Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nervous travelers

So as I mentioned, I have recently started a new job with a travel company.  And no, I’m not planning on telling you which – I am going to try my darndest to keep this blog and my work separate (nothing I write here will reflect the opinions of my employer, just me, as usual!), even though it is incredibly difficult when they are both within the same industry.

But one thing that I have found really interesting has been the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of trips by travelers themselves, some of whom are very experienced travelers, and some who are not.  It’s funny – I have such a particular way that I like to travel (lots of wandering, very little structure, and not very many expensive or “big” experiences, but more of a laid-back exploration), and many other travel bloggers are looking to tell you the cheapest ways to backpack and do long-term exploration.  I sometimes forget that this is not how everyone likes to travel!

Some people love the idea of all-inclusive trips, cruises or package tours.  Some folks are down with going to theatrical performances of local tradition (even if the audience is mainly tourists… no judgment, after all, I paid to see Sufi “dervishes” in Cairo).  Some people really like being able to come back to a hotel at the end of the day and eat western food and use a western bathroom.

I really do respect that way of traveling, even if it ain’t my way – at least those travelers are trying to get out there and see the world, and everyone has different comfort levels.  I love the feeling of just being let loose on a new place and wandering and exploring – but for some folks that’s really intimidating, and hell, I’d still rather have them putting themselves in new situations than sitting home and making assumptions about the rest of the world!

However, there are moments that really grind my gears – no one should be camping in Botswana and expect a western-style bathroom.  And some of the tips that I hear more fearful travelers give one another make me do a headslap (don’t let waiters walk away with your credit card, carry your valuables with you even when you go to the restroom on a plane, pack each item of clothing individually in plastic…).  And not because I don’t sympathize with wanting to be as secure and safe as possible while traveling – but because I have just never understood why traveling is seen as a risky activity.

I can get mugged in Boston, I can get injured, I can get scammed.   Actually, given my penchant for ignoring ALL safety precautions (I’m Amurr-can, dammit!  Don’t limit my freedom with your nerdy “safety tips”!), I am pleased and somewhat surprised to say nothing bad has ever happened to me ANYWHERE.  When I “backpacked” in Europe, I actually used a rolling carry-on bag, not a backpack – and unless I opened my mouth to speak (a giveaway every time), I could have been a commuter, or a traveler returning home – and I was left alone.  Now, had I been carrying a pack with that metal mesh woven through it (to protect against slash-and-run theft), or a money belt outside my clothes*, or clunky walking shoes**, I don’t think I would have been ignored to the same degree.

This is kind of a rambly post, and for that I apologize.  But in thinking about nervous travelers, I find myself caught between really sympathizing with their stress, and wanting to slap them in the back and push them out into the big wide world without all those "safety precautions" – 9 times out of 10, I have a hunch they’d be just fine.

Thoughts?  Are you an experienced traveler, a novice, or somewhere in between?  Am I being too harsh on newbies?

*Though they are handy under clothes, especially on overnight buses and trains to hold your passport
** There’s no need for special “walking” shoes – they won’t help your feet feel better if you don’t usually walk much, anyway!  I walk a lot in my daily life, so I can just bring normal shoes when I travel. 

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