Are You A Travel Snob?

Posted on November 26, 2009 by

While on the road, I’d met a couple of  travel snobs – travelers who consider their travelling style better than others. In their opinion, backpacking is real travel, the best way to experience a country’s culture. They tend to belittle other forms of travelling (luxury, tour package, flashpacking) and think of themselves as the ‘better’ traveler.

To that, I’d like to ask: Does that mean a luxury traveler who visits more museums than jungles know less of a country than you do? Does it mean that a flashpacker who stays at a hotel is less adventurous and experiences less than you do? On the contrary, aren’t backpackers staying in a hostel interacting with only fellow travelers rather than locals? Everyone has his own travel style and who are we to say which is better than the other?

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Snobbish Behaviour on the Net

Gary from Everything-Everywhere wrote an amusing and honest piece ‘I Don’t Give A Damn How You Travel’ in response to a reader’s comment. The reader condemned Gary on his visit to Taipei, saying ‘there is little point in travelling if you’re only going to hop from one big city to the next’. Gary made his point with the title of his post.

My previous post on recent blogging disputes resulted in more bickering and even personal attacks from the parties involved (read the comments section) . From this episode, you can clearly see that even travelers with the highest profiles in the industry are pulling rank, comparing who’s the “better” traveler. 

BootsnAll published a rather provocative piece written by Paul Dow, ‘Is Flashpacking Killing the Art of Backpacking?’ He clearly offended many with biased opinions like ‘Flashpacking seems like a style of traveling to simply “tick the box” and to be able to say “I’ve been there“, which completely misses the point of independent travel.’ Inevitably it sparked tons of negative feedback from readers,  debating on whether there is any superiority in different traveling styles.

One of the readers commented,

It almost seems like you identify “Real Backpackers” as this elite group to strive to be a part of. Will we be shunned by the “Real Backpackers” if we choose some creature comforts from time to time? Will we be told that we’re “doing it wrong” because we take our photos with a $150 digital camera and share some over e-mail with our family and friends? (and are therefore apparently “Flashpackers”?)

That seems kind of unwelcoming… Everyone chooses to travel in a different way. Isn’t that what it’s all about – to blaze your own trail? Why is there a need to label someone who does things in a different way?

I’m a backpacker myself, and I travel this way simply because I like it. I love eating at a street food stall, I enjoy chatting up the locals and I don’t mind sleeping in a cheap hostel (that’s ‘cos I’m broke).  But that doesn’t mean other traveling styles are in any way inferior. There is no wrong way to travel. 

Tourist vs Traveler

It all started with the age-old discussion of tourist vs traveler – Do tourists really get a sense of a country while toting suitcases and living it up in luxurious hotels? Travelers learn more about a country talking to the locals, trying local food and adventures; while tourists don’t.

I’d admit I used to be one of the ‘self-acclaimed’ traveler who thinks little of tourists. But having met lots of people on the road, getting to know different cultures, mindsets and behavior,  I’ve grown and come to learn that you can’t generalize people like that.

There are always tourists who are more adventurous than anyone – my parents who never in their lives have picked up a backpack, would dare eat a balut (egg with semi-developed foetus in it) from the street stalls in the Philippines – I’d like to see you try that!

On the other hand, I’ve met many backpackers who think they’re way cooler than others just because they’ve meditated in an Ashram in India. Bring them to a Hindu temple where you have to go bare-feet on an oily ground – just see their reaction! Some don’t even dare step in!

It just all boils down to different personality. Some tourists might get more of a trip than a hippie just because they experience it in their own way. Similarly, the hippie got to see a different side of the country which he truly relished. Screw the differences, we’re all out to see the world, so why can’t we start thinking as one?

Different Traveling Style – Different Impact

First of all, some travelers need to face the fact that they’re not the only ones who like traveling. There are millions of people out there who has an equal passion for it. Whether they are independent travelers, tourists on a package or road trippers, there are so many out there just like you. So stop thinking you’re more experienced or better than anyone else.

Secondly, I honestly hate categorizing people, although we all do that unknowingly. How do you define a backpacker – so someone who takes local transport, eats street food, sleeps in hostels but carries a Samsonite suitcase cannot be considered a backpacker?

In Jordan, we befriended an old Aussie couple, who were absolutely friendly, humble and just open-minded (more so than many others in their 20s) – the retired pair were going on an RTW trip. They were staying in nice hotels (they could afford to) but when we met, they were sleeping in this Bedouin camp in the middle of the desert just like us – no toilets, no electricity or any luxury. And they were happy, no complaints. Does that mean they’re luxury travelers or backpackers? I’d let you judge.

On another occasion, we were staying at a big backpackers hostel in Tulum, Mexico, and we hung out with several travelers from Sweden and the U.S. These travelers were aiming at spending no more than $10 a day, so they ate only sandwiches, didn’t do anything else but spend all their money on beer. Right, you’d call them backpackers, but did they explore much of Mexico? Did they even bother learning Spanish to speak to the locals? Did they even try local food (plenty of them on the streets) – I’d dare say no.

We’ve been debating on this topic for far too long, and to be honest, I’m sick of it. I’d rather let this reader’s comment (from Paul’s article) speak for itself,

When you enter a new country, what do you fill in that “reason for entry” question on the immigration card? Backpacker?

Traveller? Flashpacker? Or like everyone else do you write “tourist’”?

Which in the end, is that not what we all are?

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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is the co-founder of WildJunket. As a professional travel writer with a special interest in offgrid destinations and adventure travel, she scours through the world in search for a slice of undiscovered paradise. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Guatemala, swam with sealions in the Galapagos and built a school in Tanzania.

30 Responses to “Are You A Travel Snob?”

  1. Andy Jarosz November 26, 2009 1:21 pm #

    So true Nellie, well said.
    Everyone has their own way of travelling and if it suits them, then let it be. I like my own mix of comforts, luxury and adventure, and even when I'm carrying my backpack from place to place and eating on the street I am a tourist. There's so shame in that label.
    Considering ourselves as travellers rather than tourists is a silly game of snobbery and one-upmanship. Just ask the people who live in the place you are visiting whether you are a tourist; they'll tell you. They'll also tell you who they prefer to have around: it's nearly always the person with the wallet full of tourist $$$.

  2. Dave and Deb November 26, 2009 2:58 pm #

    Great post as usual Nellie. I am with you and Gary…I don't care how anyone else travels. I just like to go my own way. We have done it all. I enjoy sitting on the beach at a resort just as much as the next person, I enjoy trekking through mountains and I enjoy sitting with my computer in the evening writing about it. So I consider myself all of the above. A backpacker, a flashpacker and a tourist. I don't see why there is such a debate going on out there all of the time over how people travel. I just love seeing the world.

  3. Denis November 26, 2009 5:50 pm #

    de la puta madre nellie…..que chevere tu commentario!!!

    I touched on this very debate that is raging in my blog http://www.whatsabackpacker.blogspot.com , my five cents worth was summarised in my final stanza…..

    I believe the diversification of travel styles and personalities is a progressive one. Embrace it, don't fight it. After all, wouldn't this world be a boring place if everybody looked the same, if there was only one language, one way of doing things, one 'type' of backpacker. It would deny the very existence of what this world is – a mysterious unity held together through the web of diversity.

    Paz y amor chica. Im tweeting your goodness.

    • Nellie November 26, 2009 8:37 pm #

      Muchas gracias Denis, cuanto me encanta lo que has dicho, 'de la puta madre'!

      An excellent point you have there – if everybody looked the same, everybody traveled the same way, the world would definitely be a boring one. Why can't we all accept our differences and embrace it?

      It's just part of life how things evolve, change and progress in various ways – I think that's what makes life beautiful!

      Cuidate hombre!

  4. Gregoyr Hubbs November 27, 2009 8:53 am #

    Nice post, but I have seen too many "ugly Americans" walk into restaurants and cafes around the world and not even attempt to speak the language. "Give me a coke and a coffee!" That is embarrassing to me, and often a huge affront to the locals. I thank the gods that I speak several languages and at least attempt to respect local cultures. I also try to remember that when I travel that I am a guest in someone else's home and land. That does not make me a better traveler, just one who is attempting to be more empathetic. By the way, the ugly American takes the form of all nationalities, of course, often in proportion to the wealth of the nation at the time, in my observations traveling for 40 years in all modes…

  5. Angela November 28, 2009 7:22 pm #

    You really pinpoint the issue here, Nellie. I have a little confession: I cannot backpack. But, I promise, I'm not a backpackers-hater. I don't backpack simply for a couple of personal reasons: I'm usually smaller than backpacks, I tend to lose everything I put in a backpack, my back hurts if I keep the backpack on all day, let alone for a month.
    I usually travel with a tiny trolley and I stay at cheap (very cheap, I'm broke, too) B&Bs. I really don't look for luxury (actually I'm a bit allergic to luxury), so I don't mind if the hotel doesn't have all facilities. Normally I only look for a bed and a bathroom, as I spend only a couple of hours in there and the rest around the city or wherever I am, eating cheap food at street stalls (which usually serve the best local food), taking local transport, interacting with locals, trying to learn every language, and exchanging emails with everybody I meet!
    Speaking of "ugly Americans" abroad, Gregory, have you seen Italians abroad? No? Try an Italian restaurant, the first thing Italians do in a foreign country is looking for spaghetti!

  6. Stephane November 29, 2009 9:07 pm #

    "Are you a travel snob"

    Nellie, where is that photo taken ? That lush green rolling hills and water scenary is really inviting..
    where in the world is this ?

    Thanks
    Stephane

    PS: I follow your twits, great stuff!

  7. Anil December 21, 2009 12:21 pm #

    People can travel however they want and whatever they can afford – I don't see any method as 'better'. Each person and travel is so unique and circumstantial that it's impossible to gauge an experience without bias. If you can't gauge something analytically then it's just an opinion and everyone has their own.

  8. flip January 14, 2010 7:35 pm #

    wow. i enjoyed reading your post. i often hearing this tourist vs traveler thingy and alot of people are always saying that backpackers understand more about the culture etc…

    i think whatever your travel style is, the important thing is that you travel,you go out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to other culture and of course enjoy the experience.

  9. Alison March 22, 2010 10:21 am #

    Very well said! I know I couldn't hack it as a backpacker and I doubt I could even travel solo. That said I live to travel. I gave up my 'easy' and 'known' life in Canada and moved to a different country and I think that's a pretty difficult thing to do. I don't consider myself any less or more of a traveler than someone with a backpack. I also don't consider myself any less or more of a tourist than some who visits 16 cities in as many days. To each their own!

    • admin March 23, 2010 1:17 am #

      Appreciate your kind words Alison! Yes, to each his own! Who cares how we travel, as long as get to explore new grounds and get out and see new sights. :)

  10. Todd March 22, 2010 12:05 pm #

    Nice post Nellie. I have been living abroad and traveling for the past 10 years and I have to admit that I have had my moments of snobbery…when I was younger. It usually started by butting heads with backpackers in Thailand…just out from watching The Beach…thinking they are better than me because I was only on a 2 week vacation…followed by me claiming superiority because I lived in Asia…and ending with consuming massive amounts of beer on the beach.

    Now that I am older it doesn't matter to me anymore, I just enjoy traveling and meeting new people. If they want to stay on their high horses I am happy to go meet someone closer to the ground.

    • admin March 23, 2010 1:14 am #

      Thanks Todd for sharing your story. I was a travel snob when I was younger too, it was just easy to think lowly of others who didn’t travel as much. Looking back, it was so naive and stupid of me. They make for some funny stories to look back on though. :)

  11. Sarah Wu December 11, 2010 1:50 pm #

    This is a great post Nellie. Like what Todd and Deb said, we all just enjoy traveling and meeting new people. I don't understand why some people has to look down on someone because they travel a different way. I think traveling is about expanding your horizons and finding what makes you happy. Like your said we're all out to see the world and opening our mind to new things. It doesn't matter if you're living in a nicer hostel or hotell. We're all doing what make our heart happy. Right?

  12. Tran December 11, 2010 10:56 pm #

    so now we have to worry about how we dress, what we own, who we associate with, how many countries we've visited, and whether the way we travel is good enough? status wars among backpackers sounds too much like real life! great post and thoughtful questions!

  13. Daniel August 19, 2011 12:01 pm #

    I love this post. I truly believe that traveling is a really personal thing, and there is definitely nothing like a ‘better’ way to travel, as everyone has their own personal preferences. Some might prefer staying in hostels while others prefer staying in apartments. What matters most is that we enjoy the experience and learn something about the place, and hopefully ourselves, from the trips.

  14. rob November 16, 2011 11:29 am #

    i think all of us on a budget can agree that if we had more money we would stay in nicer places. sure, you don't mind sleeping in a rabbit hutch – walled room in calcutta if its cheap but at the end of the day if you could afford to spend more and get a nicer room then you would. the whole "im spending less than you so im the better traveller "thing is just b/s.
    after spending years bouncing around on buses with my head stuck in some guys armpit for 9 bumpy hours i would love to be able to splash out on the odd flight instead..however i cannot permit myself to do that on my budget. i envy those that can. they can still speak with locals, try nice food, see the sights and have a wonderful experience. and at the end of the night they get to flop down on a nice comfy bed! snobby travellers are all too often just cheap bastards

  15. sarahbeth December 5, 2011 9:03 am #

    Perhaps, this has already been said, but it seems it's more about the attitude of the individuals, then the way they travel. If you're focused on expanding your kindness to others, then you're always going to enjoy yourself and your travels :-)

  16. Chaya Hunking March 14, 2012 2:34 pm #

    Vladimir Putin is all although particular to go back in order to Russia’s presidency with all the exact same swagger, bravado in addition to preventing speak contrary to the To the west because while your dog accessed that Kremlin 10 rice.

  17. eemusings February 2, 2014 1:15 am #

    I also really hate the traveler vs tourist debate and I've been quite shocked recently by some of the judgement I get from travel bloggers. I have a ranty post of my own brewing about travel snobbery…

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