Existentialism Of Travel
For some people, their first travel experience involves going on a tour bus, on a cruise, to an all-inclusive resort or some other kind of holiday package. It’s definitely the easiest form of travel. In most cases, everything is planned for you from your itinerary to your food to your accomodation. Regardless of budget and atmosphere, the objective is to have a good time. There are usually even social reps there to make sure you do.
- Soundtrack of the report
- Feeling Existential
- Mojo Nixon
For other people, they may find themselves at backpacker hostels. Typically these places are quite social, some even with their own pub attached. Invariably hostels attract a wide array of travelers, from the gap-year partiers to eco-tourists, and everything in between.
Then you have the couchsurfers, people who rely on hospitality exchange networks. And the WWOOFers, people who work in exchange for room and board. And voluntourists, people who go overseas to do charity work. And working-holiday makers, people who make a foreign city their base of operations. And of course digital nomads, slow travelers who wander the Earth.
So which one is the correct way to travel? I started off with the resorts and tour buses and I loved it. Then I decided to work around the world and I loved that more. Then I discovered couchsurfing and I decided that resorts and tours were stupid. You don’t connect with locals, you rarely support local businesses and you only see the place through the lens of a tourist. I even decided that hostels were stupid too, simply because you only meet other foreigners.
Then I started working on cruise ships and everything changed.
In many ways, cruises are the antithesis of slow travel. You travel in a floating hotel, eating mostly western food and you stop for a few hours in each port. That gives you enough time to shop or go on a commercial tour. Is this really travel?
Yes, it is.
You see I have realized one thing. Travel is self-serving and sometimes even blatantly selfish. We travel primarily to serve our own interests. We travel because we want to learn or grow or connect or party or shop or take lots of photos of interesting things. Few people go traveling thinking “I’m going to walk the Earth to do good where it needs to be done”.
Sure, some travel is more socially-conscious than others. Voluntourism has a more positive social impact than say, staying at an all-inclusive resort. Eating local has a greater positive spillover-effect then eating at an overseas-owned chain restaurant. But it doesn’t necessarily make you a better person. I spent two summers working at a special-needs camp (Camp Jened) in upstate New York but it wasn’t because I was selfless, it was because I wanted to invest in personal growth. And I prefer to eat local simply because local cuisine interests me more.
What I find quite disappointing is the arrogance of budget travelers. And in this I refer to couchsurfers, backpackers, hitch-hikers and dumpster-divers. There seems to be a common thread where these groups smugly congratulate themselves for their superior travel practices. They are reducing waste, lowering their carbon footprint and avoiding the evil capitalist machine, as well. But let’s cut the bullshit. They also do what they do because they are cheap!
Don’t get me wrong, I think couchsurfing, hitch-hiking and dumpster diving is awesome. And slow travel is definitely my preferred form of travel. But none of it makes one better than someone who travels differently. I realized that the tourists I used to once despise spend far more money than any budget traveler will ever do. And that money does actually trickle down to the local economies, either through eco-tours or more jobs or from sales of ugly souvenir T-shirts.
I see travel as an exploration of existentialism. Sometimes we may want to travel for discovery and connection. Other times for inspiration and growth. And once in a while, we may travel just to get drunk and lucky. So, rather than judge others, travel as you are!
Roy is a perpetual traveler. He’s lived in 7 countries, traveled to 40+ more and right now works on a cruise ship. He also likes to contradict and talk about himself in the third-person. You can follow his travels on cruisesurfingz.com.