Before I went on my epic adventure, I wrote a self-reflecting blog on what I wanted to avoid doing while travelling. Now that I’m back, I wanted to check how I did. Was I a good traveller or was I just another annoying tourist? Let’s have a look.
Did I go to a party for travellers?
Not as such, no. However, I did go to party hubs both in India and in Bali. As much as the Mallorcan in me was shaking her head in disappointment, I giddily danced to my heart’s content in Kuta, Bali, downed ridiculously cheap shots and drunk beer galore. I finished my trip to India in Goa, but I didn’t go out other than to have dinner and a couple of drinks. We did end up having a beer for breakfast. Oops.
How did I do? Not as well as I would have wanted to, but not as bad either. None of the legs on my trip were focused on partying, I was more keen on arriving at a different place and letting it surprise me. Luck followed me around and I kept meeting wonderful people, which often meant I was up for going out and having a bit of fun. At the same time, I learned that there is no need to scoff at all tourist hubs or at party tourism – let’s just hit the right balance and ensure our money goes back to the local economy.
Did I let Instagram trends rule my photography?
Guilty as charged. Especially in extremely popular locations such as the Taj Mahal or pretty much the entirety of Bali, I was heavily influenced by travel influencers. As some of these places are also crawling with tourists, I felt the pressure to take a picture quickly and get out of the way. More often than not this also meant that I followed the crowd and sought the same angle.
How did I do? Poorly. That’s an F for me. Especially in unique places, such as Aling Aling Waterfall, I really wish I’d had a little bit more nerve and ventured to find better angles. In the occasions when I was with a guide I let myself crack under the pressure and follow their suggestions. In hindsight, I should have been a little more independent as everyone ended up with the same pictures. Now, I don’t hate the pictures at all, but I’m not going to proclaim myself a creative genius.
Did I go on a health-craze?
I did it. I had 2 smoothy bowls in Bali. I also went to a vegan restaurant. Twice. Otherwise, I think I did pretty well! I absolutely loved trying different foods in both India and Bali. In New Zealand, I found it was easier to cook (as I was running out of money), yet also loved the different roadside cafés I drove past. I am in utter love with South Indian fish dishes – I still dream about them and know that it’s unlikely I’ll taste something like it in London. Please, take me back to Kerala.
How did I do? Pretty well! I tried all the local food I could. I was ill a couple of times, but I enjoyed myself completely.
Was I complicit in feel-good or poverty tourism?
Especially while in India, I found it very hard to draw the line. Even today it’s quite difficult to find the right way to express my thoughts clearly. On some level, I understand that as a mostly white-female group we stood out wherever we went. I also understand that the guides wanted to give us a “real India” experience. In the end, it felt superficial and uncomfortable. For instance, instead of exploring the village of Abhaneri at our own pace we were encouraged to hire a local guide as a group. This turned out to be a disaster once the guide began pushing us into people’s houses.
How did I do? I feel I’m mature enough to understand my place in the social imagination while travelling. I also now understand that in some cases, being complicit is unavoidable. From purchasing postcards from children to contributing to the tourism mafia dominating hikes, sometimes finding the perfect travel route is impossible. So I could have done a bit better and researched the most sustainable companies. However, in many places, there wasn’t really any choice at all.
The Politics of Travelling
As white western travellers, at least this is my personal experience, it is crucial to remember that we’re visitors and tourists. I did not stay in any given town for longer than 3 or 4 days and I certainly did not work during this time. The main reason for this trip was to understand cultures other than my own and to explore different countries. I tried to include myself in the local culture and customs, yet I knew I wouldn’t have been comfortable had I forced myself to attend certain events.
I tried to avoid “touristy” places, as I wanted to find unique spots that were off the beaten path. But then I learned to relax, take a deep breath and enjoy the ride. Sometimes touristy spots are popular for a reason, and you’re not a better traveller for forcing yourself in the local routine.
To travel and to benefit from tourism as a consumer is a unique privilege to those of us who have grown up in a certain part of the world. Let’s not forget that travelling is not exclusive to exploration or adventure. More often than not it is an act of survival.
I think that here truly lies the politics of travelling – who gets to choose if they are a traveller, a tourist, or a migrant?
I’ll leave that up to you. Leave your thoughts in the comments!