There’s no shortage of (mostly) well-intentioned advice swirling around the blogosphere at any given time. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad and other examples are too confusing to accurately say whether they’re good or bad. I too have joined in on this bandwagon over the years, but of course I hope the advice I’ve doled out has been more helpful than most. I was in a somewhat strange mood when I sat down to write one day, so I thought I’d offer a slight twist on the normal “travel tips” post and offer up a few things I will and won’t tell you.
WHAT I WON’T TELL YOU
That a particular style of travel is wrong
Everyone thinks that they have THE answer, THE way to travel and what is often described as real and authentic. Some say it’s by staying in hostels, others by eating only street food and still others say that it is only by avoiding tourist hotspots that you get to see the ‘real’ destination. That’s all crap; elitist and pompous crap at that. We are all tourists, all of us whether you choose to admit it or not. We all like to do and see corny attractions, eat foods that are probably a little too expensive and take home souvenirs that will please Grandma and not your friends. That’s all fine, acceptable and encouraged. What IS important, what IS the real experience is taking that leap, which at first can be frightening, and travel. Just go, see as much as you can and never look back. If you can only afford a brief few days somewhere, do it. Do it now. Every trip, no matter the length or how far away it takes you is important. Even the most prosaic of experiences teaches us something and we always, always grow as individuals. So don’t hold back because you’re afraid you’re not traveling the right way. There’s no such thing, there’s just traveling or not traveling.
Only challenging travel experiences are worthwhile
The travel world can be a strange place, full of people desperate to add to their portfolio of unusual experiences and others who want to visit as many countries as they can, if only the airport, just for the bragging rights. None of that need bother the average traveler, except when these same people put pen to paper and offer travel advice. Sadly, they really can’t. They’re not average travelers, they’re some strange class of super-tourists and 99.9% of people just can’t relate to them. I heard a TV interview a few months ago and the travel “expert” on the panel recommended destinations so remote and unlikely, that it was actually laughable. It makes me sad though, I don’t think that there’s any real place for arrogance in travel and ultimately it doesn’t help anyone. No, instead what we need is a legion of humble travelers. We need more folks who instead of looking for the most difficult to reach places, visit places that are accessible and in the process help us better understand them and inspire us to also visit. None of this is new, TV programs and print magazines have followed this train of thought for a long time and it is just common sense. Most people travel to certain places, so let’s offer them advice on how to better visit these places. YES, there is a need to broaden people’s horizons, to teach them about destinations they may not have known about and encourage them to visit. But that must be done in moderation with everything else; it can’t be the only song in your playbook. So bloggers, take a cue from our friends the travel magazines and yes, travel to and write about fantastical spots, but also visit and write about more manageable destinations as well.
That a place is definitively bad
In the online world people like definitive statements. They like reading when something or someone is entirely good or entirely bad. There isn’t a whole lot of grey in the digital universe, but when it comes to the travel experience I believe that grey is one of the most important areas to be in. I’m always honest when I write, but I recognize that it’s all very subjective. It’s all my opinions, which are based on my life experiences and even my moods. That’s why blogs are important, to get that very personal perspective, but we all need to keep in mind just how subjective blogs can be. That’s why I’m careful when I share new information. Just because I didn’t like an experience doesn’t mean that it’s a bad experience, it only means that I didn’t like it. I’ll write that I didn’t like it, but I always try to add the caveat that it’s only my point of view. I don’t believe in outright bashing, unless it’s deserved. When is it deserved? Negative reviews or opinion pieces are warranted when something is inherently bad. For example, if I check into a hotel and the bathroom water isn’t running or the bed collapses, that’s an inherent problem that everyone can agree with. It becomes subjective when I say that the breakfast was bad, or the pillows were too hard. Other people might love both that crappy breakfast and those hard pillows, so that’s a case of when I’ll couch my personal opinions with the warning that they’re just that, very personal opinions. That’s a long way to get to the point that I will never tell you that a destination is bad or shouldn’t be visited. Are there places I personally don’t like and plan on never returning to? You bet, and I’m always happy to mention them when asked. But at the same time I recognize that other people love those places, adore them and have a completely different opinion than I do. I don’t profess to know everything and so I never tout that I do. I believe everyone should go where they like and be happy doing so.
WHAT I WILL TELL YOU
Travel is the best education in the world
As a kid I remember being frustrated because I knew no matter how much I studied and learned that I would never be able to consume all available knowledge. Yeah, I was a fun kid, but that same intellectual curiosity has helped me countless times in my life and is, I think, a defining characteristic of most travelers. We want to explore and see the world not just to dip our toes in the warm waters of the Caribbean or to see famous buildings we’ve heard about all our lives – we also desperately want to learn. We visit museums, historical sites and take more tours than we can count. Why do we do this, except to broaden our horizons and learn about disparate places around the world? There are some of course who could care less about such things, and I honestly don’t understand why they even leave home. The world may seem smaller than ever, but in all reality it’s an immense place and even those who think they have seen it all, have only hit upon a small slice of the centuries of human and natural history available to us to learn about. Having a certain level of intellectual curiosity is vital to any good traveler and those who pursue these educational exploits greatly improve their own personal travel experiences. By learning the histories of different places, we also deepen our own personal understanding of them, creating not only cultural empathy but also a great bond and connection with those places. So it’s not just a nerdy way to increase our chances of performing well on Jeopardy, it’s vital if we really want to maximize our travel experiences.
Travel is couture, its impact varies by the individual
One of the words I hate the most is bespoke. I originally hated it because it’s not common in American English and still sounds abrasive and foreign to my ears. But then as I learned what it meant, and saw it more and more often I came to dislike it for its meaning. Bespoke simply means something that is custom made, unique to a particular person. In the travel context it refers to tailor-made experiences, not for the masses. As a luxury traveler, obviously I don’t mind that part but what I mind is the attitude with which it’s sometimes conveyed, as if only certain people are allowed to be privy to the benefits of travel, which simply isn’t the case.
To draw an analogy of sorts, in my opinion travel is couture. That is to say that each travel experience is completely unique for the person enjoying it. Sure, I could join a tour group of 20 people and see and do the same things as the rest of them, but for me the experience is individual, as it is for them as well. Assuming this is true, which it is, then every trip we take, no matter who we are or where we go is couture, it is a bespoke experience. So those tour companies who emblazon countless brochures with this abrasive, practically aggressive word, please stop. Now. Instead, share with your future guests the uniqueness that travel is and how attainable it can be, no mater the style or comforts we may enjoy in the process.
Now is the time to travel
Ok, I find myself lapsing into metaphysical travel blogger mode, but I can’t help it. I’ve been through this, I’ve lived a life I wasn’t happy with and through great effort made changes so that I could be happy. I see countless others, many of them my friends, who don’t do this and walk through life with a sack full of regrets. “I wish I could”, “that would be nice,” and “it’s too hard,” are their go-to phrases and each one is a cop-out. I’m a firm believer in the fact that if you want anything in life, if you work hard enough you can make it happen. Most people don’t want to put in that work though. This doesn’t have to mean an epic, around the world quest for self-enlightenment. It’s as simple as visiting any new place, but visit it you must. The benefits are too many and the risks too great to ignore that siren call of travel.