Editor’s note: This isn’t a normal piece for us here on The Royal Tour. However, when Madeleine sent it to me, I found myself both smiling at her wit and nodding along with the truth of it. This one hits home for me, and probably for many of you out there. Enjoy!
While the travel community is seemingly rife with open-minded wanderers looking for new experiences, there is often a sharp, judgy edge hiding under all that dewy curiosity. Ask a world traveler for advice regarding the cheapest restaurants in Krakow or the coolest bars in Seoul, and you’ll most likely get a healthy dose of travel snobbery mixed in with the answer. Here are the top five most annoying, snobbish traveler behaviors that I have both experienced and participated in (sorry, everyone).
5. Constantly reference previous trips
You may know someone like this – no matter what you’re doing, they’ll find a way to squeeze in an unrelated travel brag. You ask if they want to get coffee, and they respond, “I had the BEST coffee in Bali, oh my god you would have loved it.” You patiently nod in response before prompting the question again – coffee? “Sure! Ugh, but that reminds me of the time I got robbed in Marrakech. It was so crazy.”
Obnoxious, right? Even more obnoxious, and also confusing, is when someone needs to compare every place to somewhere else. If you ask your friend how their trip to Kathmandu was and they respond “It was like Mumbai was trying to be Athens”, you’ll want to ask for clarification. You’ll also want to slap them.
Really quick apology to anyone I talked to about Spain between the years 2006 and 2009. But speaking of Spain, did I ever tell you about that one cab driver in Bosnia? Craaaazy!
4. Disparage tourists while also being a tourist
This is disappointingly common, but seems to be a stage every traveler goes through at some point or other (I think I went through it a few times). Refusing to acknowledge your tourism privilege while simultaneously taking advantage of it is not only embarrassing, but offensive. Unless you grew up there or currently live there, you’re a tourist. Visiting for vacation? Tourist. Visiting for work? Tourist. Visiting a friend? Tourist.
‘Tourist’ has become sort of a dirty word in the traveler community, and that’s not fair. As an American I can go almost anywhere in the world on my blue tourist passport, but international travel is not as readily accessible for all nationalities. It took me years to realize what a hypocritical snob I was being. Imagining ourselves to be above tourism is disrespecting a privilege we should be grateful to have.
Maybe you don’t want to spend your afternoon in Paris watching a group of pre-teens from Ohio sword fight with baguettes in front of the Eiffel Tower – so don’t. But also, don’t judge them! They’re having fun and enjoying their vacation, and you should too. After all, you’re the baguette pre-teen to someone else trying to experience their authentic Parisian getaway.
3. Say “When I lived in….” about a place they visited
What length of time counts as living somewhere – a month? But that could just be a really long vacation. Do you have a job there? Have you updated your mailing address? Have you legally moved out of your previous home? Or does it count as long as you have time to develop a routine? Because in that case, I lived at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport for like, 11 hours.
I was talking to a friend recently about the time she had spent in Germany. I got as far as saying ‘When you were in Germany’ before she cut me off to correct me. “Do you mean when I lived in Germany?” She raised her eyebrows at me, waiting for me to retract my poor wording. I didn’t. “For six weeks?” she added, trying help me out. “Oh, that’s right!” I agreed, and then stopped listening to everything she said for the rest of the conversation, enraged that I’d been interrupted by such an irrelevant distinction.
As with tourist-bashing, the need to tell people that you lived overseas stems from the same competitive need to be a “better traveler” than whoever you’re talking to. “Oh, you spent a weekend in Budapest? Good for you! When I lived there for three weeks I had a great time.”
I spent a year in Russia teaching English, and I still don’t know if I count that as living there. Ok fine, I both count it and tell people about it. But still – where do we draw the line? I go back and forth about whether to count my college semester abroad as having lived in Saint Petersburg. I used public transportation, watched gameshows after dinner with my host mother, and had local friends – should that count? All I know is, I don’t want to be the insufferable person telling a story about how I lived in my car for 30 minutes while I drove to work.
2. Question the authenticity of other people’s travel
As with the living-in gray area, what constitutes “travel” to a traveler will vary from person to person. Did I stay at least one night? Speak to at least one local person? Eat at least one meal there? Everyone has their own idea of what counts for themselves. For example, I drove through a section of France on my way from London to Amsterdam, but never got off the bus. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never been to France.
In the travel community, I’ve noticed that it’s a common opinion that cruises don’t count as travel. I used to think this as well, back when I thought travel had to involve some element of sexy danger to be in any way authentic. Now I think – why shouldn’t it count? I’ve never been on a cruise, but it sounds like an efficient way to travel for people who want to enjoy multiple destinations without arranging new accommodation in every city.
Beyond the cruise, there is a second layer of snobbery that invalidates your travel if you stayed in a resort. Applying the same logic to this one – why not? Because you didn’t get diarrhea from a street taco? But there’s always more – it doesn’t count if you stayed in a hotel; you need to couch surf or else you might as well have stayed home. Ok, just because I didn’t get bedbugs, or robbed, or hospitalized, or whatever other insane thing you think needs to happen to make this trip “authentic”, does not mean I didn’t go there.
At the end of the day, travel is expensive. Flights, trains, hotels, food – it all adds up. Just because someone chose a different way to spend their money on travel than how you spend yours doesn’t mean they didn’t pay $6 to drink three sips of water out of a coconut in Nassau.
1. Refer to themselves as travelers
(See anywhere above as a reference to how I’m guilty of this one)
Calling ourselves travelers almost seems like a tacky and inappropriate brag – “I can afford to do this incredibly expensive luxury hobby. But don’t worry, it’s only to nourish my soul. I’m not like, a tourist or anything. I’m a traveler, this is what I do.”
Travel gets competitive, as if your character levels up every time you visit a new country. Some travelers even believe that international exploration is the sole source of personal growth and self-discovery. So what does that mean for people who have never left the country they were born in?
Are they uneducated about their own selves for the duration of their lives? Could people perhaps learn about themselves through other experiences, like having and raising a child? Moving back in with their parents to save money? Relocating for their spouse’s new job, and moving somewhere they have no friends or family? Could it be that life in general is a never-ending parade of personal growth for anyone introspective and attentive enough to learn about themselves? Heck no! Obviously that isn’t true; you only know who you truly are once you’ve gotten lost in the streets of Helsinki at midnight.
Pitching travel as universally medicinal and eye-opening doesn’t really work. Of course it’s eye-opening – but can you recall the last time you had your eyes opened to something you weren’t interested in (my freshman year political theory course comes screaming to mind)? Everyone in the world could learn something new by spending three months in a small Nicaraguan village, but they could also learn something new by reading a book about the history of copyright law, or microbiology. But nobody who doesn’t care about those things is going to pursue that; life is too short. As we all learned from Apple Jacks cereal in the 90s, “we eat what we like!” Travelers like traveling, but not everybody out there is going to think it tastes like apples.
So yes, travelers can get a little bit competitive, but can you really blame us? If we have a good story to tell about getting food poisoning on a bus ride from Agra to Delhi, we’re shoehorning that bad boy straight into the middle of your conversation about back-to-school shopping. We could probably afford to calm down with the judgement and snobbery, but there are certain things I don’t expect to ever change. After all, whether you stayed in a five-star hotel or slept in a cardboard box under an overpass, your trip to Shenyang wasn’t as authentic as mine because I wasn’t there to see it.
Madeleine Klingler is a Sagittarius ISFP of neutral good alignment. She recently left her travel job to move to Florida to live with her fiance. Current hobbies include doing the New York Times crossword, checking the mail, and using as little toilet paper as possible. She also wrote this awesome article about Ethiopia here on The Royal Tour. You can click here for all of her writing!
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