My Travel Manifesto
A quick succession of travel destinations and trip companions has compounded in my mind a distinct travel philosophy. It follows.
Preamble. Travel is condensed life, a concentrated Every-day. Travel re-illuminates your own origin as much as it instructs you about your destination. Most of all, travel produces novel experiences otherwise unavailable to you, because of time, locality, culture. This philosophy guides one’s decisions about dining, accommodations, and activities, in such ways as:
Dining:- I prefer foods the region is known for, but am weary of tourist trap dishes. When in France, I ate as much cheese as possible; Switzerland, chocolate; Hong Kong, street stall food. I sample any exclusively local cuisine and ingredients. I do not shy away from big brand names either; even they localize. The McDonalds in India serves the best McVeggie I’ve ever had; KFC in Bali is spicy and sweet. Coca-cola South America produces Guaranà, a soft drink based on a plant in the Amazon rain forest. I don’t insist on ordering American foods; do you really need the Thai interpretation of spaghetti bolognese? I do relish “exotics” like insects or innards, but should you decline, rest assured that no one will think less of you for being unable to set aside your conventional ideas about what is proper or improper vehicles for sustenance, you close-minded yokel, no, certainly no one here.
Accommodations:- Safety is my only true prerequisite for considering a place to lay my head. Comfort levels vary between people, I acknowledge, but so long as neither heat stroke nor hypothermia afflicts me, anything should do. Who needs frills if all you need is space to sleep at night? The exception, naturally, is when your entire day is spent in bed, in which case, i say, go for broke, congratulations, have a good honeymoon and remember to stretch first. Generally, though, resort hotels are antithetical to the present philosophy. These are walled gardens, far from the main street, leaving few convenient walking paths, replete with luxurious distractions, designed expressly to flush away any desire to leave the grounds and explore.
Activities:- here it is: I always seek the local experience. I dare to reject the check-the-box approach of tourism. If one visits Paris, does one really need to see the Eiffel tower? Wouldn’t you rather enjoy a languid lunch, in a cafe, along the Sienne, arguing geopolitics with haughty Parisians. I’m there to experience life. The richness of, say, French life, is not the sight of some archway, but rather, is bound up in the fact that the French take their food very seriously, that they close shops and offices for lunch and Sundays and think nothing of it, that they speak, well, French and only French. I acknowledge I am courting controversy here. Still, I hold forth that there is little to gain from “seeing the sights” out of mere obligation. Such sites are just backdrop and context. 1 When I visit a new city, I don’t want to see this city’s respective Times Square, Southstreet Seaport, or Meatpacking District. I would rather: argue with a denizen, puzzle over the subway, down a homegrown poison, howl at awful television programming. This is the good stuff, the stuff that resists transport to another place, that is immune to capture by someone else’s photograph. This is the stuff that colors your life with new perspective, that lays down the soil for real adventure.
That’s how I travel.
- No New Yorker’s identity or living experience is tied to the Empire State building or the Statue of Liberty. The best way to experience New York is to walk the city, experiencing each neighorhood, avenue to avenue. [↩]