Sometimes travel takes you to remote mountains in Switzerland. Other times it leads you to a fancy high tea in London.
The common, most important thread here isn’t the exotic places you go or how you choose to visit them. It’s travel, the simple, extraordinary act of exploring, and when it comes down to it:
What matters isn’t how you do it – it’s that you do it.
But as I’ve come to find out, travelers don’t always agree on this fact. Some people think travel isn’t really travel unless you spend months in a country, slowly absorbing its culture and hidden landmarks. In their eyes, those who spend one week exploring a country aren’t truly travelers – they’re tourists.
Now, I’m not against spending months or years abroad (serious travel goals!), but what I am against is travel shaming – the act of putting someone down for how they choose to explore the world.
Travel shaming isn’t strictly about time spent. It comes in all shapes and sizes, from smirks for those taking the tour bus over hitchhiking, to sympathetic remarks for those choosing a peaceful hotel over the hip, social hostel scene.
Shaming is an inherent (unfortunate) part of the travel culture that plagues us both on the road and at home.
Recently, a girl in one of my travel groups came face to face with some “holier-than-thou” travel shaming in her own life. She just returned from a Mediterranean cruise and was gushing about it to fellow travelers at a meetup (Mediterranean anything is gush-worthy, am I right?).
Well, apparently not. While she did receive “oohs” and “ahhs,” she was also met with a rather surprising – and let’s be honest, rude – response from one attendee, who made sure to share that cruising through the Mediterranean is in no way a dream trip. It’s an unauthentic way to miss the true local culture. Ouch.
To be fair, I do understand where travel shaming comes from, and I don’t think it’s a deep, judgmental place.
This guy may have been onto something from his own personal experiences – and he’s not wrong. Cruising does give you less time with locals on the land, but maybe she wasn’t looking for that. Maybe she wanted some R&R aboard a luxurious boat with an impeccable backdrop (which she did).
Sometimes we love our travel styles oh-so-much that we can’t fathom how someone else wouldn’t. I mean, I get that. He was a big fan of his time island hopping with locals, how could she not be? And heck, I’m so in love with my road tripping, grungy adventures (lookin’ at you, Bubble Hotel) that I forget others may feel differently.
But in reality, not everyone wants to sleep in a Bubble Hotel with transparent walls and an outhouse. And my travel group friend wasn’t looking for a local, on-the-ground adventures.
We’re all embarking on our own journeys for our own reasons.
While I do understand the core of travel shaming, that doesn’t mean I like it. Travel means something different to everyone, so instead of one-upmanship, we should sit back and listen to others’ stories.
Of course, I know this is easier said than done. It’s tough for me to refrain from jumping in with my own suggestions – “What about this small town? Or how about this dangerous hiking trail?!” – so I force myself to take a beat before responding.
Once you’re aware of it, though, incidental travel shaming is easy to overcome.
The second way to counter travel shaming? Stick up for someone who’s being put down. If you’re in a group conversation and one traveler is downplaying another’s adventure, jump in. Ask the storyteller details about their trip to show your interest and intrigue. This positivity will excite and encourage the traveler’s future adventures more than you’ll ever know.
Whether it’s five-star hotels, hip budget hostels or somewhere in between, we can learn something from travelers of all experiences levels. Instead of shaming the different, empower it, because an accepting, positive and always-curious mind can open the door to unexpected adventures.
What do you think? Have you faced travel shaming? Share your story below!
Stephanie Vermillion is a travel writer and blogger based in New York City. Her travel writing has been published in outlets like Mental Floss, MSN, Matador Network and Travelettes, and she is a contributing author to Thought Catalog's travel book, "Let's Get Lost." Stephanie runs her own [...]