In response to Robert Schrader’s ‘Luxury Travel Misses The Point’

Do luxury travelers have anything to be ashamed of?

I just read an article on the Huffington Post entitled ‘Luxury Travel Misses The Point’, by Robert Schrader. The whole article can be read here. Now I’m no philosopher but the gist of it appears to be:

The definition of ‘travel’ is the exploration of a culture through immersive, chaotic, and most importantly – cheap, experiences. These will, through their own inherent powers, reveal certain truths about the culture you are visiting and lead to a more ‘authentic’ experience. Thus, if you are traveling without chaos and a tight budget you cannot be traveling or a traveler.

When I read the headline I thought it might have a point – Heading for a poorer country to find ‘local experiences’ whilst simultaneously splurging thousands of £s or $s does feel counter-intuitive until you think about what it is that you’re asking us to believe and buy into.

What is it that you find when you travel in luxury?

You find a local experience for sure. A shade of a region’s daily experience catering to the luxury traveler. What you won’t find is that ever-elusive ‘authenticity’ that is so heralded by many travel companies and synonymous with ‘guided slum walks’ or orphanage visits. Unfortunately authenticity is impossible for anybody to find, not just luxury travelers. Authenticity does not exist beyond the moment and situation you experience, even if it is moulded specifically for you. You can’t encompass a representative experience of a culture (or any ‘thing’) anywhere. Ever. Even if you move to an unfamiliar country and live amongst locals for years you cannot experience the same existence those around you possess because you bring too much with you when you arrive somewhere new. You might bring a good education, atheism, disregard for superstition, or the knowledge that your gender or sexuality is nothing to be afraid of. You might even be GINGER! All these might be the opposite of the starting point of those around you. All a traveler can ever do is gaze in on what is around them and choose whether or not they want to vainly attempt to ‘fit in’ or not. That has to be the only distinction.

Therefore I’m not too sure that a luxury traveler is experiencing anything more or less valid than someone who is scraping from destination to destination by chicken bus. If that even is what could be seen as an authentic experience – I think not. They have, by definition traveled from their homeland to see something of the world, and they are now traveling around this unknown place. I agree with some of the commenters on the article that that Schrader clouded the point by insisting that travel be something beyond its actual, definable, essence. Something particular to yourself but dictatorially applicable to everyone.

I find this kind of dictation troubling.

I prefer to travel in the budget style because I enjoy the voyeuristic experience of putting yourself amongst local people as they go about their business but I never believe I know them. I can relate bits of my life to theirs and we can have a laugh but I always feel an unbridgeable gulf between us and just make the most of it. To be honest that’s how I feel about many people in my homeland, never mind on the other side of the world…

That said I have traveled in relative luxury compared to several past jaunts – my honeymoon cost a bomb but we saw a hell of a lot of the countries we visited AND got to interact directly with people most concerned with protecting their surroundings and livelihoods. This was massively enlightening, thought-provoking, and always interesting. Our trip to Mauritius was an insular one by comparison. We didn’t see much of the local culture, but that’s not what we wanted from the trip. I don’t think we missed the point of our travel. We simply did what we wanted to do – relax.

Trolled?

I might be wrong but the original article felt as much about jealousy as about ethics. I’m not sure whether Schrader meant his point to come across this way, or was just being provocative – if so consider me trolled! – and I’m fairly sure jealousy isn’t the motivator, but I think it’s been worthwhile just thinking about this subject because we all go abroad with an agenda that we hope will be fulfilled. His post and the comments it received (as well as this rather longer essay than would have fitted into the original post) show how varied these agendas are. If another person’s agenda doesn’t fit into your own estimations that’s fine, and expected from time to time, but if it’s not causing any harm then let it be.

To base your opinions on other people’s traveling upon private notions of what the essence of travel ‘is’ must be fallacious. It all comes back to ‘What is the point of travel?’. For me that answer has to be ‘Whatever you want it to be”, and nothing more – so long as you are exploring what lies beyond your place of origin!

Travel is a blank canvas and as long as you’re causing no harm then what is the point of arguing for imaginary supremacy?

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2 thoughts on “In response to Robert Schrader’s ‘Luxury Travel Misses The Point’

  1. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the dangers of traveling while ginger. When they see you coming, what are you in for?

    “Authenticity does not exist beyond the moment and situation you experience, even if it is moulded specifically for you. You can’t encompass a representative experience of a culture (or any ‘thing’) anywhere. Ever. Even if you move to an unfamiliar country and live amongst locals for years you cannot experience the same existence those around you possess because you bring too much with you when you arrive somewhere new.”

    Call it the Myth of Authenticity. It’s your best point, and something most travel writers aren’t going to approach. Why should they? But it goes to the heart of why many people travel and what they seek from travel. It’s the essence of many arguments about what makes a travel experience good or bad.

    As you say, the best you can do is put yourself in the local flow of daily life. That is, unless you’re seeking a respite from daily life. Well, as long as it’s a dose in the life of someone else. In which case are you seeking their life or a reappraisal of your own? All of which puts in to question what it is the traveler sees. If you don’t speak the language, know nothing of the history or culture, what are you taking away from your experience? It’s undeniable, you saw the building, artwork, theater, landscape.

    • Haha, that’s a great idea, might cover that in the near future! The simple answer – a LOT of attention, especially in Asia.

      The reasons behind travel are things that I have struggled to come to terms with, personally. Especially in the face of what I perceive to be such different points of view amongst many backpackers. As is clear I don’t subscribe to the great Myth but I use it more deliberately as a removal from home and as a quest for difference. Putting myself down in a foreign culture usually means that I have to test myself. I enjoy the small victories like reaching my proper destination using public transport, having a ‘conversation’ with a local using a smattering of their language and a lot of sign language – and still being understood. These small rewards are part and parcel of what lifts a travel experience above a home experience and makes it worthwhile to me. That is what I’m seeking out, beside the architectural and natural wonders of the world of course.

      Because we can’t fully understand life in another culture I don’t go in with expectations that I will, and that leaves me wandering with a mindset that’s always finding similarities with home too. I’ve been told before that everywhere in the world is basically the same now, and while I don’t fully agree with that I can see the vibe running behind that sentiment. We are all much more alike than we often pretend, but it’s superficial, it will take many generations of globalisation before everywhere truly is the same. Until that happens there’s more than enough difference in the world to fuel my curiosity and get out there. As you kind of point toward – that exploration helps me towards defining what I am by what I am not. If that’s the side-effect of city-prowling, cuisine-gobbling, temple-hopping, museum-strolling, art-gazing, and castle-bagging then I’m more than happy with that.

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