I still remember the trip to Eritrea in 1994. With no internet or telephone connection. My flight was cancelled and I had no other way to book a new flight but going to the airport and personally check a new flight option to Milan. I felt like I was sent back to the past when all convetional ways of communication we are used to today, where no existent at all.
In 2001 I went to India to assist the Maha Kumbh Mela, a very important induist celebration which happens every 12 years. That year 60 thousand people took part to it. The trip in 2001 was definitely easier than the previous one, but still, far away from the idea of confort we have in Europe.
In 2005, instead, to avoid all-inclusive trips to Thailand, I had to contact a small local travel agent in order to book accomodation and activities.
During this time internet was still an utopia in Thailand.
Back then, travel memories and cultural traditions were spread around through books, National Geographyc pictures and personal travelling experiences, divulged and shared thanks to fortunate occasional encountering with other travellers. There was a real fear of distant places, fear of having to face and getting used to completely different cultures, habits and way of living. Fear of not being able to adapt to something completely new and unlike from what we were used to. This was the time when west culture was still used to colionalism instead of mass tourism.
Nowadays, in 2017, travelling is much easier and accessibile to pretty much everyone.
South East Asia has become one of many available holidays spots, which the mass tourism choose to go maybe in 5star resorts.
Lonely Planet, ones a very important point of reference when travelling, one of the main resources, is getting replaced by travel blogs, always up to date with the new fashions and demands of modern tourism.
Social-media are more and more populated with pages dedicated to travelling and restrected groups where tourists and locals can interact with each other, gather infos and exchange ideas. Internet offers a variety of infos with quick and easy access.
Hotels, tour operators and Airlines tend to promote their business online by offering all kind of options for all types of budgets.
New genarations are definitely advantaged when travelling, also because of the ability of speaking foreign languages. Said that, older generations should not be put off travelling. There are infact many tools they can use to ‘survive’ in other countries; mobile apps that are able to translate foreign languages, and obviously the all-inclusive organised trips where people can get all the support they need while visiting foreign countries.
While Internet is, out of doubt, an amazing tool, it also has a tricky side.
Internet tends to flatten minds by imposing standardised images and ideas of travelling, reducing the connection with the real culture and trasforming travelling into business more than cultural awareness.
Many travel blogs are full of preconceptions more than real experiencies.
In order to give you an idea of what I am referring to, I could mention a couple of real examples.
When visiting Wat Pho, one of the most famous temples in Bangkok, you can notice the presence of two anatomical tables with points and meridians. If you serch on Internet the meaning of those tables, you will find a bunch of misleading infos given as the truth. Even the association of this temple to the traditional Thai massage is misleading. Infact, Wat Pho is just a company which uses the temple name for business purposes; it is something like saying that the Reusi Da Ton (yoga practiced by thai hermits) is associated to this temple because there are several statues representing this system in it.
Unfortunately these misleading infos end up creating preconceptions and false ideas, making impossible to undestand the real culture of a population and creating ‘ghettos’ areas for tourists. Khao San Road in Bangkok, Siem Reap in Cambogia and Kuta in Bali are a clear example of those kind of areas ‘dedicated’ to tourists.There are several ways of travelling and different reasons behind a trip, long or short it does not really matter.
In order to really understand a culture you have to be patient, be able to adapt and ease off, get out your comfort zone and habits.
Choosing family managed accomodations, while travelling, could actually be the first step into knowing the local culture. Spending time with local owners of hostels or small hotels is a great way to discover non commercial places to visit, tips and traditions, having the chance to be able to keep travelling solo in a less conventional way. Another step towards taking part to the local culture is definitely the food. Eating local recipes that people have in their day to day life will make you more aware of their habits. Food is a very powerful cultural element which opens the doors to traditionally shared believes and uses.
Behind this modus operandi there is a big curiosity, nothing must be taken for granted, the ability of leaving behind us our cultural preconceptions in order to embrace a new way of interpreting the world. Best way of understanding a culture, different from the one we are used to, is to take part to its own traditions, habits and believes. By doing that we are going to be able to replace preconceptions with our own experiences.
Travelling opens your mind to new worlds, giving you a real perception of the reality around you. It is up to you what you want to be.
Do you want to be a traveller or a tourist?