Sitting on my bed in a hostel as I crack open my journal, I hear it all the time. Some obnoxious traveler who wants to recite loudly (so that all the hostel patrons can hear him) all of the places that he's been that are "well off the beaten path" and how well traveled he is and how many years he's been traveling the world illegally and how many foreign girls he's banged and how many obscure beers he's tried and whatever. Blah blah blah blah bullshit.
I've heard it all a thousand times. Traveling has become a competition. A 'who-has-been-to-cooler-slash-more-obscure-places' competition and it's driving me up a goddamn wall. I also frequently hear the 'who-has-spent-the-least-amount-of-money-on-the-coolest-shit" competition when traveling, and also play that game with myself. I challenge myself to find the best deals and then compete with my last trip to do even better. I guess it's not a horrible habit to have, but when did travel become a competition? There's nothing wrong with spending hours battling the crowds at the Tower of London and it's nobody else's problem if you choose to do so. There's also nothing wrong with spending $500 on a hotel instead of a hostel. Because travel is an individual journey and fuck the rest.
There's the whole mantra of 'be a traveler, not a tourist,' which I always try my best to follow to a T. But in the end, what's the difference? I've seen the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the Colosseum, just like every other person that I so adamantly try to set myself apart from. And I'll continue to do so. While I'm trying to 'find myself' and seek my own beautiful path, I also want to see all of the cool stuff because it's cool for a reason. Am I still an advocate for ditching your guide-book and beating the crowds? Damn right I am. But the wonders of the world are wonderful for a reason (albeit sometimes can be disappointing), and they're meant to be seen by 'travelers' and tourists alike.
I have cried with the sinners and laughed with the saints. In other words, I've waited in line to see the Blue Mosque and I've meandered the backroads of Lithuania by myself. It's the way that you feel in that moment, how you take it in, how much you take away from it, not the way that jackass in the hostel thinks because he's so exponentially cooler than you just because he's spent 6 weeks sleeping on a floor in Cambodia and has never stepped foot in a cathedral (hardcore run on sentence).
It hurts me to get on Instagram sometimes. Because travel has become this competition. It's a competition of who can take the ~artsiest~ picture, get the most likes, look the most beautiful in front of the most beautiful landmark, be the most obscure, have the highest country count, etc. People have built businesses off of traveling and getting lots of likes on Instagram. But that hurts my soul, because we travel to know others, and to know ourselves. We travel to learn and understand that there are different ways to live rather than the way society tells you that you're "supposed" to live. We travel so we can better ourselves and tomorrow, wake up with a completely new perspective than we did yesterday. We travel so that we can add a glimmer to our eye. We travel so that we can love so big and wide that our love spreads across the world. All of these things are worth a thousand times more than Instagram likes.
In being a travel writer, I never ever want to discourage anyone from traveling the world. While yes, I have my own opinions and things that I swear by, there is no right or wrong way to travel. I understand that travel isn't for everyone. Some lifestyles are difficult to permit traveling. But whether you take a weekend off to go visit your cousin in Austin, or take two years off to backpack through east Asia, travel is a beautiful personal journey.
So what does it matter to the jackass in the hostel or anyone on Instagram or any travel blogger in the world that you're not traveling their way or to obscure destinations or whatever they want you to do? As a traveling community, we must meet each other where we're at. I'm in no position to judge your confidence level, your budget, your dreams/hopes/desires. Seize what life has to offer. No matter what, at least you've made moves towards fighting for your dreams.
So wait in a massive crowd to see the Pope at the Vatican (so cool!) Eat at the most popular tourist restaurant. Buy a shit load of keychains for your friends and family. I'm not here to judge, I'm here to support, and so should Hostel Asshole or Perfect-Bitch-on-Instagram.
We as travelers/tourists, need to do better. We must do better to encourage others to travel in whatever way that they find fit. As Zac Efron said in High School Musical, "we're all in this together." So let's encourage each other, and do things our own way.