Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why I Travel

*I felt I should preface this post with a disclaimer: if all-inclusive is your thing, then go for it! I just choose not to.

My sweet husband and I were talking about travelling tonight (ok, honestly it happens every night) and all-inclusive resorts were brought up. A super long time ago, I went on a cruise for a band trip (music festival at sea or something) and all of our food was included in the cruise price. A bunch of high school kids with access to room service? Cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Ice cream buffets! Dinners with a pirate!

While that experience was awesome (I was only a freshman and had only really travelled once prior) I would not do it again. I have always felt that places like the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Cabo san Lucas, Mexico were never for me, but I always assumed it was the heat and the crowds. I wasn't interested in sweating buckets and feeling sticky while wandering around the pristine grounds of a resort. But as I've travelled more and seen the impact tourism can have on a certain place, the reason I can't see myself at one those hot spots mentioned above is a political one. When you buy an all inclusive resort package, your money goes straight back into the company you booked with. You're not buying local. You're not really experiencing the locale you're visiting. Yeah, all you can eat buffets and all the slushie drinks you want are awesome, but you can do that at home, for a hell of a lot cheaper. These places have been sanitized and stripped of everything that makes the locale unique. I keep getting reminded of the private tourist beaches in Haiti that are fenced off to locals. Haiti is the only third world country in North America, and the locals are kept off of their own beaches. What kind of message does that send? You'd think that the tourist dollars from those beaches would have helped rebuild the cities devastated in the earthquake, but the destruction and pain is still there, front and center. If I wanted to visit Haiti, I would go and see the real Haiti, even if it's sad and painful.

When we went to Europe, I realized that I loved getting lost, I loved fumbling the language while ordering and I loved navigating the local options for transportation. Have I told you what a HUGE fan of the Paris metro I am? HUGE. Sure, we're American tourists. But we're the kind of American tourists that want to see the world outside of ours. The US is a beautiful place, but it's familiar. It feels as if we can go see any part of the US at any time, while other continents feel special and new. The world is giant and vibrant and I want to be a part of that. Each place I've ever visited, Europe and North America, has a special place in my heart for one reason or another, simply because I feel lucky that I got to visit it. I also understand that there are places in Europe that cater exclusively to tourism, but there's a difference between those and resorts. You're still immersed in the country, soaking up the  language and culture, squeezing yourself into tiny cafes.
I realize in the past year I went to Hawaii, played on the sanitized beaches and went to an all inclusive luau. But it's not something I would do on a regular basis. We rented a condo, shopped at local markets and ate at local restaurants. We explored the rainforests on our own and hiked to an old church perched on the edge of the island. Sure, Maui is an incredibly touristy place. But my dollars go straight to the residents running those shops and restaurants. If I were to do it again, it would be different thanks to what I've learned from my past experiences.
Rick Steves is one of my favorite guidebook authors and I think he has done so much for American travel. Through his television shows and books, he's shown Americans how to take a couple of steps off of the busy, tourist lined streets and into the small villages, back alleys and mom and pop shops of Europe. He illustrates the importance of sites like the Tour d'Eiffel, the Coliseum and the Tower of Pisa, but he also shows you there's so much more of Europe to see. He's inspired people like me to explore the bigger picture, to use travel as an educational tool, to enter another world.  Here's an excerpt from his book, Travel as a Political Act. 

Why do you travel?


notjosh said...

see, it's interesting! I've never had a whole lot of that sense of 'adventure' in any North American trip that I've had. there were moments when I was first in LA, but nothing much really.

but even in Australia/New Zealand (which are so familiar and homely), I have all kinds of fun getting lost and exploring things that are both familiar and that are fresh.

and NOW in Europe, there's another level of adventure, because I can barely speak or understand a single-fucking-thing. I'm having a ton of fun fucking up and exploring :)

I came over here with virtually no plans and no expectations. I've found that's basically the best way to have a super rewarding holiday :)

see you in Amsterdam soon :)

Robert McKay said...

I agree 100% with what you're saying here. Travel should be about a lot more than seeing some pretty sites and getting drunk on a white sand beach.

I want to be able to tell real stories about my experiences, not just say "OMG X was SOOO pretty!!1".

I want to be able to say that I got lost on some back road somewhere, but this really nice farmer was nice enough to let us follow him to our planned destination. Then it turned out to be a really crappy place, but there was this awesome cafe right next to it, so we treated the farmer to lunch to say thank you. Those are the kinds of experiences you should have while traveling.