So, what is “real” travel, anyway?

If you could go back in time, do you ever wonder if your younger self would recognize your current self? Or would he or she just glance over at you and think “I’m glad I’ll never be like that old sellout” and walk on by?

I couldn’t help but think about that as I considered how my travel priorities and preferences have changed over the years. When I was in my 20’s, I travelled extensively throughout Europe with a few forays into other continents and considered myself a true backpacker. I was there to experience the world, not to stay in a comfortable bubble. Cheap and grungy equaled authentic. Ten hours in a rattling bus during an Eastern European heat wave? All the better to soak up the local ambience (among other things). Hostel dorms? True luxury after three nights straight on the train to save on accommodation costs. Living on bread and cheese? Who could afford cheese? Sure, those folks in their comfortable hotels, riding the air conditioned motor coaches and eating at nice restaurants were a lot more comfortable than I was, but they were missing out on the true, “authentic” travel experience that I was enjoying. And there were plenty of others just like me in the youth hostels and 2nd class train compartments to share my views with. Of course we always stayed confident in the knowledge that we were the ones doing the “real” travelling.

And then something strange happened. I graduated from university and started earning more than minimum wage. I moved into my first nice place of my very own. I discovered that there was more to dining than fast food and mac’n’cheese. And one day I found I couldn’t spend the night on a hard bench in a rattling train car and wake up feeling refreshed and well rested. Suddenly, enjoying a bit of comfort while I travelled didn’t seem so much like selling out.

And then I had kids. And if I had adjusted my priorities a bit before kids, well, everything pretty much went out the window after they came along. Who cares about experiencing a place in the most “authentic” way possible; I had two dependant little people to look after here! Safe little bubble? Yes, please!

Perhaps no place exemplifies this new attitude towards travel as well as the whole subject of Disney, or “Diznee” as my cynical backpacker self would have most likely called it. Talk about being in a bubble. Pretty much everything’s fake, from the castle to the storefronts to the employee’s (oops, make that cast member’s) fake smiles. If soaking up the local culture while exploring the most exotic corners of the world is fine dining, then Disneyland/World is junk food. And so is Las Vegas. And all inclusive resorts. And cruises. And most other forms of travel that are safe and easy. But here’s the thing. Sometimes junk food is exactly what you want. And the older, less cynical me is just fine with that. Do I want to live the rest of my life on it? Not a chance. I’m already eyeing some more challenging travel destinations for the future as my kids are finally getting past toddlerhood. But for now, our trips to theme parks, comfortable hotels in nearby cities and cruises feel pretty real to me.

I have a certain admiration for intrepid travellers who can have a baby and just carry on their adventures as before with the kid strapped to their back, but we are definitely not one of those families. For us, just getting out and about with our kids and keeping our minds open to new possibilities is real enough for us. Of course, if I’m still refusing to venture outside the gates of a Disney park with my kids when they’re teenagers, feel free to send my younger self over from the past to give me a good working over. (I’m pretty sure she could kick my butt quite easily!)  But while you’re back there, you could also tell her to lighten up a bit. Real travel is about what’s inside your head, not your surroundings.

Ready to hang out with my 20 new besties in my luxury hostel digs!

Ready to hang out with my 20 new besties in my luxury hostel accommodations!


2 responses to “So, what is “real” travel, anyway?

  1. I’ve had that thought often on my travels about how I was the “real” traveler because I was willing to rough and have more authentic experiences. The more I travel the more I stray from those thoughts or views from my true traveler pedestal.

    Even though I still travel in the same manner I realize that I wouldn’t mind experiencing things in a luxury fashion. If I end up having kids I also think I would do the theme parks and hotels rather than the hostels and trains. Like you said, real travel is what’s inside!

  2. I appreciate your sensitive insights here. I too have had to reevaluate who I am as a traveler since having kids. As long as you keep traveling, your kids will find their travel selves as well.

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