If you have ever used Tinder and/or Instagram, you know what I mean by saying that our generation is obsessed with travelling. On almost every profile you find something along the lines of ‘travel-lover’, ‘hobbies: travelling’, or ‘citizen of the world’. Posts on social media are dominated by pictures of romantic beaches, beautiful sceneries, or exciting adventures that our friends have decided to share with us. Travelling can be an incredible experience and I believe it is very understandable that the people I know like to embark on journeys to different countries or even continents. While I am also guilty of describing myself as a travel-junkie and I like to post pictures about my little adventures as well, I have been reflecting on the concept of travelling lately.
The way tourism works nowadays is extremely novel. Tourism itself has increased immensely since the Second World War. Before that, travelling was either too expensive or too dangerous. Besides, many people simply didn’t have the time or money to go to other places for fun. In addition, transportation was a lot more complicated and the variety of methods was much more limited since infrastructures weren’t near as well developed in the majority of countries as they are now. When you did go somewhere, it was usually close to your home country and activities were mostly restricted to guided tours and city strolls. For most people, travelling was a luxury and without the internet and tourism-oriented hotspots the travelling experience differed vastly from what we have now.
Considering the abundance of cheap airlines, buses, hostels, Airbnb, travel apps, recommendation sites, travel guides, etc, it seems appropriate to say that we currently live in the Golden Age of Budget Travel. Particularly popular among young adults (but also frequently enjoyed by older generations), this type of travel has the goal of minimising cost but maximising experience. We don’t want a fancy, all-inclusive vacation on a dirty beach somewhere in a tourist-flooded town in Spain, where you find more tourists than Spaniards. My generation wants the candid, real experience. We want to get to know the culture, the people and the real food. We reject the idea that tourists should do touristy things; we want to get to know the native customs and have a real adventure.
This sentiment seems sensible. The motive for vacation has shifted from ‘luxury, simple’ to ‘I want to see the whole world.’ We have access to these amazing tools and companies that make travelling so easy and cheap – who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that? If the world is an open book, why stay on the same page? Especially with the exposure to other cultures we have through the internet, it is only natural to be curious about all these other places and customs. Travelling has the amazing potential of unlocking new experiences and mindsets – and we want it all.
However, we want it all to ourselves. Crowded cities and beaches, touristy tours, meeting other Brits EVERYWHERE don’t fit within our ideal concept of a vacation. We want the real experience – not the same package everyone else gets. Finding this one secluded spot on a beach in Costa Rica is ten times better than staying on the same beach with all the other guests from your hotel that won’t stop putting out towels on the sun beds in the morning to ‘reserve’ it for later. Tourism nowadays means coming as close to not being a tourist as possible. It is infuriating when the taxi driver charges us more than the locals. Eating chips and burgers is dull, we demand local food! After all, we want the real experience.
One of the problems this leads to is that small villages get overrun by tourists. Despite wanting the ‘local’ experience, if tourists visit an area, it becomes a tourist spot. That one secluded beach turns into an insider’s location and eventually into the same overrun beach we were all trying to avoid. That one cute little town that made us feel like a native and seemed so welcoming now sells post cards everywhere and you need to watch out for tourist scammers. The curse of real-experience-tourism is that we all want it, have the capacity to do it, and ultimately ruin it.
I am not trying to badmouth adventure tourism or people who do value the candid experience when travelling. I do, however, try to reflect on the mentality that a lot of people have adopted around me. Tourism is an important source of income for many countries and in my opinion, crucial to one’s personal development. Yet, we need to step back from the idea that being a tourist is something bad; why do we want to separate ourselves so badly from the crowd? Avoiding tourist spots doesn’t make us a local; it simply makes us a tourist that avoids tourist spots.