Get Real, Travel Snobs
Coming from the Gold Coast and having just moved to Bali – two places infamous for their tackiness – I have become well aware of how trendy it is to badmouth popular holiday destinations. Travel snobs love to poo-poo tourist traps in an attempt to establish themselves as having taste that is somehow more cultivated and refined than the rest of the population because they grew up in Sydney and spent their last holiday in Nepal.
If they’re not disparaging a place for how “ruined” it is these days, they’re humble bragging about reactions they have experienced on other occasions from those less travelled than themselves.
So I told my neighbour I was going to Vietnam, and he was like, “Why the hell would you go there?”
Everyone keeps telling me how dangerous it is to go to Mexico, but they don’t know anything.
My mum told me to be careful in the Philippines and I just said, “Of what?”
To a certain extent, yes, these destination elitists are right. The whole world is worth exploring, and most advice from armchair travellers tends to be fairly useless. Plus – stroll along the glitter strip that is Surfers Paradise and you will find trashy nightclubs, souvenir shops groaning with opals and stuffed koalas and the occasional meter maid. Wedge yourself into Kuta’s never-ending stream of traffic, and you will be met with stalls flogging temporary tattoos of Garuda, rack upon rack of Bintang singlets and persistent drivers offering day trips to overpriced yoga schools in Ubud.
“What a drag,” the travel snobs moan. “So touristy; so fake… I prefer to immerse myself in the real local culture.”
But wait a minute, isn’t Australia famous for its marsupials, its opals, its drinking culture and its bikini babes? And if Bali isn’t the “real” Indonesia, then what is it? Last time I checked, the island was renowned in its archipelago for its unique depiction of deities, its distinctive lager and its Hinduism – the religion from which yoga was born. And although the extent to which these cultural delights are touted may occasionally border on tawdriness, they are cultural delights all the same, and they are championed by locals for tourists’ benefit.
I was in a taxi the other day chatting to the driver about Bali – a place he has spent his entire life. Other than complaining about the congestion on the road we were on, he didn’t have a bad thing to say about the whole damn island. “Bali is so beautiful,” he smiled. “I am happy to welcome you here.” He recommended that I take a dip at the beaches in Kuta, go shopping in Seminyak and check out the naughty monkeys in Ubud.
And you know what? Minus the Bintang singlet, I will visit all those places – and I’ll do so without the slightest complaint about how much better they would have been 30 years ago, a time when I wasn’t even alive. At the end of the day, no matter how much we look down our noses at the couple with braids and sunburn posing for pictures in the Monkey Temple, we – like them – are tourists, and while I am keen to venture beyond the south Bali vortex, I am well aware that it is just as real as the Bali in the north.
Cover by Simon Griffiths
Related: The Authentic Traveller