Tag Archives: America

The tourism industry portrays itself as something which bridges barriers between cultures. While this can be true to some extent, the demographics of the modern tourism and travel writing industries have their roots in past western colonialism and the privilege westerners enjoy. White people, especially white men, who are well-off and love to travel have a lot of societal advantages that they may not be aware of. As a white man, I think it is important that we respect other cultures when we travel, and that includes encouraging more diverse groups of peoples’ perspectives in the travel industry. T his blog post is about how privileged travelers can do more to support more inclusive practices in travel writing, and to be aware of their privilege when making decisions about how to act in foreign places.

Travel is a great thing that can break down boundaries between cultures. I have personally learned a huge amount from traveling. But over the course of my time at college, I’ve begun to think more about the privilege I have as a white male from an affluent background.

My first time I gave this thought was when I turned in my first draft of an essay paragraph for my Fall Semester college writing class. My paper had been an introduction, and a description of being the only person of Western European descent on a train in Ukraine, and how exhilaratingly adventurous I felt. My professor, when she was grading my first draft, wrote a note that encouraged me to consider how my viewpoint was a privileged viewpoint, and that my travel writing should acknowledge this at the very lest.

My first reaction was a sigh of exasperation, after all, I felt that my professor had been upset at the fact that I was an avid traveler, and I was honestly kind of offended. I loved a lot of things about being in Ukraine – the architecture, the food, the language, and all that. How could I be somehow offending someone by saying that?

And yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized – she had a point. Plenty of people in western countries have to put up with being the only person of their race in a room of people every day. I’ve learned that, for many people of color in western countries, due to historical legacies of racism and intolerance, being the only person of your ethnicity in a room is not an exciting, adventurous thing – it can cause anxiety that some have to deal with every day. White Americans are in a position of privilege where being the only person of their racial background in a room is an “interesting” experience, not a difficult one, and not one that regularly have to put up with in America. The way I wrote could have been more considerate of that.

I find some of the so-called “social justice warriors” at my university to be very extreme. Some are so politically correct that they just don’t think it’s ever ok for white people to write about issues that affect other groups of people at all. Many are less extreme.

But overall, I feel that when it comes to how modern travel writing portrays other cultures and places, there’s a lot that needs to change. A lot of lonely planet books, while they are great for tourists, have a tendency of feature culturally-demeaning cliches (even if well-intended). And despite the rising numbers of tourists from outside the western world, many travel books still feature western perspectives on the country over locals’ modern perspectives. At its best it can be cliche, other times it can be downright orientalist and exoticizing. At the end of the day, travel writing is a business, and many travel guides are in it for the money. But as western travelers, we should be aware that many books cater to our perspective. And we should make more of an effort to bring other travelers’ voices into the mix. Because travel is not just for white people. It shouldn’t be, and we should do more to encourage inclusiveness in backpacker communities.

1) Promote more blogs of people of color and LGBTQA+ travelers in travel media.

The way privileged white westerners experience non-western countries is not the same as how many people of color experience them. Growing up in a privileged background at home can warp your perspective on other places. It doesn’t mean your perspective is less valid, but there are things that marginalized groups of people experience which can teach them about the world through a different lens.

I’m not going to say what those things are, because, as a white person, I don’t know the intricacies of them. It is not my place to guess how people of other backgrounds experience travel. But I know one thing, let’s get real: when you come from a position of societal privilege, there’s bound to be differences in your worldview which affect perspectives and experiences while traveling.

Non-white travelers exist, and their opinions on places should be valued just as much. Despite rising numbers of non-western and non-white travelers, travel media remains largely white-dominated, which is ironic considering that travel can be a great way to bring people together. While white people can never completely relate, we can listen. Representation in travel writing matters. This blogger, on her blog, (Oneika The Traveler) (she is African-American), writes about why it is important that travel media becomes more inclusive of non-white people: http://www.oneikathetraveller.com/lack-black-travel-blogging-travel-media.html

2) Stop using orientalist words like “authentic” and “exotic” to describe non-western cultures.

If you look at a typical travel guide’s introduction description of a western country, you can find a lot of cultural cliches for sure. The laid-back atmosphere of France, the open, diverse geology of the US, all that. The most prominent photos will often be photos of famous sites, or gorgeous landscapes.

When you look at non-western countries travel books, there is a very different tone. Typically, the photos featured are more likely to be of people in traditional clothing, as opposed to in books for western countries where the photos featured are of sights and landscapes in the country. Carelessly, there is liberal, orientalist use of the words “authentic” and “exotic”.

This is a big problem. Travel should be an activity which teaches people about cultural differences and cultural similarities in a balanced manner. It shouldn’t fetishize and hype-up the differences that exist between western and non-western countries, especially when those differences can be a result of decades of colonialism, oppression, and poverty.

3) Write about differences between regions a more well-rounded way

A lot of travel writing that compares different world regions does it in a compartmentalizing, demeaning manner. Europe? Go there for the culture! Africa? Go there for the national parks! When we reduce different regions of the world solely to their roles in fulfilling travelers’ wishes, not only do we look overlooked travel opportunities, but we also reinforce stereotypes that are rooted in colonialism and orientalist.

We need to acknowledge that there is more that a traveler can enjoy in Africa than Safaris, as there is more a traveler to Europe can enjoy than sightseeing. We need to see regions for what they are, beyond just what the tourism industry in those places promotes.

4) Respect the culture when you go abroad!!!!

This should be obvious, but it isn’t to many people. It’s extremely upsetting for me when I see people disrespecting the culture of a non-western country. When I was in Japan, I came across a white american man in the guesthouse I was staying it who would bark basic questions in English (the receptionist didn’t understand well) and wouldn’t even bother to learn “please”, or “What is it?” in Japanese. Learning the language of a country where it is important shouldn’t be a cool bonus thing travelers do. It should be expected .

Also, when I was in Peru, there was one woman on one of my tours who talked about the people in very belittling ways, and kept trying to take photos of indigenous Quechua-speaking children when the families told her they didn’t want to be photographed. She also made lots of tasteless remarks about Inca people believing in evil spirits. It was extremely tasteless to me and to other travelers. It is just not okay.

Another important point: If, when we are abroad, we only notice things that confirm our pre-existing ideas of cultures, we are not being open minded at all. But some travelers do that. And that’s not ok.

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The bottom line is that, I think there are things about travel writing which are overdue to change. The world is not static, and travel writing shouldn’t be either.

Below I have some good blog posts with interesting perspectives on travel and privilege:

http://inedibleroots.tumblr.com (blog which takes a critical look at the western-oriented nature of the tourism industry, the commodification of culture, and features writing with perspectives of non-white travelers)

https://feminismandhappiness.tumblr.com/post/56842139860/im-tired-of-seeing-white-people-treating-poor (a post about why traveling is not a cure for racism)

Respect in Developing Countries: 7 Behaviors Travelers Should Avoid

20 Jan

This is a post I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I recently got back from traveling around Peru for a month, and as it was my first major trip in a developing country, I’ve taken time to think about the most important tips for being respectful while traveling in developing countries.

I think that in rich countries, people get an image of poor countries as being hopeless places. When positive trends take place in developing countries, the US media doesn’t report on it, unless the supposedly positive trend is that white people are going over to help them. By watching the news footage of whatever tragic event has recently happened in a poor country, or by seeing charity ads with poor, starving African children, you wouldn’t know that extreme poverty has decreased from 30% of the world’s population to 10% of it since 1990. You wouldn’t know that Sub-Saharan Africa has several of the world’s fastest growing economies. You wouldn’t know that literacy rates in developing countries have seen incredible gains in the past 50 years. You may know that many Africans have no access to clean tap water, but you wouldn’t know that more Africans have mobile phone service than have access to clean tap water.

We get such a warped view of developing nations in the media, to the point where even when well-meaning backpackers visit those countries, they are influenced by this, using travel as a chance to confirm their pre-existing biases rather than learn things they may have otherwise not learned.

For example, a person may go to a country in Latin America and have no problems getting around on buses most of the time (as I did). But as soon as they have one experience sitting on a delayed bus with a driver running late, they see it as evidence of the “laid back culture” of Latin America. And so, it makes them feel adventurous, as if it’s an interesting story to tell. But if these same people had more delayed bus rides in the United States, it wouldn’t be about a “laid back culture”. Instead, they’d be complaining about America’s infrastructure problems nonstop, and talking about the failures of the US government to build High Speed Rail and improve the nation’s congestion problem.

When Western tourists visit developing countries, they can contribute to local businesses and help their economies. But they can also give locals a sour impression of westerners, sometimes deservedly so. I think that in developing countries, it’s especially important to respect local norms and respect the people.

And so, this list is of 7 problematic behaviors westerners should avoid in poor countries.

1) Taking photos of local people without permission

This is problematic because it violates the privacy of people, and also turns human beings into “props”, or trophy pictures for your Instagram profile. It’s important to remember that when people take these photos, they often selectively choose the most “exotic” looking people in the most “exotic” places. In Peru, hardly anyone takes photos of the local people in Miraflores, a wealthy suburb of Lima. But many people take pictures, without permission, of rural, traditionally dressed indigenous people in the Sacred Valley region near Cusco. And since that’s the image that many westerners get of Peru, they don’t realize the fact that wealthy suburbs exist in the country too. This contributes to the problems with how developing countries are perceived by westerners. No one ever goes to wealthy places in the US and takes photos of the “strange Americans going to work in their business suits”. So neither should you do that with people in developing countries, unless they really want you to.

2) Making tasteless jokes or remarks

You’d think that travelers who go to developing countries would know better, but unfortunately, many will make tasteless or downright racist remarks or jokes, often to other tourists, about how local people live. On the first trekking tour I did in Peru (in Colca Canyon), there was one woman who kept making offensive jokes and remarks about “primitive native people believing in evil spirits”. This shouldn’t be happening. Traveling should be an experience that teaches people how insignificant we are as individuals in this world of seven billion, and how millions of people are fine living differently than we do. Sadly, some travelers don’t realize this.

3) Choosing tour companies that don’t have ethical business practices

It’s important to research the business practices of companies that offer tours. Make sure tour companies give back to their local communities with the money they make from tourists. Not all of them do. For example, In northern Tanzania, there is a lot of competition among safari companies, and many have unethical business practices. These practices can include racism, a lack of commitment to preserving wildlife, not giving back to locals, and cutting corners with safety.

4) Volunteering to do work that locals could do themselves

In March 2012, The Atlantic magazine published an article called “The White-Savior Industrial Complex” by Teju Cole. See the article here . It talked about how a voluntourism industry has grown massively in the years following the Haiti Earthquake. Many westerners who want to do good in developing nations will pay money for the chance to volunteer in a rural village for a couple of weeks, laying bricks for a local school, taking pictures with the kids, and then going home with a huge ego and idea that they are a hero. It may sound harmless, but it really isn’t. The problem is that in many of these communities, the work tourists do is work that locals could do themselves. When tourists do this work, it contributes to the problematic “white savior” narrative and takes work opportunities away from local people. So unless you have a really specialized skill that no one in the local community has, it’s best to avoid being a “voluntourist”.

5) Ignoring Local Customs and Etiquette

In developed nations like those Western Europe or Japan, American tourists are made fun of for being ignorant and not knowing the local customs. And while it annoys the people who live there and do business there, it is often given a pass. But when you ignore the local customs in a developing country, you are doing more harm, leaving the people with a very sour view of the few Western tourists they get (relative to developed nations), and sometimes leading them to lose faith in the ability for tourism to help their communities. Vang Vieng in Laos is notorious for attracting backpackers who go tubing, party, and trash the place while ignoring local customs. This has really hurt the locals’ relationship with the tourism industry. Just don’t be another neocolonialist. Learn basic etiquette.

6) Eating the same food you could eat back home

This isn’t common among all backpacker circles, but still does happen. There are people who will go to Southeast Asian countries and eat cheeseburgers, pancakes, and pizza, and only eat from touristy restaurants. Sometimes it is because people don’t want to venture outside their comfort zone, but It’s often because of an irrational fear of local food. It’s usually very safe to eat local food as long as you do your research on food safety beforehand, and avoid places where locals aren’t eating.

7) Becoming a pretentious, “enlightened” narcissist after your trip

Look, I’m sure three month trip in South America was great. You learned a lot. You gained a lot of knowledge about the world. But it doesn’t make you superior to your friends back home. It doesn’t give you an excuse to be a pretentious narcissist. Travel shouldn’t just be about you “finding yourself” (whatever that means), it should be about the places you go and what you learn about the world from it. An insecure person becomes an arrogant know-it-all after traveling, who talks about travel when it isn’t wanted. A happy, knowledgable traveler should become more humble after traveling, as they learn more and more that it’s impossible to know everything about the world. Listen to what friends back home say, especially if they’ve had a different travel experience then you. And don’t dismiss those who love to read about other cultures but haven’t traveled much. Travel is a great way to learn about the world, but it isn’t the only way. Travel is a privilege and costs a lot of money too. Many people can’t, no matter how many articles on the internet talk about someone who “visited 100 countries for free” or how “Anyone can travel if they put their mind to it”.

So there you have it. These are seven very problematic behaviors to avoid in developing countries. It’s important to keep these in mind as you travel and plan future travel.

Peru – The Traveler’s Ideal

7 Jan

The View from Machu Picchu

Within every region of the world, countries are known for different things, and staggeringly diverse Latin America is no exception. In Latin America, Brazil is known for its party culture. Costa Rica is known for its accessible natural beauty. Bolivia is known for its indigenous culture. Overall, It’s not always the case that, to a traveler, a country seems to have just about everything a traveler could want. But it’s exactly the case with Peru. If a god could design a country to be interesting and ideal to travelers, there’s a decent chance that country would look something like Peru.

Since December 12, I have been exploring this incredible country. I had my first impressions of the country in Lima, where I visited Huaca Pucclana Pyramid and tried some fine Ceviche. Afterwards, I took an overnight bus to Arequipa. Arequipa is a high-altitude city at the foot of El Misti, a large volcano whose famous snows sadly disappeared five years ago due to Global Warming. From Arequipa, I took a 3 day trekking tour into Colca Canyon, one of the greatest natural wonders on Earth. It is the world’s biggest canyon, home to Condors and various types of Cacti. Indigenous people live in villages in the bottom of the canyon, where local tour groups stay overnight between hiking days. After I got back from Colca Canyon, I took a six hour bus ride over to Puno. Puno is not a particularly pleasant town, but it’s a good place to spend a few days in, as it is the base for seeing the Uros and Taquile islands. Then I took another 6 hour bus ride, this time to Cusco, the ancient Inca capital, now known for its blend of Spanish and Indigenous culture. I went on the Salkantay trek, a longer but less pricey alternative to the Inca trail. Afterwards, I took a wildlife tour to the Amazon, specifically the edge of the Manu reserve. The wildlife is breathtaking. There’s a staggering variety of species. The most memorable to me were the bullet ants, the monkeys, and the macaws.

Peru does culture and sights, and it does those very well. No other ruin in the Americas is as famous as Machu Picchu. Peru is also home to other ruins, such as Huaca Pucllana in Lima and Kuelap in the north. Peru has great food too, from Alpaca steaks in the mountains to Ceviche on the coast. Peru also is one of the most beautiful countries on earth. The coast, amazon, and andes all have incredible landscapes and opportunities to experience nature. The tourism infrastructure for trekking and other types of tours is well set-up.

Peru’s cuisine is very good. It isn’t as renowned as that of the French of Chinese, but a trip to Peru is a far greater culinary experience than say, a trip to Ireland or Poland. You have to try Cuy (guinea pig). it’s expensive and there isn’t much meat, but it’s very tasty!

Peru’s culture has a fascinating blend of indigenous and colonial influences. There are three languages: Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. While Spanish is spoken almost everywhere, adventurous travelers can try out speaking a bit of Quechua in the Andes region. The indigenous peoples of Peru, in some places at least, still wear traditional clothing which varies from village to village.

Peru is also relatively safe compared to its northern neighbors, such as Ecuador and Colombia. There is a far lower violent crime rate, and the worst that happens to many travelers is being pestered by unprofessional tour guides in one of Cusco’s squares. You still should be careful though.

Peru was my first time in South America (the last inhabited continent I had left to set foot on), and it did not disappoint. I’d highly recommend it for any adventurous traveler!

At home nowhere – and happy that way

1 Dec

I feel at home nowhere – and I hope to keep it that way as long as I can.

This Fall was my first semester at college. I attend the American University in Washington, DC, and will graduate in 2019. It’s a moderately small school with around 7,000 undergraduates. I’ve settled in quite well. Not without problems, such as the anxieties over future jobs and the occasional disappointing test grade. But overall, my social and academic college life is on to a great start.

As the semester winds up and I’m anticipating my trip to Peru later this month, I’ve been thinking about the concept of home. I’ve been to parents houses in New York and Boston a few times this semester, including on Thanksgiving. But each time, I have felt no more happiness to be home than any other time during the past five years of my life. If anything, it has felt strange to be home. It’s strange because a few things are different than I remember, but for the most part the home and the surroundings are the same. And I don’t like sameness and routine in my life. I like things to change. I want the town to be different each time, wherever I am. I have felt no less strange then I do when I step off the plane in a foreign country.

I have fond memories of being in both my mother and my father’s houses and going to school in the Boston area. My parents are both great, loving people in their own ways. But I don’t feel homesick or nostalgic for my past like some of my friends at college do.

I don’t think this is about my family situation, school situation, or anything from my teenage years. I think it’s just my personality. I love places, but I don’t feel a special attachment to any place in particular. I just like seeing everywhere I can, but as an observer, not a resident.

I am happy for people who are different then me and feel happy with their lives at one place they call home. I sometimes wonder if my parents wish I envy them, since they spend a lot of money for me to travel. But I don’t envy them. I’m comfortable in my own skin. My late high school days of anxiety, a desire to fit in like everyone else are over.

In 2 weeks I will be flying to Peru, ready to visit the last inhabited continent I have left to set foot in. I will be updating my blog regularly with travel advice about visiting the most prominent country of the high Andes.

I’m 6 feet tall, travel abroad more than a couple of times a year, and have only flown economy class. But here’s why I will never complain about air travel

12 Nov

There’s a lot of hassles that today’s Americans (and people in other developed countries) love to write about and be angry about: dealing with banks’ customer service phone-lines, the cost of rent in cities with a decent number of jobs, the corruption in politics, and the cost of college. Many of these are things that they should rightfully be pissed off about. But if there’s one of these types of hassles that gets way more criticism about its modern form than it deserves, I think air travel takes the cake.

People just love to hate the airlines. Airlines, to be fair, can do shitty things in certain individual situations. Illegally discriminating against customers in wheelchairs, suggesting that passengers pay to use the toilet, and having non-white passengers kicked off planes for no valid reason are terrible things that airlines in developed countries have been guilty of throughout the last couple of decades.

What bothers me is when people complain about the general state of modern air travel. Air travel, as the popular narrative goes, was so much better back in those good old days (the boundaries of which can range anywhere from the 20s to the 90s, depending on who you talk to). People dressed nicer. Economy seats had more legroom. The TSA wasn’t a thing. Full meals were served in economy class on domestic flights. Air travel, back then, had a sort of magic to it that came with its novelty as a new invention.

What is never said by these people is that in those days, smoking was allowed on planes, safety standards were overall much lower, far fewer flights were available, airfares were far more expensive, and many passengers would pass the time by getting drunk if there was no inflight entertainment.

Need I say more? Yes, I think I should.

I would love it if there was more legroom on flights. But I’d far rather be able to get a safe, affordable flight where I know that I will not be inhaling cigarette smoke. I also love the fact that wifi is being added to more and more flights.

Yes, flying can feel like a hassle relative to most first-worlders’ typical living circumstances: it’s a 1-15 hour stretch we have to endure in a cramped seating position, away from our bed or our home. But that doesn’t mean we need to teach ourselves to view it that way. For thousands of years, humanity could only dream of the passenger flights we have today. Now that we can fly, we should appreciate our progress rather than complaining about the legroom. And it shouldn’t be something anyone takes for granted. There is still plenty of the world’s population that has never flown.

Am I unusual? Maybe. I am a bit of an aviation geek, so there’s a bias there. But I also think we should be glad that we have the opportunity to fly 30,000 feet in the air and go to new places. That reality, not the legroom and food on past flights – is the true magic of air travel. And today, it’s accessible to more people than ever before. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

10s kids, part 1: Predictions for the younger generation in America’s future

3 Oct

So this isn’t strictly travel related. But I like to ponder this sort of thing. I wonder, in 30 years, what my generation will talk about when it comes to “back then”. So, in a series of three posts, I’m going to give my thoughts on what I think will be remembered as unique to my coming-of-age decade, and why people will miss each of these things. In this first post, I’m going to roll the dice and make some predictions as to what will happen in the future. Here are several trends that i think will occur in the next 20 years. As always, predictions are difficult, and there will be a good chance I will be completely wrong.

Ethnic enclaves won’t be as common in US cities, and new immigrants will assimilate

There are signs that this is occurring. Immigrants, especially ones from Asia, are moving to suburbs more than ever. Rent is becoming higher and higher in city centers, and many suburbs have great public schools. I think that this trend will continue, as immigrants, as a whole, tend to be financially successful and entrepreneurial (despite what Donald Trump wants you to think). The ethnic enclaves of New York City and other dense areas that have formed over the past 30 years will still exist. But it will largely be a tourist novelty, as more and more gentrification occurs in the inner cities.

Young people will live in smaller spaces, but many won’t mind as long as they have their digital technology

The rents in America have skyrocketed for the past 10 years, so more and more of young Americans’ income is being spent on rent. At the same time, many young people are content with less possessions. With an iphone, one has access to a lot more information than people in the past. The once classically American dream of “2 cars and a green lawn” will become “2 digital devices and a downtown condo”.

Access to experiences will become more valued than personal possessions

The experiences of youth are everywhere on social media. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat feature a cocktail of photos, stories, selfies, and albums that capture the youth experience. I think this trend will continue, because there will be less disposable income for items, and so people would rather focus on experiences. One thing I believe is a common misconception is that people post about experiences to brag. As a young person, I believe it’s not about that at all. It’s about distinguishing oneself in a way that doesn’t involve material possessions.

Young people will rediscover the great outdoors

Right now, national parks are visited by mainly older white people. But I think that will change.  It’s less easy to predict, but I do believe it will happen in the next 30 years or so. I think that, as young people are strapped for money which would be spent at hotels, camping and the great outdoors will become a more affordable and viable vacation option in many parts of the US. I also think that people will want an occasional escape from technology.

There will be a backlash against the current system of capitalism, but social democracy won’t come to America anytime soon

Bernie Sanders’ crowds have shown that people aren’t into the current system. I think that in the next few decades, the left will make some major victories in rolling back the neoliberal corporate capitalism that has taken over in the past 30 years. That being said, I don’t think we’ll see a return to 1950s level taxes and unions anytime soon. For one thing, technology will mean that many low wage workers’ jobs will be replaced. There is also a growing libertarian streak in “progressive” youth. Many millennials support Bernie Sanders, but his crowds still are dwarfed by the number of people at sports games. Old fashioned left-wing labor culture won’t make a comeback. Instead, there will be unions for self-employed people and higher skilled workers, and a focus on retraining low-wage workers whose jobs are lost to robots.

Young white males will start a backlash against political correctness

I see it now at college. Speaking from experience, white liberals in my generation were fine when teachers didn’t want to say the word “nigger” while reading aloud a chapter of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn . But the conversation has now ventured into talk of cultural appropriation, micro-aggressions and trigger warnings. Even if the fears of an attack on of free speech aren’t valid, young white people will revolt against the political correctness culture. Some will take it too far and revert to old-fashioned racism, but many will simply say shocking things as a way to stand up for free speech. I think there will be more events like “everybody draw Muhammad day” simply to stand up for free speech. The “Social Justice Warriors” of Tumblr have become portrayed as representative of the left-wing, feminist, anti racist crowd, and the effects of this backlash will be felt by them first and foremost.

Meeting new friends and dates online will become normal, not the “weird” thing

As people spend more and more time behind screens, it won’t be long before the stigma around online dating fades. Its starting to happen with Tinder hook-ups but it will also happen with meetups arranged online. There’s evidence that more and more young adults in America are struggling to make friends in person, and inevitably, they will want easier access to human connection.

Driverless cars will be a thing

Driverless cars will become part of our everyday lives, and I think it will be much faster than many researchers think. For the first year, many people will fear riding in them, but once the fear vanishes, they will grow in popularity drastically. There will be a few note-worthy accidents that may set things back a little, but ultimately, with the lack of major investment in public transport in America, people will start to use super-affordable driverless taxi services a lot, and be less likely to own their own cars.

There will be an acceptance movement for introverts

No, it won’t be a bunch of entitled Fedora-wearing neckbeards saying “girls don’t choose the nice guys, simply because nice guys are quiet”. But I think that, as technology grows, and more and more people struggle to make connections in person, introverts become content with themselves despite having few friends. People will start campaigns at schools to teach quieter kids to be happy with who they are, and will become angry about the term “loser” still being used to refer to quiet kids in 2025. Yes, quite a few of America’s worst mass-shootings have been done by introverts, but people will eventually start a backlash against the anti-introvert stigma that has bubbled for so long.

Five Recommendations When Doing Travel Research

18 Sep

There’s a lot of potential advice someone could give to someone doing travel research. “Go to place x, Don’t go to play y!” or “Place x is overrated, place y is better”. As travelers, we often think our opinions are right. We often get a confirmation bias from hearing others who had the same thoughts as we did about a certain place to visit, and this reinforces our travel preferences, even if we realize that many other people we talked to had a completely different opinion. I know I’m not the only traveler who has made this mistake. The important thing is to be aware of it and to apply this awareness to research. Here are five things I think travelers should do when doing travel research, in order to get a variety of points of view and form an educated decision on where to go.

1) Talk to lots of other travelers and the locals, but take EVERY person’s recommendations with a grain of salt

Many new travelers look up to experienced travel writers and get only advice from them, and act as if their preferences are supposed to be the same as those of the more experienced traveler. They understand the basics of travel, but assume that because one tourist says a place isn’t worth visiting, that it won’t be worth visiting for them either. I’ve also talked to a lot of people who think that if they meet one local from their destination who says a major sight is overrated, it’s completely unworthy of visiting. By making this assumption after talking to one local person, the person is falsely and offensively assuming that every local has the same preferences, and also assuming that locals should see a country through the same lens as a traveler.

For example, I knew a Russian girl in my High School who told me I shouldn’t go to Russia because of its social and economic problems, and that life in the US was better. She was probably right from her own perspective, but because she’d been raised in Russia, she didn’t see Russia through the same lens a backpacker did. For me, it didn’t make it unworthy as a destination though. St Petersburg and Moscow are two of my favorite cities in the world. If I’d only gotten advice from her though, I may have completely been turned off of visiting Russia.

The bottom line is that everyone should get travel advice from a variety of people, both locals and tourists, no matter what the first people they talk to say

2) Use a variety of online and print sources

Online sources, like in the world of writing academic essays, have advantages for travelers. The articles are more easily kept up-to-date, and there are online communities too, which can have a variety of helpful voices about each destination.

But the good old paper book is in no way outdated for a traveler. A paper book cannot run out of battery, or make you stand out as a wealthy person who can afford the latest technology. Lonely Planet and Rough Guides Books are frequently updated in each edition and a great investment for any traveler.

3) Learn the historical context of the sights you visit

The Eiffel Tower is a beautiful sight in of itself, but before it was built, locals didn’t predict it would be appreciated that way. The historical context of any major sight, from Machu Picchu to the Louvre is fascinating to read about if you have the right attitude. There are many places online where you can read about the history of tourist sights, or you can watch art history Youtube videos on Khan Academy.

Another good use of historical context is to make less immediately spectacular sights more interesting. A small old church in the middle of rural England may not be the Roman Forum, but if you read about why it’s there, the history of it, and the influences on its architecture, it can be made to be almost as interesting.

4) Keep up-to-date

Look at the US or UK state department website, especially if you are going to a poor country. Go on forums frequently. Is there a protest going on? stay away from where it is. Is there an election going on? stay away from the country if it has a history of unstable elections. While the state department travel advisory page has a political agenda, and its descriptions of frequent crime in some countries should be taken with a grain of salt, there’s no doubt that it’s an important resource for at traveler.

5) Keep in mind that even small trivial matters can be different in a foreign country

I remember one time when I got on a city bus in Kyoto, Japan, and became very confused as to why people were piling in at the back of the bus and paying at the exit on their way out. I thought it would just be a city bus that was the same as anywhere else, but I didn’t know what was going on. Being unaware of small differences like that in transportation can really make you stand out as a dumb tourist, and make you more of a target. Bottom line is : if you don’t think you need to research little things, you haven’t done enough research!


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