You’ve met them before, and you know exactly what I’m talking about. Those friends who just happen to know the “real” Timbuktu- not they way you have seen it as a tourist, but the way they know it as a global nomad. You can’t contribute anything to the travel conversation, because no matter what you say, they smile sympathetically, snicker, because you poor soul, you cannot possibly know anything about Zimbabwe that they haven’t experienced better.
In my lifetime, travel certainly has become a lot cheaper, and accessible to everyone. Gone are the days when we can wow someone with our Polaroids from Chennai, chances are that the person we are talking to has already been there. So, I don’t quite understand this growing movement to “educate” people about the proper way to travel, the authentic way to experience, the responsible way to learn about a culture. Do we now need an instruction manual to see for ourselves?
Over the years, I have met all kinds of travel snobs, I am sure you have too, so rather than teach you how to recognize them, feel free to add your experience to this conversation. Out of sympathy for my fellow adventurers, I have classified them into easily identifiable stereotypes, so that rather than engage, you can pick up your luggage and roll in the opposite direction. Here are my favorite travel snobs:
The Authenticators: They pore through each minute detail of your travel story looking for a flaw in your experience. You downed shots of tequilla with a worm in Mexico, but don’t you know that the proper way is to call it mezcal, and it’s not a worm its a larva? You luxuriated the a 5-star Leela Palace in Udaipur, but poor you, you missed out on seeing how real people live. No matter how you saw it, it couldn’t possibly be legit, because they know how it’s experienced better. The saving grace of the authenticators is that they don’t fault us for our ignorance, they just know better.
The Modern Day Missionaries: They arrive at their destination, ready to “educate” the unconscious. You see, they come with the knowledge the locals so desperately need, and are ready to teach the dullards how to better their existence. Never mind that the locals have a 1000 year tradition of teaching their kids the value of work, because where modern-day missionaries come from, child labor is wrong, and they are here to save your children from your ignorance. Never mind that in all of India, very few people own air conditioning, a school without it needs their immediate attention.
The Enlightened Ones: For them, travel has lead to a spiritual awakening, and they are now ready to sparkle their fairy dust onto our darkness. They are now better people because they struck a yoga pose on the beaches of Durban, or had their colons cleansed at an ashram in Chandigarh. You poor tourist, couldn’t possibly know anything about enlightenment because you only spent 40 years of your life serving the local poor, reading e-books on existentialism, battling your own inner demons. They are also more cultured, better exposed than you poor clod who who doesn’t bow at the sun each morning.
The Non-Tourists: No matter how they travel, they are never the tourist. Everyone else standing in front of the Eiffel Tower is, because they wear cameras around their necks, speak English, and ask irritating questions. Somehow these non-tourists can always experience the same thing we tourists do, only better. If they are walking down the streets of Paris, they always have a baguette under their arm, accost the locals of Moldova with their practiced regional dialects, and somehow never carry luggage, because it’s the touristy thing to do. But, they show up at weddings and black tie affairs in Monaco in Keds, because they can’t be bothered to pack luggage. They belong everywhere, just don’t call them tourists. But you gotta admit, when you land in a country and they place a stamp in your passport, you are a tourist.
The Social Class Snobs: There are those who only fly coach, because business is too gauche, and there are those who only fly first class, and wouldn’t consider a red-eye in economy. Some have enough miles to flaunt a dozen first class trips through southeast Asia and won’t go anywhere unless it’s at the front of the plane, others scoff at anything that reeks of elitism, and demonstrate their travel expertise by sleeping on the floor at the airport. Either way, there is disapproval at both ends of the spectrum, and for some their way of travel is the only right way.
In all fairness, we can all be travel snobs. I too sometimes scoff at loud, obnoxious, food grabbing, personal space intruding travelers who don’t seem to understand that an airport lounge is for people who want to rest and relax in peace. But then, I get drunk with my friends on a beach in Bali, and know what the locals must be thinking- Tourists!
My point is that we are all tourists whether we like to admit it or not. The best we can do is try to respect other cultures, and let them be who they are, without imposing our personal beliefs on others.
Got your own travel snobs to add to this list? Would love to hear from you.