The selfish tourist and the lie of travelling

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The world is at our feet – to discover, to explore, and to capture. We travel the world, board planes, trains, buses, embark on ships, boats and cruises to temporarily settle ourselves in a stranger’s land. We have taught ourselves the need to learn, share and experience the lives of others – to gain a deeper knowledge of the world around us. But is this all one big fat lie?

As we travel around, we seek authenticity, we seek to understand the true culture of our chosen destination. But in order to do this, we go on a vacation – with a mindset already prepared to forgo the everyday problems that we face. We travel using infrastructure that was perhaps specifically built for us – airports, hotels, hostels, restaurants. And worse of all, culture and heritage becomes commercialised in order for us to understand and to experience them better. Food, culture, history, atrocities become one McDonalised illusion. Locals wear their costumes, modify their dances, adjust their food, their way of living to please the paying and rich foreigner who is seeking to obtain a more fulfilling (yet empty of reality) experience. One quote from a Hawaiian resident has remained in my thoughts for quite a long time:

“We don’t want tourism. We don’t want you. We don’t want to be degraded as servants and dancers. That is cultural prostitution. I don’t want to see a single one of you in Hawaii. There are no innocent tourists.”


Then how come travelling is so deeply sought after? Why are billions of travellers polluting the atmosphere to travel, to discover (yet impose), to explore (yet get secluded) to capture (yet fail to see)? Because, well, frankly there is no better way to experience what we are seeking. While computers, mobiles, virtual reality, books, can give you a snippet of what one can find outside of our little bubble – it remains just that, an idea, an even greater illusion.

Although some might argue that while we travel we are merely consumers, and not anthropologists trying to safeguard the earth, we should still make every effort to respect the rules, customs, languages, and behaviour of the residents and locals. An effort to keep disturbance and our cultural influences to a minimum.

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