Everyone Has Something I Don’t Have

I have a few rituals for when I get discouraged with myself. One is I buy or download a book that could be called pretentious so that I can casually drop into conversation that I am “just reading Ulysses”. Or I listen to new age podcasts. It’s not that I particularly agree with everything in them but I just love the idea that I can meditate my way to a better life. For the record, I do believe in meditation and some of the other parts of it, but I think there is room for doubt in any belief system. In any case you would think that after many new age podcasts and “build your self a life you don’t need a holiday from” affirmations that I wouldn’t experience jealousy. But you would be wrong! I am not, as previously disclosed, what you might call a positive person. In fact, I am the opposite. Where others my see the unknown as something beautiful to embrace I live in constant terror of what bad thing might befall me around the next corner. And I’m jealous, but I’m not just jealous of one thing (ie: other people’s travels).  No, I am jealous of everything even when I can rationalise why I don’t have or even want something. Someone has a cleaner? I am jealous of that even though the longest I’ve lived in one apartment at a time has been two years, the last two years in fact. A European friend gets to go on a long haul break and I am stuck doing city breaks? Of course that makes sense I’m from Canada and if I want to go home once a year than that costs as much as their long trips. Someone just has that pregnancy glow? I’m jealous of that too, even as a childless-by-choice woman. Earlier I was feeling down because “I hadn’t gone anywhere this year” and this despite a weeklong road trip around Ireland, a city break in Belfast, a music festival and a week in Prague. Does this all sound ridiculous? That’s because it is.

Now I would like to offer you a solution, but I don’t have one. The truth is that there are people who have things I don’t have. There are people who are better at not buying a take away on the weekend and have more money for bigger things they want.  There are people who pursued their careers and didn’t do the “free spirit” thing. There are people who come from wealthier backgrounds. Those are all true and being thankful for what I have (which I am) doesn’t magically make them untrue. Personally I don’t find that I can improve my mood by reminding myself of the things I have, because again, I can rationalise them all away. The fact is that I’ve always had an image in my mind of who I was and wanted to be. In my mind I was the world traveller who was always wearing floaty caftans and “just dropping by” before jetting off somewhere else. I never seemed to have a job but yet had stylish clothes and an extensive wine knowledge. I was well read and had heated arguments on the phone in another language. I could easily discuss current affairs around the world while also being able to casually drop some reason that someone should or shouldn’t do something based on their numerology. And friends. That’s who I am now. Well, more or less. I need a few caftans and my knowledge of wine is not so much extensive as it is “I have tried a lot of different bottles of wine to excess”. But even being the person I wanted to be doesn’t stop me from seeing what other people have and sometimes being envious. This is why I balk at the “build a life you don’t need a vacation from” nonsense.  You can build the exact life you want and still wonder what it would be like to have that other thing. There’s that cheesy saying about one door opening when the other door closes but the truth is that when we choose one door another one closes. Every choice we make excludes another choice, or excludes it for now.

So what to do about that human emotion of jealously? I think, as I’ve learnt from the many meditation podcasts I’ve listened too, the only thing to do is experience it and then let it go. To say to ourselves, “I feel jealous of that” and then to not shame ourselves. We try to make ourselves relentlessly happy and feel guilty when we aren’t, we already have so much we tell ourselves. In the travel community we say that if we just change our destination then we can be happy. That endless travel is the solution. But it’s not. Happiness is an elusive and ever-changing thing and trying to make ourselves happy doesn’t work. Next time we feel jealous let’s forgive ourselves for being human and then just keep doing our thing. Instead of trying to be relentlessly happy let’s relentlessly be ourselves.

 

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Wandering The Streets of Prague

One of my greatest annoyances about life in Europe is that if you ever try to make a generalisation about Europe even one that is positive, you will  be met with cries of ” but Europe is a huge place and all the countries are so diverse and cultured” as if that is not true for every continent and even country. Once I got into an online debate with someone about racism in Europe. I made it clear that I had travelled and lived in different European countries and witnessed racism in all of them. I wasn’t saying all Europeans are racist just that there are racist people everywhere. The reply I got was “but Europe is very diverse”.  Since no one has ever changed their mind about anything on the internet that is where I gave up. But I digress. The point is that even though that is my pet peeve it’s true that European countries vary drastically from each other, which is why I was excited to visit a new country, the Czech Republic, specifically Prague.

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We landed on a rainy Wednesday afternoon and after a taxi ride where I envisioned us in the next instalment of Taken (this happens in every taxi I take, I’m not singling out our very lovely taxi driver) we arrived at our hotel BoHo Prague, a small boutique hotel. If you’re staying in Prague, especially for first timers like us, I would highly recommend it. It was so comfortable and, perhaps better, it was right in the centre of the old town so it was perfect for getting to all the tourist spots, which we did all of.  Our first afternoon we drank a Radler and got a delicious sandwich from a street vendor before falling asleep with the intention (not really) of getting back up. However, the next day we awoke refreshed and ready to go to Prague castle.  The castle is one of the most expansive castles in Europe and as such it was fairly busy, but the views and architecture were impressive. After walking down we headed to the beer garden to enjoy some famous Czech beer and also another famous tourist tradition of charging you for random things. Again, not singling out Prague this happens in every tourist place but c’est la vie! We were touristing and enjoying it.

The next day we went to the Communism Museum after I made a pit stop at the capitalist museum, ie: the shopping mall, ie: mainly Sephora.  A few weeks ago I was talking with one of my husbands friends about privacy, something that I believe my generation needs to be worried about even though personally I find it hard to do the necessary work to protect my privacy. Walking through the communism museum reinforced my view that we need to be concerned about privacy as it is essential to democracy. Here were terrible stories of what happens when privacy  is taken away, and it is a recent part of history as well. That had a big impact on me and I left thinking about how forgetful we are as a human race. The museum is well presented, it feels increasingly claustrophobic as you go through it and the writing is excellent, as are the photos and displays.

Later we went for some traditional Czech food. Full disclosure, we went to one of those touristy places that was off of a  main square BUT the food was delicious.  I had the wild boar goulash and my husband had a platter of sorts which was a variety of meats, a lot of meat…so much meat. Where was I? After dinner we rolled home, very full. I would also like to add that sometimes those touristy places aren’t the horrible clichés we think they are. For example, in Valencia there are lots of paella restaurants on the beach, which obviously lend themselves to tourists but mixed in with the over-priced cocktail bars and a place where once my patatas bravas were totally covered in shrimp hairs, are the good restaurants where local families go to eat their Sunday paella. Anyway I can’t guarantee the place we ate wasn’t a shrimp-hair-on-potatoes kind of place but our food was good.

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Revived from our food coma we went on the boat tour the next morning. It was bright and crisp and the views from the river were spectacular. Later we went to a quiet Irish bar to watch football. I mean, I think we know it wasn’t me watching the football. But I enjoyed a few drinks and a lot of chicken wings. Many European cities (that I’ve been to) have these types of places, the atmosphere of an Irish pub but that has American football one night and soccer the next, that has pub quizzes and American style food but done well. And usually there’s a blend of locals, expats and tourists and I find these places charming.

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prague river view

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For our last day, we headed to the Café Louvre, a café famous for entertaining famous guests like Einstein and being a big part of café society. I am intrigued by the Lost Generation and A Moveable Feast is a book that I enjoyed immensely despite reminding myself frequently of what a, let’s say, not-good, person Ernest Hemingway was. Anyway, my point is, sitting in the café Louvre drinking a café au lait and eating my brunch with other tourists and locals, someone writing, what I imagined to be their travel memoirs, well, it felt cool and it reminded me of A Moveable Feast.   For brunch I had smoked salmon on pancakes (for fellow North Americans, they weren’t exactly pancakes but fluffy, savoury delights) with sour cream and it was delicious. Apparently there can be long waits on the weekends but we got in easily on a Sunday morning.

cafe louvre prague

This was our first time in Prague and it was a truly lovely time. I always think you need to go somewhere twice. The first time to be a tourist and the second to, well, do the non-touristy things. Which means, Prague, we’ll be back.

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About Saving Money For Travel

A quick browse of the blogs I read, pinterest and instagram tells me all the ways I can make money. They range from the glamourous (start a “side hustle”, manifest more money just by thinking about it, positive affirmations) to the downright torturous (make pack lunches  for the rest of your life and never enjoy any of the finer things in life like take out or a can of coke from the refrigerator section of the shop or Netflix). I would be lying if I said I don’t fall into the temptation of trying these various things. Sometimes I put on my finest silk robe, light some candles and swan around the house reciting my horoscope and telling my husband we need to manifest 500 Euros. He asks me  why I don’t aim a bit higher but I think that we should be reasonable in our requests to the Universe or God. I mean, really. Other times I am scrooge, chronicling every cent and feeling guilty for having 2 pints instead of one or taking a taxi when we could have walked. I get it. Here we are with housing prices becoming nearly unreachable and there is the ever present threat of a robot taking our job. Many people my age are going back to school for a second or third time. The world seems on the brink of calamity and social media makes us feel constantly inferior. If we sort out our finances, it seems, maybe we can have a perfect apartment and travel constantly and in general escape that existential dread (too far? Maybe).

So I wanted to write this because I want to share what my finances are like after 10 years of travelling every year for long periods of time and living abroad. I’m not here to tell you to skip your take away coffee, or to live like your poor, or to just GET YOUR PRIORPTIES STRAIGHT because, pardon my French, I think that’s all horseshit. You won’t get rich by skipping your coffee and travel isn’t a priority for everyone. Furthermore telling people to punish themselves for not being rich by not ever having any small luxuries is cruel and judgmental. I’m not here to tell you how you can travel Europe for 7 years with $500 because a.) how? and b.) this sounds terrible to me.I used to feel frustrated when people would tell me I was lucky to travel because it didn’t seem like luck to me, I worked hard to get everything I have. But in another sense I am lucky, lucky to have a stable financial background, to have been able to live at home and find good jobs and to have been born when and where I was. So the goal of this isn’t to tell anyone to save for travel or how to do it. I find that finances and travel aren’t often talked about in a honest way and I wanted to do that.

First of all the negatives. I have debt and have been working hard to get it paid off, it’s not easy. Second of all, because I wanted to travel I did a lot of my degree online so I could work more and while I don’t say I regret it there are certain aspects I now see the negatives too. Had I done my degree in a class room I could have met other people in my field, made friends, networked and  probably seen a more clear career path.  I have borrowed money from my parents (which I paid back years ago). I have lived in some not great places and eaten a lot of rice and beans (the metaphorical rice and beans).  I once stayed in a fifty person dorm.

When it comes to saving money, I worked in restaurants and always made good tips which I saved. I made a chart and tracked everything I spent and made. I bought conditioner in Dollarama (oh, how I miss you Dollarama. Not the conditioner, that was rubbish and I only did that once) and have always used mainly drugstore make up. I lived at home for little or no rent, got a lift or a taxi to work ( I don’t drive so a car would be a bit of a strange investment). I picked up every shift I could and went to work even when I was sick. Ultimately, for me travel was the thing I wanted most so I worked to get it. There’s no secret to saving money for travel, except for just doing it and for the average person that means giving up other things. That’s it. It’s also important to remember that not every can afford to, or even wants to travel and we should stop telling them “but I travelled all of  Norway with 25 cents!”. Let’s just stop that nonsense. I would also like to add that I travelled for 1-5 months at a time, not including the nearly two years in Spain and two here in Ireland. Yes, that’s a long time to travel and I enjoyed it, I’m not going to dispute that! But it also means that for 11 to 7 months I was at home working and that’s a long time to not have new clothes or a seasonal beverage, still those are things that can be done without. What shouldn’t be done without is nights out with friends, after work drinks and functions with family and friends. Whether you’re at home or abroad human connection requires money and time and those things shouldn’t be sacrificed for a trip.

Lastly, this year I turned the much maligned thirty. And when you turn thirty, at least for me, things start happening to you. By things I mean that I now prefer designer make up, and the thought of staying in a hostel makes me want to run screaming in the other direction. I spend more money on things for my house. I want to eat good food and when I travel I want to eat the local food not hide out in the hostel eating the free dinners. I am not at all criticising those things, I had a good time doing them all through my twenties but priorities change and that’s okay. That is to say, I better up my manifestation goals. Maybe 550 euro?

For many Christmas pictures and pictures of our trip to Prague check on my Instagram @stephanierosetravels

 

 

Travels in Literature: Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet

This past winter I read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, a set of novels that amount to a modern masterpiece, expansive and moving in their depiction of the lives of two women in Naples over the span of sixty years. When I finished the final book I saw there was a “readers guide” at the end of the novel. There’s something annoying about finding a reading guide at the end of a novel that cannot be reduced to simple and trite terms like “who was your favourite character”? These reading guides are often found at the end of books intended for women, I suppose because women are more likely to be in a reading group (or that’s the impression people have) but more often than not the questions seem like they are directed at the boozy moms from some summer comedy and not, you know, women who read a breadth of great literature and enjoy discussing it with their friends. One of the things that this reading guide said was something about the universality of the story. But what universality? In the Neapolitan novels Ferrante shows us what a changing Italy looks like, what it’s like for women to be born into a deeply patriarchal society and the pain and hardship that goes with trying to free oneself from it or, at least, navigate it. There were certainly parts that felt like things that all women have experienced. The ugliness and mundanity of day-to-day life ,the one that so often minimizes and suffocates women. The sense of being around people who are threatened by your intelligence and skill, their desire for you to become less and less until you’re nothing at all, the feeling of loss and jealousy and self doubt and of course the love, competitiveness and the pain of female friendships, yes these are universal themes. But there was also a lot of this book that I didn’t “understand” in the sense that it wasn’t my own experience. The physical violence that the women are consistently subjected to, the deep poverty,  the landscape of a post-war Italy.  At one point the narrator describes a young man, who, striving to become more modern, a Socialist and a feminist, has decided to stop beating women. The problem is he doesn’t quite know how since violence against women has been as much a part of the day to day life of men as eating dinner. In moments like these misogyny and violence become something uncontrollable and overruling. The male characters, as much as the female ones are trapped by a life that has only shown them cruelty and force, where power can only be maintained by destruction and violence. Furthermore the characters don’t have a neat, clean, history book view of fascism, misogyny or familial ties and seeing these things from the perspective of characters who transition from impoverished children to educated adults is enlightening, it’s thrilling. Ferrante’s writing is so vivid and violent that the characters pain feels at once personal and foreign.

The reason that representation matters so much in entertainment is because underrepresented people deserve to see themselves reflected. But for people who aren’t in that group it’s also necessary to see nuanced and complicated portrayals of different ethnicities,  genders and sexual orientations. None of us benefit from seeing, hearing or reading the same stories over and over again. And that’s why I chaffed at the depiction of The Neapolitan Quartet being a “universal” story.  Not only because I don’t think it was a universal story but also because I don’t want or need it to be. In the last year I made a conscious effort to read more books by women and writers who aren’t white or straight and it has made a massive difference in my life and in the way I see the world.  I want to be exposed to stories that show me something different. The part of the novel that was foreign to me, life in Naples, I enjoyed because it was about something that I didn’t know anything about. The parts that were relatable to me, the parts about being a woman were excellent because they spoke about that specific experience.  There’s something cathartic about reading (or watching, or hearing) something that expresses something you’ve felt but not been able to put into words. There’s a reason that the response to The Neapolitan Quartet, because it so accurately describes women’s inner lives. But those inner lives are specific to women and they are not, from my perspective, universal.

Likewise, like you, I imagine, I have an image of Italy in my mind. I imagine old farm houses where long family lunches take place between close knit family members. I imagine the ancient Roman architecture, the quaint villages (imagined in black and white, like the first episode of  the second season of Master of None ), the pasta, the stylish people populating the streets. I’ve visited Italy,  but I could move to Italy tomorrow and live there for the rest of my life and still not know what it feels like to bean Italian person. Or to be an Italian woman born in post-war Naples. North American people hold this idea that Europeans do everything right. We want to cook like Italians and enviously look up to the Scandinavian countries’ education system and their moody crime dramas. We want to dress like French women and envy cool British girls. We see it as an advanced place where the large societal problems we have in North America have long since been vanquished. But this isn’t the reality. There are deep problems in Europe and a troubled history that is threatening to rear it’s ugly head once again. It’s for reasons like these that novels like The Neapolitan Quartet  are essential to read.  Elena Ferrante’s writing is moving, bold and unforgettable and it challenges us at every step.

Why I Won’t Volunteer Abroad Again

A few years ago I wanted to gain some experience as an TEFL/ESL teacher and was looking for a volunteer project in Europe. I found what was ostensibly an English teaching job and applied for it. I researched it to the best of my ability even emailing companies that monitor volunteer organisations. I was wary back then of volunteering abroad, as it always seemed like a way for people to raise money for what ended up being a holiday for them. What’s more it seemed to treat the suffering of others as something they could use to make themselves better. But, I thought, young people around the world need to learn English, however unfair it may be and I was a qualified English teacher. Well, the project was a farce. It wasn’t an English teaching job at all, it was working in a care home for a group of girls who’s parents weren’t able to take care of them, or that was the claim. In an English teaching classroom, the teacher doesn’t always speak the language of the students and there are teaching methods that work around this obstacle. However, I wasn’t in a classroom and I didn’t speak the language. There were no clear instructions about what I was supposed to do and I had never been in such a situation before. I tried to communicate as best I could and attempted some English teaching games but I’m afraid I was wholly useless to them. The volunteer co-ordinator seemed entirely uninterested in helping the girls in any meaningful way. One of the other women who was on the same project as  me, but in a different town mentioned that someone had left her project because of the racism that they had experienced. For a project to not warn a person that they might experience racism in a rural town seems irresponsible and cruel. Since then I’ve read quite a bit about the ways that voluntourism harms people and communities. Few organisations have any kind of rigorous checks on people which means anyone can sign up for a project that works with vulnerable people. In some countries orphanages that attract volunteers are actively harming the communities by  encouraging trafficking and abuse. J.K. Rowling wrote about this recently and explains it far better than I can.

Like those that (wrongly, I believe) buy a sandwich for a homeless person rather than giving them money we feel that if we volunteer we are doing the morally superior thing. We aren’t giving money away for someone to use foolishly, we feel. But the reality is that reputable charities, NGO’s and other organisations that help people do need money. They need well paid and supported staff, they have bills to pay just like the rest of us. It offends us to think that we are paying someone else’s salary instead of helping people. But in fact, we are helping people when we donate to good charities. Of course there have been instances where charities misused funds and it is important that we don’t give to those organisations but in order for a charity to function properly it needs funding.

Worse is when we go to volunteer for an experience. Now I truly believe that most people who volunteer do so out of the goodness of their heart, they mean well and want to help. But the suffering of others shouldn’t be something we gawk at or use to better ourselves or our resumes/CV’s. It shouldn’t be something we pop into for a week or month. If there’s an issue we feel truly passionate about we should educate ourselves and commit to it as a career. If that’s not feasible to find out how to truly help, which governments and policies will positively effect other countries, where to donate money and how to educate ourselves and others on the issues. It may sound counterintuitive but sometimes the best thing we can do when we want to travel and improve the world is donate to a reputable charity and then just take a vacation in said country. Personally I’m of the mind that if we truly help people it doesn’t matter why we do it. If we donate generously and that helps people then it doesn’t matter if some part of us wanted to feel better about ourselves or we did it from some ideologically pure reason. We are fallible humans and we have a multitude of emotions and reasons for doing anything, some of those less good than others. That said, I do think we need to accept that sometimes doing good is boring. Doing something profound and impactful isn’t instagrammable or exciting. Most of the time it’s quiet and hard and ongoing. We should seek to become involved in our own communities, with organisations that are respectful and well researched. We need to commit to doing good all the time, even when it isn’t exciting or glamorous. And most importantly we need to view those in need as complete human beings who are no different from ourselves. If we don’t want a raggedy old t-shirt why would someone else? We wouldn’t appreciate if our bosses said “I don’t know what you’ll do with the money that I pay you so I’ll buy your groceries instead” would we?

After my experience I can say Romania is one of the most unique and beautiful countries I’ve ever been to and I would encourage anyone to visit it, as a tourist. I personally won’t volunteer abroad again. I’m not an expert and I can only talk about what I’ve read and experienced so I can’t say 100% that there are no good volunteer opportunities and that there is never a place for it. But I do believe that we are better off volunteering (long term, ideally) and helping in our own communities and donating  and supporting organisations that are qualified to do the work. Sending unqualified people to do work that requires qualified people isn’t helpful and short term volunteering can do more harm then good. We need to think carefully about the way our actions impact the world.

Some useful articles:
Slate-Charities need your money, not your random old food
The Guardian-Which would you rather have, time or money
The Guardian-Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do

 

How To Have A Very European Autumn

From my extensive studies (ie: looking at instagram and pinterest all day) it seems that Autumn is a universally loved season.I’m not going to discuss the nuances of the pumpkin spice latte debate, although readers should know I fall heavily on the side of “go ahead and enjoy those overpriced seasonal drinks however I’m more of an eggnog latte type of woman”. I think I understand why everyone loves autumn, especially in the age of social media. Bear with me here. Summertime has always been about doing stuff whether that means backpacking trips, heading to the pool, backyard barbecues, camping, music festivals or any of the other things that we should be doing in the summer. And hey, those are good things but combine what with the constant barrage of the cool things our friends are doing on social media and  it can feel like a lot of pressure. Then autumn comes and we get back to routine, we make our homes cosy because we’ll be spending more time in them, boozy nights of dancing can be traded for a quiet drink in the pub beside the fire.  There’s a change of pace that means less pressure, it’s easier to say no to events when it’s rainy or snowy and cold. There’s a it more room to breathe. To focus on our loved ones, to take ourselves out of the race of being the coolest and best.

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Canadian autumns are unlike anything else, the leaves turn a million beautiful colours and everything has that truly autumnal feeling (except we call it fall, but I’m tired of being made fun of for saying fall so ahah! I have the last laugh (ish)). But there’s something special about European autumns that I’ve come to love. It’s not as cold or as leafy but it’s peaceful . The cities take on an different beauty in the gloomy and overcast skies, Christmas markets pop up. In Valencia the streets are filled with people selling roast hazelnuts or corn on the cob. Even if it still feels strange to me to see Christmas decorations go up when there are still green leaves on the trees, there’s something I find enchanting about it.

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Belfast 

If you’re planning a weekend (or longer) getaway in Europe  I prefer to wait until September or later. August in many European countries, especially in the Southern/Mediterranean European countries is a vacation month which means the cities are basically empty as most people go to the sea/their village/abroad. These places become very touristy which is good (I like being a tourist) but it also means that not as many places are open and you don’t get the same feel of the city, the hustle and bustle as it were.

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Whether you’re going abroad or staying in your own country don’t put too much pressure on yourself to see all the sights, if it’s cold out, find a cosy corner and read a book or have a long lunch.  Have something to look forward to and plan. Head to an art gallery, museum, a talk or just simply go somewhere new. These things make me, for one,  feel more confident, like I have something to contribute to conversations, like I’ve learned something new and am better for it.  Find comfortable accommodation because you might not leave it and pack an extra large scarf and coat. You want to see the city after all but it’s just too rainy/snowy! C’est la vie! Download educational podcasts or audio books and then debate everyone with your newfound knowledge.  Cook a late lunch and curl up in front of an old movie. Call or text a friend or family member and spend the afternoon catching up. Consult your horoscope to see if you should go out or stay in this weekend and then invite friends over with the intention of going out but stay in instead. After all you have a frozen pizza and a bottle of wine. Sit on a bench or in a cafe and contemplate life. Wander in and out of shops with the purpose of buying loads but in the end only purchasing a bracelet. Go with the flow rather than trying to organise a trip that accomplishes everything at once.

I often say and have heard people say that you are more tired after a vacation than before and it makes perfect sense. We feel pressure to do as many things as possible and see everything, we want to be busy but autumn is the perfect time to put those notions aside and embrace friendship and family life, to not worry about being perfect and to see where life takes us.

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Go Ahead, Be a Tourist

If you’ve gone on 0 trips or 7000 you know that you don’t want to be a “tourist” you want to be a “traveller” and you want to seek out “authentic experiences” you want to see “the real ____________”. I’ve heard that everywhere I’ve lived and travelled too. “Dublin’s not really Ireland” or “Rome is a typical destination for a North American” (still don’t know what that means, it’s the capital and a historic city so probably lots of people go there not just North Americans??). I am here to say bullshit. Look the truth is, yes if you live somewhere for a while it will feel different then stopping by for a week or two, and the longer you live there the more your perspective will change. Yes if you learn the language you will have a deeper experience. These things are true. But if you’re travelling somewhere, even if you’re living there, stop looking for authentic experiences. You are having an authentic experience right now. Even if you eschew all the traditional tourist things, you’re still a tourist. At least that’s how I see it. In my years of trying to be an “authentic traveller”  I have yet to have someone come up to me and say “wow Stephanie, good job, you’re a traveller and not a tourist”. What’s more I’ve spent a lot of time trying to please other travellers and impress them with the tales of m authentic travels and you know what? That certain type of person is never happy because there’s always someone who’s been somewhere more “interesting” or done something more adventurous, or been too more countries or whatever the case may be. And you know what that’s true. Because whatever you do there will someone who has done something different.

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Seeking so-called “authentic” experiences often means that one, particularly a Westerner, is attempting to be an arbitrator of another culture and what defines their culture. If  Spain, for instance, and I’m just using this as an example, decides to ban bull fighting or the running of the bulls in the near future it is not the job of  me, or anyone else to say that they should keep the tradition because it’s, well, a tradition. What’s more, what’s often described as the “real __________” is the countryside, the rural places that have remained more homogeneous (or have been seen to remain homogeneous, in reality these places are disappearing fast as well) . It implies that the more multi-cultural cities, the thriving multi-ethnic places don’t really represent a certain country. That things should stay a certain way or else lose their charm. It treats people and cultures as museum pieces that can be preserved for you and your entertainment. It doesn’t allow countries or communities to change as they see fit. Many times on my travels I’ve hear ” oh there’s a Starbucks/McDonalds/ other American corporation that can be used to describe everything that’s wrong with the world in every city” and that’s more or less true. I’m not here to say Starbucks or McDonalds are good or should be everywhere but I mean, I like Starbucks festive drinks and sometimes you just need a Big Mac but I digress. I would argue, and will readily admit if I’m wrong, that cultures are strong enough to survive a McDonalds popping up on the corner. I’m not here defending McDonalds and there are real conversations to be had about gentrification and the harm it does, just to say that maybe a lot of handwringing when we see someone from another country enjoying a 6 euro coffee is out of place. Look, I’m not immune. There was a little cafe in Valencia that was what I would describe as a typical Valencian old man bar/cafe. The kind where everything is kind of orange and brown, there’s probably a fan in the corner and a cigarette machine from the 18th century or so, they give you a coffee for a euro and they seem angry when they do it. If you’ve been to Spain you know what I’m talking about. Last time I went to Valencia it had turned into a brightly coloured, stylish looking place. I felt kind of sad. But guess what? I don’t live there anymore and I don’t own that business. If that makes them more money, or makes them happier or caters to tourists then hey, that’s their choice.

All of this is a long winded way to say, let’s get rid of this elusive idea of a “traveller” because who even knows what that means?When I’m travelling from now on I’m going to be a tourist.  So let’s embrace it (respectfully of course), enjoy the Eiffel Tower it’s iconic and pretty damn cool. See Big Ben or the many churches around Europe. Take some cheesy pictures, stop worrying what everyone thinks of you.  You have the privilege of being able to travel to a new place, enjoy it, without wondering if it’s good enough, real enough, true enough. Readers will know that I’m concerned with travelling ethically and that stands, I think we need to be informed about where we go and what we do when we’re there. But if you’ve done that then just enjoy yourself, do your trip your way and enjoy yourself. You get to travel!

Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

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