Being A Bad Traveller

Reading other travel blogs or the musings of people constantly on the road, you see a jarring clash of wishy-washy ‘look at how beautiful it all is! Wish I could live here instead of shitty England!!’ adjectivegasming (while conveniently blocking out adjectivegasmic country’s social, economic and political problems), and their stinging judgement of having any home comforts instead of the local experience. I can’t get on board with that.

Sure, there are things that make me judgemental – don’t go abroad and not try anything local! – but it’s OK to not follow all the clichés about how to travel ‘properly’. As long as you’re polite and respectful to people (as long as they’re being polite and respectful to you!), and you try something new every so often, what’s the problem?! Here are some of travel blogger myths or expectations busted…:

– I don’t make up my route on the hoof. 
like travelling to a rigid itinerary. It makes strict budgeting easier, I feel far more relaxed and comfortable knowing exactly how and when I’ll move from A to B, and having months in advance to plan where to go and what to see. I’ve seen this condemned as ‘not proper travelling’. If properly travelling will make me stressed, broke and indecisive, you can keep it. After all, you can probably come back to any places you miss in the future.

– Sometimes I have pizza instead of the local cuisine. Instead of wandering around looking for cheap local food that I’m actually going to eat (anything with cucumbers, fresh tomatoes or fish is out. Yeah, I’m a picky eater), a pizzeria is universal. In some places there’ll be weird quirks – in Macedonia and Kosovo, for example, the pizzas come topped with toasted sesame seeds – but you can always find someone to make you a cheeky, rarely unsatisfying margherita pizza. It’s also the holy grail for travellers on a tight budget.

– Sometimes I go to Starbucks/McDonalds/[international chain restaurant] and pay money into their evil capitalist hands. Sometimes, all you want is the familiar taste of a Creamy Chocolate Cooler on a hot, exhausting day. Other days, you just want to go to a place where you can sit by yourself and write in your journal for 3 hours without interruption, weird looks or time pressure. I have no love for McDonalds’ cuisine, but it is by far the easiest place in which to do this. Plus there’s rarely a language barrier, which makes things easier. (Who said Maccy D’s can’t be educational, anyway? I learned in Sarajevo that children are sent to beg for money from punters while miming that they’re hungry. They’re persistent, too.)

– I don’t learn the language before I go away… I do feel a bit guilty about this, but given how routinely my friends go abroad to show off their language skills and are humbled by the native speakers replying to them in English, it’s hard to feel guilty for too long. I am learning Russian at the moment (привет! Я люблю Русскии язык) and have plans to learn Spanish and Serbo-Croat, but at the same time, English is the lingua franca of the world, and you’ll save time and energy (both yours and the person you’re communicating with) if you don’t spend 10 minutes totally mispronouncing basic phrases.

– I love meeting people from all over the world – but it’s easiest to talk to fellow Brits. Whether there should be borders is a moot point; different areas – both continents, countries, counties and individual towns – have their own shared histories, reference points, languages/dialects, and memories. The language barrier can mean jokes are lost in translation, and topical or well-known British references can lead to blank faces. That’s obviously not to say you can’t befriend people from elsewhere – easier isn’t necessarily better – but I find it takes a little bit longer to connect. Patience is a virtue, though.

– I’m nearly always cheerful at the thought of coming home after a trip abroad. That’s OK. It doesn’t mean I’ve hated my trip; far from it. And now I’m going after the foreign correspondent dream, I’m excited about the future possibility of living in another country. But there’s something about coming home – seeing all the signs in your native tongue, using the same slang, and road signs having familiar place names like Crawley and Eastbourne and Royal Tunbridge Wells – that fills me with joy. It’s not more or less than the joy of experiencing an amazing new city – it’s just different, and refreshing when you’ve been gorging on the latter for a month.

– Sometimes I spend my time abroad streaming live TV from England, and sometimes I spend most of the day in my hostel. How am I going to catch up with 2 weeks of The Great British Menu and avoid spoilers otherwise? (It’s cheaper than going out drinking every night, and safer than walking around the city alone, too…)

– I really like some touristy places/cities, and new areas with glass skyscrapers can be just as beautiful as old, classically beautiful places. One of my favourite places to walk around near(ish) home is the City of London, a mish-mash of classical architecture, such as the Bank of England, and futuristic glass behemoths like the Gherkin and the Walkie-Talkie. It’s the hectic economic heart of the UK during the week, but at weekends, it’s a ghost town, which makes it really relaxing to walk around. The Crosse Keys Wetherspoons, down Threadneedle Street, is a rather grand Spoons (that closes at 7pm on a Saturday and doesn’t open on a Sunday).

The point of this tangent is that when people complain about old buildings being knocked down and replaced with impersonal, shiny new skyscrapers, it can be a bit tiresome. You can’t and shouldn’t preserve everything old; the world shouldn’t become a museum for the sake of trying to preserve every tiny scrap of history. New can be good, and new can be beautiful, and new can be authentic. Besides, the people who tend to complain about this sort of thing are also the sort of people who tend to get little boners for Brutalist architecture. Which, interesting and historically significant as it is, is absolutely and undeniably hideous.

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