There is never a right or wrong way to visit a new foreign place. Mistakes are going to be made and the rules are made to be broken, however that doesn’t mean that you’ve made the most of your time away from what most people would call ‘The daily grind’. Whether you’ve planned every last detail of your trip or just decided to wing it and see what happens, in this post I will write about things that I have learned to avoid to ensure I leave the town with something more than a nasty hangover.
Getting super drunk in each new place is somewhat of a normality and is an inherent part of the backpacking culture. If you’re a 20-something, or even 30-something, having a drink at either a local pub or the hostel’s conveniently located bar is a great way of breaking the ice with other travelers, however I come to notice that getting drunk over doing anything remotely touristic is what a lot of backpackers call traveling.
So what does it mean to be a tourist?
For a lot of people this simply means going to a foreign country and hoping to blend in, meeting local people and immersing themselves in a different culture in order to improve the way they see world. Unfortunately for the majority of tourists they take advice from outdated guidebooks, ignore the local culture because they see it as something they’ll never be able to understand and/or go on expensive tours in order to check off their list so they can say “Yeahhhhh, I’ve been there“.
For anyone who knows the way I have traveled will tell you I am an absolute hypocrite for trying to advise people on how to be a better traveler. I have worked in hostels for months without taking a day off drinking, eating mainly hostel food and leaving only once every couple of days to get some fresh air. That was me, that was how I ‘traveled’. Don’t get me wrong, some of my most memorable days were spent getting drunk within the safety of the hostel walls, but by the end of my stay I realised I could of been doing this anywhere. I sometimes found myself forgetting what city I was in and, on some days, even the country. This, although giving me a temporary sense of fulfillment, gave me nothing when compared to the lessons learned when climbing a seemingly impossible volcano or hiking through the Peruvian jungle to Machu Picchu.
Time and time again I meet travelers who will only seem to hang out with people from the same country. You see it in a lot of the hostels around South America. The big groups of Australians the even bigger groups of Israelis getting drunk for days on end without even the slightest interest in the local culture. Now, I’m not here to tell you that getting drunk every now again is something a real traveler never does, I’m here to tell you that’s it’s something that every real traveler should definitely be doing, but after each of my month long binge drinking sessions I was always asking myself: “Why do I travel? What am I doing here that I cannot do at home in Australia?”
This for me was a turning point. I had come halfway across the world just to get drunk everyday? Sure I was meeting tonnes of interesting people from all over the world, but I was a walking zombie who didn’t want to talk to anyone new whilst sober during the day. Was this traveling? No, not really. I was always one to advise people go off the beaten track, avoid the tourist crowds and do something other than what everyone else thinks you should be doing in order to be a good tourist. “Don’t check yourself into a fancy resort of hostel, go out and try the local food and learn the language.” But what was I doing? I was a living, breathing, drunken hypocrisy.
What does it mean to be a traveler?
For me a being a traveler means becoming immersed in a culture. Trying new food even if it sounds and looks disgusting. Learning at the very least a few words in the local language just as a sign of respect. Never leaving a place until you really start to feel a sense of what it’s really like to live there. Traveling isn’t a race to check off as many countries of your to-do-list as possible. Traveling is a brilliant way of life designed to help us learn that our differences are far outweighed by our similarities. We travel to learn about each other and, most importantly, about ourselves.