Earlier in the day, I was sleeping under a tree in a park. 2 trees away, a guy who looked like he works there, was napping during his break. Later the same day, I was getting a 1.5 hours massage by a gorgeous hunk in a fancy spa after a crab dinner. Earlier in the week, I was sleeping in a bunk bed in a dorm where 2 people crashed on the floor because the hostel was overbooked. I had to step over them to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. Luckily it wasn’t clogged anymore. Before that, I was in a spacious room in a chic hotel with a pool, traditional architecture and breakfast buffet…
I enjoy going from rags to riches to rags to riches and everything in between. It keeps me alert, humble, reminds me not to take anything for granted and enjoy any and all experiences. Each mode has its pluses and minuses.
When I live it up on the economic scale, I get more space, better service and facilities, more privacy, ease and better quality. However, it’s not easy to meet and get to know people, especially locals. As a solo traveler, it can get lonely. I typically have my guards up because many people see me as a money bag and therefore a target for theft and extortion. Even without extortion, there’s always the unspoken expectation of money exchange. This gives interactions a buyer/seller dynamic. However, the worst part of the upscale lifestyle: it often takes me farther from nature. We pay more money to separate ourselves from wild raw nature and all its healing powers. We create ‘artificial nature’ packages; pretty but with no essence.
Traveling on a low budget, staying with Couchsurfing hosts, in hostels, communities, work exchanges and camping is a much more enriching experience on many levels. Not only do I meet and befriend amazing people, it’s also closer to raw nature and local cultures. Without money spoiling the interaction, it’s much easier to connect on a human to human level. Exchange life stories, experience the local cultures, try new things and liberate myself from irrational fears. Everyone is eager to help and share without expecting anything in return. It may not be as comfortable, clean, spacious or easy, yet it’s always more fun, especially when solo traveling. And the irony is, it’s safer. The more I have (or perceived to have), the more I’ve got to lose.
My purse was snatched away while sitting on a beach in southern Spain in broad daylight. I was in an exclusive touristy area. People saw the robbery and no one batted an eye. The next day, I sat a few meters away on the same beach but where the locals hang out. When I moved with the shade, someone came to give me my hat which I had forgotten in my previous spot. Ironically, the hat is more expensive than the purse I lost the previous day, with all its contents.
Many travelers avoid tourist traps because of their superficial nature, crowds, noise and peddlers overcharging for their wares. I enjoy switching between traveler and tourist. Each mode has something to offer. Major landmarks, unique spots and attractive locations will always be tourist traps. Tourist money keeps them well maintained and boosts the local economy. Non touristy areas offer a down to earth authentic experience, yet often are not well maintained or clean. Traveling between both worlds keeps my mind and senses engaged. We can all coexist. There’s a place for everyone. Life is abundant if we choose to see it.
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