Travel shaming is a thing, and I’m sick of it

I like to think I’m a tolerant person. I put up with all sorts of idiocy from all sorts of muppets and most of the time, I’m fairly accepting of others and their differences (because, after all, I’m known to be a bit of a muppet at times too). But holy shit, I’m over the travel shaming. Travel shaming is when you think your style of travel is superior to other forms of travelling.

It seems to take three main forms.

  1. Duration of stay vs number of countries visited

This might be more in the travel groups I frequent, but there are some people who like to tick off countries. A 24 hour stopover, another stamp in their passport, and they are on their way. For some reason, the ‘real travellers’ look down on these people, that to truly ‘experience and understand’ a culture, you have to spend a long period of time somewhere.

Guess what? That’s possibly true. But maybe these people are different to you. Maybe all they really want is to see is the leaning tower of Pisa, and then eat a pizza, and go home. Maybe they don’t have the economic freedom you have to take extended periods of time off work. It doesn’t matter to be honest. Just because you stay somewhere longer, doesn’t make you or your experience better.

Some people are all about the stamps!
  1. Carry-on vs check-in luggage

There’s an unbearable smugness in the people that only have carry-on luggage. A sort of grim superiority that travelling with enough clothing to ensure you have to hand wash your one outfit every night is better than people who have to check in a suitcase. Guess what, you carry-on people? Sometimes, I’m you. Sometimes, I only take my backpack. I can fit my laptop, a few changes of clothes, and a mini-set of toiletries under 100ml each and I’m good for a week or so.

But sometimes, if I’m travelling to a cold place, or on a work trip where I need formal as well as casual clothing, or maybe I’m moving across hot and cold climates, I need a suitcase. Yup it’s annoying to check it in and cart it around and wait for it at the carousel. But it doesn’t make you any better than me. Literally, all this means, is that sometimes, I can travel light and sometimes I can’t. Whoopdeedoo.

Me, in Sydney, trying to shut my large suitcase after a weekend shopping trip.
  1. I’m a traveller, you’re just a tourist

Shut it. Really. I have a friend who just booked a holiday to Hawaii! I’m so excited for her. Her cousin said that she should go to Vietnam because it’s a much better ‘experience’. Now, I loved Vietnam. Gorgeous people, the scenery was incredible, the food was nothing short of amazing. But my friend has already been to some Asian countries, she doesn’t enjoy them that much, and she’d prefer to go to Hawaii and relax. Her cousin persisted; telling her it wasn’t ‘real travel’.

Some people want a holiday, in a resort, where they can lie around and eat and get a tan and not worry about life for a while. Some people have kids and travelling with kids is still parenting, just in an unfamiliar country with grumpier kids from sleep disruption. Perhaps for them it might be easier to stay in a family-friendly resort where the kids can do some holiday programmes and the parents can (kind of) relax and read that book they’ve been trying to read since before they had kids.

Similarly, the TopDeck/ Contiki bus tours get a whole bunch of superior looks from ‘travellers’. I am a freedom traveller myself, I like turning up in a destination with no forward thought or planning, and pretty much falling accidentally into everything I do in a country. However, my way of travel can be quite stressful and dangerous at times. I understand the appeal of bus tours. You don’t have to plan anything. You don’t have to try and book bus tickets at 2am using a website that’s not in your native language, or sit in a train with a goat nibbling your trousers. You don’t have to worry about if your roadside cart dinner is going to give you violent diarrhoea. You simply turn up, do what you’re told, and see the sights with no worries (and, also make some amazing friends while you do it!). My sister just did a bus tour around Europe. It gave her a taster for the countries she wants to go back to, and a bit of confidence and travel knowledge to organise her own trip next time.

Recently in a travel community I am a part of, someone asked why people would go to Disneyland, rather than ‘travelling’, and this answer from a woman called Elly told her powerful story, and why you shouldn’t travel shame anyone, ever.

“When my family arrived in this country, it was me, my Mom, my Dad, and $214 to our name. Even though we landed in the gulf coast of South Florida, and there were signs of the magical Disney empire everywhere, going there was just not in the cards as my father juggled 5 jobs to afford the Kaplan prep courses he needed to repeat medical school here in the U.S. When, between work and studies, he had finally saved enough, two years after arriving in the U.S. we were able to go to Disney.

The magic of that first trip there still lives deep inside of me. The pride on the faces of my parents, to be able to afford to take me there, is etched in my memory forever. As a result, Disney means more to me, to my family, than just some dumb theme park. To us, it was the beginning of us living the American Dream.

As my dad re-did medical school and as he re-did residency, whenever we could save up enough money, we’d do another trip to Disney. To Epcot. To SeaWorld. My parents were able to take me, and later my sisters, to a happy place that didn’t exist in the war-torn Iran we fled in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war when Iraq bombed the city we were in, causing shrapnel to fly into my room, getting lodged into the top of my right wrist. My parents couldn’t even afford to dream of leaving the country, because it wasn’t feasible financially or based on how we came here through political asylum. So Disney was the dream. And it still is.

Despite my family having finally “made it.” Despite my parents’ major successes in life, Disney is still that magical place from when we first came here, and we still go there — both in Orlando and Anaheim — to experience the nostalgia and fun we had nearly 30 years ago. I actually make it a point to go to Disneyland at least once a month, if not more often, because of what a great relief it is for me mentally and emotionally. And because it just does something for my spirit that I can’t explain.

Maybe for those of you who didn’t have these struggles, it’s easy to write off Disney, or make fun, or judge those of us who love it. But I agree that there’s definitely some privilege at play when you do so. So make sure you think about that too, before judging.”

Travel is a luxury that you are lucky to experience

So, in short, stop thinking you’re better than someone else because you slogged out six weeks shitting in a bucket in a remote part of South East Asia. Don’t think you’re a special snowflake for living in a foreign country, or because you ‘immerse yourself’ in the culture and go ‘off the beaten track’. Tourist attractions are interesting because they generally are pretty amazing for some reason. Don’t tell me you’d go to Barcelona and not visit Sagrada Familia? Or go to Paris and not snap a pic at the Effiel Tower?

Or do the ‘tourist’ snap at the Taj Mahal, sitting on the ‘Diana’ bench? Yeah you would. Excuse the smog- India…!

Didn’t think so.

Travel means different things to different people. I think travel is about taking yourself out of your comfort zone, and pushing yourself to do new things. But some people’s comfort zones are smaller than mine (some are bigger than mine too, you will never see me hurling myself off a bridge with a bit of elastic around my ankles, nope nope nope).

Some people just want a holiday, away from their dreary winter, or away from the stress and fatigue of their day to day life. And for them, that may not mean being a ‘traveller’. Some people just want to drink and party in a different location.

Whatever it is, it’s THEIR choice and you have no right to denigrate and belittle their choices. You do you, and let other people be themselves.

3 thoughts on “Travel shaming is a thing, and I’m sick of it

  1. I spent three weeks in Barcelona, as we were so close to Paris we literally went there to go to Disneyland. Spent two days just exploring the park. We didn’t have to time to actually see Paris, but since I was a kid I’ve wanted to go to Disneyland and this was probably the closest I would make it in the foreseeable future.
    And I don’t regret it one bit. It would be awesome to spend some time in France, but it just wasn’t on the agenda as we were initially going to Barcelona for a wedding.

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