Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Backpackers are full time tourists.

Most people who hate part time tourists are full time tourists -- backpackers -- and that's why backpacker forums like the Lonely Planet message board contain an undercurrent of self-loathing and guilt. Here's an analogy: imagine you're drawn to banking but you fundamentally feel that usury is morally wrong; that's the psychology of many people who strap on a backpack and head across Asia for a year. It's the sophomoric belief that the main problems of the global south are international business and package tourism -- like thinking up is down and down is up!

Backpackers idealize the "unspoiled" regions of the world, hoping they'll discover something about themselves that's missing in their own culture. It's a patronizing view of the world -- that the poor should remain poor and not be spoiled by money because young people from rich countries are enlightened by communing with noble savages wallowing in their own misery. Stay penniless and backwards. It's charming.

In reality, every poor farmer I've met in the third world is looking to make a profit as much as a Wall Street banker, and could give a damn whether some smelly dred-locked douche wants to sleep in a filthy hovel, spend very little money, and drink the local beer.

I've often been a part time tourist but I've never gone on a package tour or stayed in an all-inclusive resort. But I don't look down my nose at those who do. All tourists spend money and that's something the poverty-stricken world needs more of. What they need less of are holier-than-thou scrotebags thinking they're better than everyone else just because they have the money and time to spend a year chalking up countries like notches on a frat boy's headboard.

You have put into words what I have felt for a while. I have run the gammut on tourism - backpacking with bread and peanut butter, studied abroad, do it yourself touring with money, without money, cruised the carribean with old folks, have done medical missions for the dirt poor - it all comes down to this.

If you love to travel, you love to travel. There is no place for self-rightousness among travellers. I have witnessed a range of bad attitudes when you are stranger in a strange land, from the annoying holier than thou dreadlock boys to carry my bags you cute mongrel, and I agree, there is very little difference.

Tourism is as old as culture itself, and when done without bias is one of the most rewarding recreations on the planet.
I've never been a backpacker, but you make it sound so enticing I may give it a try. The main problem with much tourism is that the money rarely reaches the people who need it, but that's the problem with most economic investment everywhere, including in the US -- it circulates among cronies.

At any rate, romanticizing poverty is not cool, especially when you can return from your backpacking to your warm house, flush your toilet, order in some fancy Chinese food, and watch your satellite TV.

I think we have to disagree on this one. Tourism certainly DOES reach many people who need it. That's why locals LOVE tourists. The whole "everybody hates a tourist" comes from liberal guilt, I assume.

Take the tuk tuk drivers in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Before they owned a tuk tuk, they had a crappy scooter and couldn't make much money. They saved up and bought a tuk tuk and can make four times as much. In 2004, we talked to a tuk tuk driver quite a bit and he told us he has an entire family that he supports. These tuk tuk drivers are the middle class in that region --- solely supported by tourism.

And even in countries where there's a lot of crass all inclusive resorts, the money tourists bring eventually spreads itself into the economy.

But the examples are too numerous to list here.

I'm not sure what you mean by, "the money rarely reaches the people who need it", because what I've seen it's the exact opposite.
brilliant post. my personal favorite backpacker idiosyncrasy is how many of them return with a personal belief that they have become more enlightened than Buddha. like any opinion that you are worthy enough to hear should be written down and saved in the annals of history.

what makes me more upset is that these opinions are formed from a year of smoking opium in chiang mai, chasing hookers in angeles city, or experiencing "alternate realities" of a full moon party on koh pha ngan.

as far as locals reaping monetary benefits of tourism, i totally believe that 100%. throughout my personal travels most of the payments i have made for internet, food, lodging, etc have gone to the individuals or families that provide those services. though, i have no idea how much is later taken through taxes...the idea that locals hate tourists is perpetrated b/c so many folks see it as exploitation or the lingering relative of colonialism. exploitation of the local population, natural resources, whatever...its all b/s nonsense.
also, i have to say that reading this: is much better than devoting any time to Lonely Planet. its mostly blogs and diary entries as opposed to message boards where everyone is trying to one-up each other.

Thanks for that. The Myanmar pictures on that site are AMAZING -- the best I've seen on the 'net. I can't wait to go. I'm leaving on Feb 17th!
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