Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thoughts on the Boston Globe Travel Show and Go Girls

Distressed to find I am currently wearing the exact same outfit as I write this. 

This is a week late. I'm a bum.

BUT! I'm a bum who got to spend last weekend in the company of some exceptionally cool, travel-minded unicorns.

My arctic tundra of a city hosted the Boston Globe Travel Show from February 7-9, and while the overwhelming corporate greige of the New York Times show a few years ago put me off this sort of thing for a while, I was convinced to attend by the fact that the Go Girls of Boston were planning a meetup there.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Go Girls, they're an international crew of women who love travel, and also love to encourage other people to try it. You can learn about them here. I'll wait.

As usual, I was late getting out of my house (three cups of coffee and a Bobby Darin singalong are my morning necessities, and it's a process that can't be rushed. YOLO). So I felt a bit guilty when I strolled in about twenty minutes after we'd all agreed to meet - fortunately, Kathleen, our Boston organizer, was clearly used to rounding up a bunch of unruly strangers. You can always tell people who have traveled a lot, because there's a different sort of ease when you strike up conversation. This girl gang was so comfy, so quickly.

I got to chatting with the lovely Delia, who has an upcoming trip to Kerala (complete with badass-looking camera - at least to a photography dolt like me) on the docket. Okay, we were ostensibly listening to Patricia Schultz talk about places to visit in Europe. But at the first mention of an Irish pub, I got too hungry to focus, so there was much miming of shoveling eggs into my facehole,* Cookie Monster-style.

But the show.

Schultz is the author of the travel book brick, 1000 Places to See Before You Die. I've written about it before, because I frankly find the whole premise problematic. And so I went into this talk prepared to tear it to shreds, to sit back and judge as she touted quick, "check it off your list" travel. And, as my snap decisions usually go, I was wrong.

She lights up when she talks about travel. She and I are on the same side when it comes to the travelers-versus-tourists debate, acknowledging that it's the spirit of curiosity and sensitivity that matters. She hit the political button deftly - reminding her American audience how lucky we are to be able to easily obtain passports, visas, and disposable income.

I still took issue with a few things - her explanation for leaving out a lot of developing nations from her first book because of the Iron Curtain obscuring information? In 2003? I call bullshit. And there was an uncomfortable (for me, anyway) flux of national identities - I mean, when you're fourth-generation, I don't really understand continuing to draw the distinction. But we cool.

Overall, though, I walked away with my eyes reopened. I wanted a question and answer session, to ask her about the impact of lists like hers on the industry - I worry that people try to "do" destinations instead of exploring them, and that the destinations themselves aren't necessarily served by too many eager travelers trampling all over the place without more context than a page in a book. Ah, well. I guess I'll keep my arguing to the Internet.

I also had the vaguely infuriating experience of hearing Arthur Frommer speak. Having heard a talk by him and his daughter, Pauline, a few years ago, I was excited to see what he would say - they had spoken really well about budget and indie travel in a way that I didn't expect from a fairly stodgy guidebook brand. But ol' Arthur is apparently now rebranding, having just gotten ownership of the company back, and that translated to a talk that was so promotional, I ended up walking away.

Besides the constant talk about his new books, I was frustrated at the fact he seemed so unaware of his own influence on some of the trends he dislikes so much. So the temples of Angkor are being "destroyed" by too many travelers? Venice has become a "clip joint" filled with crap food and souvenirs? Sure, I actually don't disagree with some of his fears and frustrations. But the attitude that it's all other people causing trouble in places he loves - rather than a calculated business that has made him wealthy, of driving traffic to places that are both valuable and vulnerable by virtue of their uniqueness - drove me crazy.

I didn't stick around for too long after that - chatted with a guy about Kyoto (one of the places I am hoping to end up in sometime in the next year or two), watched a guy on stilts with a ukelele and a Red Sox jersey singing to a deeply unhappy older couple who did NOT appreciate his rhyming of Boston's neighborhoods, and skidaddled.

*Sounds dirty, don't it?

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