On the Road

Backpacker Morality and Travel Principles, ho, ho

You don’t need the backpacker’s bible to know how to behave abroad – trust your instincts.

Once upon a time people hit the road to find out who they were and who everyone else in the world was. They left their home countries and ventured out into the unknown, braving new cultures and concepts, learning to blend organically into foreign societies as they went.

Now, thanks to the Lonely Planet and the rest of the middle of the road, bourgeois guidebooks, every traveler and backpacker hits the road with a firm list of principles and concepts about how to behave abroad.

The traveler’s moral code these days consists of various sententious notions such as:

One must support sustainable travel

i.e. plane journeys must be kept to a minimum, water filters carried instead of buying plastic bottles of h20 and as much time should be spent in eco-friendly destinations as possible.

One mustn’t haggle too much

i.e. Every market experience is a cultural exchange, not a financial transaction, don’t try to drive the price down too much.

One must never give money to children, only perhaps school pens and sweets

i.e. money would only encourage the kids to beg for life and reduces the backpacker’s interaction with the locals to a series of handouts.

Nauseous Hypocrisy

It’s not so much that this kind of thinking is altogether wrong – it is sickening to see an Israeli traveler bargain over the last 5 centavos with a poor Brazilian – but it’s the self-righteous air that accompanies these traveling saints that makes them unbearable. There are no rules, there are just situations. What a traveler should do in any given scenario is just to stop, look, listen and then go with their gut feeling – not consult the backpacker’s bible first.

The reality is that on the road there are plenty of people willing to charge ten times the price to naive travelers, everyone catches planes because they’re convenient and some kids could really do with the money. There is no one right response.

Rumour has it that forthcoming editions of the Lonely Planet will have cut-out halos for the holier-than-thou traveler…