The Unspoken Rules of Travel
As we all know, when you travel, you come up against a lot of rules. Most of these are for your own good – yes, you need a passport. Yes, you need to follow every rule your airline imposes on you. Yes, if you’re way too drunk, and you’re going to be potentially dangerous to your fellow passengers, you’re not going to fly. This is all common-sense stuff.
But, if you flick through some of the media which surrounds travel, you can start to feel pressured into certain rules. Magazine articles will tell you how to travel. Television adverts will tell you how to book your trip. Books will inform you that there’s only one true way to experience the world. And don’t forget, you’ve got to look a million dollars whilst you do it – got to be Insta-ready, babe!
All of this can start to put a bit of pressure on you, and you feel a certain need to conform. But isn’t that a little against the ethos of travel, and the fun of it? After all, if we all follow the “musts” of travel, then we’re all going to do the same thing, and descend on the latest must-see destination like a zombie horde. With travel, you should be free to explore as much, or as little, as you want – no rules.
So let’s have a look at these rules, as the media portrays them, and see why you can totally ignore them – if you choose to do so.
1. You have to book your trip at the last minute.
You’ve seen the television ads, which are usually for an app of some kind. A trendy young thing lounges on a sofa, preferably in a coffee shop with an instagrammable latte perfectly positioned, and they book a trip on their phone or laptop. Then they grab their bag and hail a taxi to the airport, where they can embark on the magic of a trip with only a trouser suit, a cold coffee, two dollars in cash, and no passport. Good luck with that.
Obviously it’s an exaggeration, but the point of this Travel Rules advert is to whisper into your ear that last minute is how the cool kids do it. Not using our app to book like this? You’re not fun and spontaneous. You’re doing travel wrong.
This, however, is rubbish. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with booking last minute – you can certainly grab some bargains – but equally you can score some extremely sweet deals by booking well in advance. I belong to an email subscription list which gives me airline deals for almost a year in advance, and they’re ridiculously cheap. So, there’s an awful lot of experienced travellers who are doing the exact opposite of those trendy ads.
Also, for the anxiety sufferer, booking last minute can be almost terrifying. The thought of turning up at an airport and booking the next flight out sounds wonderfully exciting and appealing to me, but I also know that I’d have nightmares on the plane worrying that I hadn’t done my research properly, and that I was flying into a situation that I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy. If you have anxiety, planning and research can really help to take away those nerves and be confident – don’t feel pressured to do something you’re not comfortable with.
And remember: unless your surname is Kardashian, there’s no television camera there watching how you book your trip. Book it last minute, or don’t – no one’s going to see you do it. Just do what you’re comfy with. And if your surname is Kardashian, can I borrow your mansion, please?
2. Everything has to be outside of your comfort zone.
Another Travel Rules favourite of advertising, whether it be on television or in print. It usually portrays someone young, throwing themselves out of a plane with a huge grin, and hopefully a parachute. Or they’ll be bungee-jumping in a New Zealand gorge. Or scuba diving whilst cuddling a shark; you know the type. The cousin to the last-minute booking sites, this advert whispers travel is for terrifying yourself in new ways, and posting about it on Facebook! Travel is young and exciting and dangerous! If you don’t leave your comfort zone at least twice a day, you’re doing travel wrong!
Now, I partly agree with this – the part which encourages you to push your boundaries. In fact, it’s one of my top tips for anxious travellers in particular, because it helps you step out of the cage which anxiety can place around you. But! You don’t have to do that by rappelling down the Grand Canyon, unless you want to.
And if you fancy unleashing your inner adrenaline junkie, don’t feel that you need to do it every day. Sometimes, if you’re constantly seeking that new, exciting experience, you can miss out on things that you’ll only see by taking it slowly. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a day or two to lounge by the pool before the next adventure; it’ll recharge your batteries, and avoid burnout.
Comfort zones are there to be pushed, but you don’t have to stick a ton of TNT on it and blow it to hell. Take it at your own pace, whether that be fast or slow, and you’ll be much happier for it.
3. Everything local and familiar is boring.
Often portrayed in adverts, and ones which hit home because as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. Here in the UK, they’ll generally depict a grey-looking Britain. Old grey ladies will play bingo, whilst a trashy grey seaside arcade looks abandoned. A sad-looking grey donkey will plod along a deserted grey beach. But lo, what is this! All the cool happy people are holidaying in a multicoloured paradise, with blue pools and colourful beachballs, golden sands and pink cocktails! You don’t know where this mirage is, but it is definitely Not Here. Your country is boring, the advert whispers. Buy from us, and go to places where there is colour and life. There is nothing for you in your country, except boredom and depression.
The first thing to remember is that these people generally want you to buy something from them, so they have a vested interest in making your home seem like the most boring place in the world. But think about it a bit. Yes, travel abroad is wonderful, and something that I actively encourage everyone I meet to do. But sometimes, exploring your own country can be wonderful too. Think about the attractions you have, the cities, the national parks. Think about where you’d go and visit if you were from another country. Suddenly, there’s quite a few places you can think of, right?
Exploring your own country can be fabulously rewarding. For a start, it gives you a feeling of travel when you may not otherwise be able to acquire – whether you can’t afford it, or ill health is stopping you. But it also gives you an increased knowledge of your local area, allows you to swap tips with other people, and possibly even gives you a bit of local pride which stops home from feeling quite so boring. You could even blog about it, and assist people who’ll be visiting your area.
Remember, everywhere is exotic to someone else in the world.
4. Package holidays and tours don’t count.
Another favourite rule of the advertising sphere, these will show a young backpacker, usually standing on a dusty road. They’ll either be looking at a map, or hitchhiking. There is no-one else within fifty metres of them, except for the photographer and the tourists who got photoshopped out. Backpacking is the only pure form of travel, it purrs. Package holidays and tours are for old people and cowards. You’ll never experience proper travel without backpacking it, and staying in an authentic local farm. Any other form of travel is useless. You might as well stay at home.
Well, bollocks to that.
I love backpacking, personally – yes, it does give you wonderful flexibility, and the chance to experience some things that you may not if you’re on a more rigid schedule, such as with a tour. But, it is not the ‘only way’ to travel, and package holidays and tours are a no less valid form of travel.
All that is important is that you travel; there are no rules which state that you can only do it by backpacking, and that tours and package holidays are not real travel.
I’ve been on package holidays. Did it mean that I was shackled to a sun lounger by the pool, destined to spend my days doing nothing but sunbathing? Nope: the package holiday may provide you with a hotel, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll never leave it. I’ve explored countries by going on a package, but then using local transport to get around and see as much as possible, exactly the same as I would if I were doing it independently. Really, the only disadvantage is that they’re more expensive than backpacking. But they’re also great for people who travel with kids, and who want that permanent base for a week or two.
As for tours, they can be a wonderful way to see a country if you’re not confident of doing it by yourself, or if you want to see specific things with a guide without the hassle of driving the local roads yourself. My boyfriend’s mother loves pandas, and had always wanted to see them in China – thanks to a tour, she did it. Would she have been confident enough to do it on her own? No. They might be tightly scheduled, but they can unlock places that you might not have reached otherwise.
Travel is travel. One way of doing it might suit you better, and that’s cool. But it doesn’t matter which way you do it, as long as you do it.
5. Travel is only for the young.
This goes for pretty much all examples in the media; you might even have noticed that in most of the advertising scenarios I’ve described above, they feature young people. Young people backpacking, adventuring, exploring. They wear dusty Converse. Grins are wide, not a wrinkle in sight. Hair is long; there might even be a surfboard involved. Everyone looks around eighteen. You can’t travel if you’re older, the advert whispers in a stern tone. Over thirty? No chance, grandma! Stay at home with the old folks; your time has passed. Time for you to settle down and start a family, no more travelling for you. And if you’re over sixty? You can’t travel with that walking frame, you fossil; don’t be ridiculous. This is a young person’s game.
OH HELL NO.
Age is no barrier to travel, and don’t let anything or anyone tell you that it is. My aunt, who is made of awesome, was still going to Australia when she was pushing eighty. Yes, you may see that certain fields of travel are specifically targeted towards certain ages – backpacking is a good example, as companies who specialise in hostels etc will target those who are most likely to be taking a gap year – but does that mean that you’re too old, and that you’ll be a fish out of water? Does it mean you can’t stay in a hostel? No, it does not.
And it works the other way around, too. If you’re a young person, and you want to go on that tour which uses retirees in their advertising, you go for it! Unless there’s an age limit, they really won’t mind at all. And if you’re in your thirties and people are pressuring you to settle down and start a family, remember that you don’t have to do anything until you’re ready, or at all.
And yes, I own a pair of dusty Converse.
So why ignore the rules?
Travel is your experience.
No one can tell you what to do with it, how you should spend your time, how much you should push yourself, or what you should be comfortable with. All of those parameters are set by you, and you alone. An advertiser will portray something a certain way to have an effect on you, to make you feel that you can only travel a certain way (using their services), or that using a particular app or site will somehow make you cooler and more experienced.
By all means, take up those services – a lot of them are absolutely brilliant. But if it isn’t your thing, don’t feel that you have to make it your thing – there’s no surer way of making your trip much less fun than it should be.
No one sets your travel rules but you. And remember, you can change those rules at any time – they’re yours to do with as you please.
Do you have any adverts or ‘travel rules’ which drive you mad? Let’s chat about them in the comments!