An Open Letter to Judgmental Travelers

Dear Judgmental Traveler,

Stop it. Just stop.

We’ve been traveling for a little over 4 months now and reading every kind of travel material (blogs, novels, magazines, nonfiction travel books) available for over 2 years and I have noticed a disturbing judgmental undercurrent. Disturbing primarily because travelers often self-identify as the most open-minded, accepting, and inclusive people out there.

We have met mostly wonderful people on the road; people whose stories have inspired us to try new things, examine our own travel style and priorities, and sometimes have just made us laugh. This letter is not addressed to you.

Judgmental travelers, however, have an ugly little problem and it seems like you don’t even realize it. Sometimes I don’t think you’re being intentionally condescending. Hell, sometimes I don’t think you’re old enough to know better and your youthful insecurity compels you to new heights of one-upmanship. Other times it sounds like you decided to travel just to find a new audience to listen to you talk about how great you are. The following examples of just some of the behavior we have seen and which we hope to never see again.

– The Great Jeans Debate:

This has come up a couple of times on the road and we read about it before we left. I have no idea why people have such strong opinions about whether it’s a good idea to carry a certain style of pants on a long-term trip. Did you experience a jeans-related trauma as a youth? Is there some chafing issue? Why on earth would anyone bother to have an opinion about this? Really, this should extend to all clothing in someone else’s bag. Packing lists are HUGELY helpful for planning a trip, but they’re instructive not mandatory.

Me enjoying travel with and without jeans:

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– “The only way to see X is to….

Starting a sentence with this phrase is like starting with, “I’m not racist, but….” Red flags should be blinding you. You’ll never feel better about yourself after finishing that sentence, and your audience will definitely like you less. There is no one way anyone must experience a certain city/country/attraction. How one chooses to see these things is that person’s choice, and their choice isn’t wrong.*

*Unless it involves littering or starting a forest fire…then it’s wrong.

Forest fires are sad

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One recent example: we have heard people telling us that the “only” way to see Patagonia is to hike through it. Obviously, we loved our time trekking in Patagonia, but that doesn’t mean that if you’re not crazy about hiking or trekking that you can’t appreciate the beauty of this region. Saying things like this discourages other people from taking a chance on travel and that’s not right.

– Booking in Advance

This fits in the “why do you have a strong opinion about my travel style” category. There are some people who book everything ahead of time, others who don’t have any plans until they’re already doing something, and others who are a hybrid of the first two.

There is a ton of advice out there telling travelers to just let the journey dictate where they should go next. That is a genuinely lovely sentiment, but sometimes it doesn’t work for a variety of good reasons: meeting people somewhere, finite travel schedule, budgetary concerns, or just plain old discomfort with traveling planless. Maybe it’s better to float along and maybe it’s better to book everything. I don’t know, and neither do you. More likely, it depends on the individual traveler. To paraphrase a saying from my childhood, “You can pick your friends and you can pick your style but you can’t pick your friend’s style.”

Full disclosure: we plan ahead most of the time. This includes sometimes booking hostels two or three cities in advance and buying bus tickets right when we arrive in a new city. This isn’t wrong and it isn’t right, but it suits us now. If you say something like, “You’re too uptight, you should let the journey take you wherever it takes you,” I’m thinking, “Great, then let your journey take you the hell out of my business.” Sometimes we wish we could be more seat-of-the-pants travelers, but we haven’t liked it too much when we’ve done it.

– Whether to Stay in Touch with Home

This one really grinds my gears. Many travelers stay in touch with their friends and family. Many don’t. Both groups have very good reasons for doing one or the other. You really shouldn’t have an opinion about the rightness or wrongness of a fellow hostel resident’s decision to skype with her family every now and then. Frankly, I’m stunned at how frequently people inflict their opinion about this one on us.

– How Much to Spend in a Certain Place

Colorful Chilean pesos

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Ah, money. First of all, there are hundreds of example budgets and money saving tips out there for long-term travelers to look at. Those budgets went a long way in convincing us that we could actually take this adventure and are enormously helpful resources in planning destinations and activities. Those of you who make your budgets public please accept my sincere thanks.

But there have been people on the road who have been using their budget to brag about what superior travelers they are. Look, folks, where you choose to spend your money is a reflection of a number of things: your values, how much of it you have, how long you plan to travel, what country you are in, what you enjoy doing, and so on. You really don’t have any reason to tell another traveler that he/she is wasting money on private rooms (when you’ve been married for nearly 9 years dorm beds just don’t cut it) or that he/she shouldn’t have spent that much on a certain company’s bus ticket because the discount line with the deplorable safety record was cheaper (we enjoy living, thanks), or that they shouldn’t have picked a certain hostel (prefer the bedbug-free ones). It’s not your money and it’s not your budget so buzz off. I can’t think of a single time when it’s appropriate to tell another adult how to spend his or her money. How to manage a travel budget is no exception.

It doesn’t have to be like this. We really can encourage fellow travelers and future travelers to enjoy their travels as they see fit without trying to bully them into mimicking our decisions. Everyone has a different travel style and different motivations for why/how they choose to travel. Embrace those differences and maybe you’ll actually become the open-minded person you think you are.

See you on the road,
Mike

5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Judgmental Travelers

  1. El Loco Grande

    So what you’re saying is that some people are assholes. On the road or at home. How judgmental of you.

  2. FehrDawg

    Amen Baniak! Could you please take his blog and send it to everyone I know except reword it to apply to my entire life, not just travel. That would be greeeaat. Thanks for the chuckle. Safe travels.

  3. Tomes

    Chiefer,

    You personify the Arabic expression:
    خير الامور الوسط
    “khayir am-muur al-wasata”
    loosely translated: “the best of matters is in the middle”.

    I always find it interesting how cultural similarities rise above the differences. I’ve done all sorts of random travel… for the government, for the military, in combat, personal, graduate studies, and each one has been unique and there is no “right way” to travel. Learning to take a step back and appreciate where you are no matter the vessel seems like the right way to do it.

    Your approach and outlook is laudable! Keep in touch my friend and cannot wait for more thoughts from that big head of yours! PS how much is Anna ghost writing this? haha

    :-)

    Tomes

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