakia. Nor do I intend to convey that. I don’t sit at dinner parties regaling tales coming across like I only spoke Slovak when I was there and had a life changing experience to the point where I related to the Slovak community so much that I felt like one of them. I stick to the facts. “Yes I went to Bratislava. The weather wasn’t the best. I was dreadfully hungover from the night before when I was in Vienna and as a result, spent 2 hours feeling sorry for myself with my head in my hands in McDonalds drinking coffee before I had the energy to go to a museum and explore the city further. I made no attempt to speak Slovak apart from the polite ‘Hello’s and ‘Thank you’s and those who couldn’t speak English spoke German to me which I understand the basics of and was able to respond accordingly. My husband and I, along with a lone Chinese man with a very expensive looking camera were the only tourists I saw all day. I learnt some cool things about the country that I didn’t know before I arrived in the city, I saw some lovely buildings, ate some good food and enjoyed the day I was there.”
This brings me onto the McDonalds comments. Out of 21 countries I have been to, 13 of them I have at some point ordered something from a McDonalds. In Prague it was just for a Diet Coke, in Berlin its where we went for breakfast every morning, Barcelona it was for a quick lunch. Why? It’s cheap, it’s easy, you know what you’re going to get and there is always the nice local twist on special menu items (Budapest had breaded Camembert, need I say more?). Sometimes seeing the glimmer of the golden arches whilst I’m away is the best option to stop the traditional fight of “what are we going to do for food?” in a place you are not familiar with and it could be ages before you set your eyes on a restaurant where the prices are reasonable and the menu is decent looking. By that point one of you isn’t hungry anymore and you’ve fought for no reason. I don’t make it a mission to visit a McDonalds whilst I am away but it’s handy to know they are available. For followers of my blog, I mostly eat at food markets and will always seek to find cheap eats sampling local food wherever I go but sometimes hunger/thirst can spring up at any time.
When I am away, I roam the streets, visit museums and points of interest, have some food and take some photographs. Regardless of whether it’s a day, a week, somewhere new or my hometown. I would do the exact same thing. As I said previously, I experience a snapshot. This brings me onto being told I am not a traveller because (insert something here). Like most people, I have a job (and still a bit like Bambi on ice when it comes to getting a stable footing into my post-University career), a husband, commitments and bills to pay. I can’t just book a 3-month tour around South East Asia at a whim and thing it’s all going to pay for itself and that work will be OK with it.
Living in the UK, I am lucky to be relatively close to many countries and want to make the most of what I have on my very own doorstep. I don’t have the time or money to enjoy vacations weeks at a time, but I make the best of what I have. I may not be able to take long periods of time off and afford to take long haul flights, but I can easily take a Friday, Monday and Tuesday off work and see something closer to home. When even that isn’t an option, I have tested the limits by going to Dublin for the day which was an incredible (albeit draining) day out. At the minute, I would rather see 2 or 3 new places in a week than be stagnant in one place. I still feel like there is much more I want to see and explore, mostly in Europe and would prefer to do that than spend the savings on an all-inclusive beach holiday.
It is also handy to note that we all seem to forget that through centuries of countries being conquered and civilisations being rebuilt again and again, there are similarities in some countries through architecture, food, customs, language and more. That by no means makes it any less special crossing the border into a new territory, no matter how long you are there for. Every place has its unique twist on what history has dealt them and seeing that is one of my favourite things to do.
Traveller vs Tourist dilemma
This is something that is always circling around the blogosphere. Which is the better way to travel? What will get you the best content? Am I finding the best things in this place? Am I making the most of my time here? Are you a traveller or a tourist? This takes me back to some of the comments at the top of the post.
I don’t understand why people feel they must define themselves. According to the Oxford Dictionary, here are the definitions:
Traveller – “A person who is travelling or who often travels”
Tourist – “A person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure”
Do you see the difference? I honestly don’t. The terms are interchangeable. If you select one or the other and search for synonyms, you will find the other word pop up on your screen. Can you not often travel to visit a place for pleasure? Does that make you any less of a nomadic soul that wants to see something different or see the same place again?
If anything should those who seek validation refer to themselves as ‘explorers’? After all the definition of that is “travel through (an unfamiliar area) in order to learn about it.” But then again you can do that as a traveller and/or tourist?
We are now in a generation where we are fortunate to have colourful mix and fluidity of ways people can describe and express our identities, be it through gender, sexuality, the way we dress etc. Can this not be the same for describing the travelling community?
Thinking back to how I would describe myself, I just like walking around a new place, having a few glasses of wine in a pretty city square somewhere and seeing things I didn’t think I would ever see. I am by no means an oracle on visiting places but what I do works for me and makes me happy. When it comes to my writing, I think I provide snapshots of places I have been. So, with that in mind, I guess you can call me a “snapshot budget explorer-tourist-traveller-adventurer thingy”. If you can think of anything terms for how I travel, I’d love to read it in the comments below.
I enjoy documenting my travels on my blog and do it to merely summarise what I have enjoyed about my trip and what I did in the days I was away. It’s by no means a gloat on what I have managed to achieve in order to make people jealous. It’s not to self-validate in the blogosphere. I don’t go out of my way to visit places because it’s the perfect photo opportunity. I just find the cheapest place on Skyscanner that I haven’t been to that intrigues me, buy a Lonely planet guide, check out Tripadvisor, speak to my followers/readers/friends and let my mind wander as I plan my itinerary.
What are your thoughts on travel shaming? Have you been travel shamed? Let me know in the comments below.