When it comes to travelling, we tend to go, “Respect!” to those who have either travelled solo or have roughed it out on a budget. Deborah Tan wants all “spoilt travellers” to know that there is no shame in not wanting to “rough it out”.
I don’t like roughing it out when I travel.
I realised that about me when, at 25, I took a holiday with a group of outdoor-loving, super-fit people, who were also on a super-tight budget. The group – friends of a friend – was planning to hike up Jade Mountain, Taiwan’s tallest peak at 3.9km, and a few of us decided to tag along. The trip was eye-opening in many ways and taught me a lot about myself as a traveller. Besides the glaring fact that I was definitely not in the condition to do a 10 – 12 hour hike at that altitude, I realised that I’m not the sort who takes joy in little things like being able to cook fried rice over a tiny stove, 3.4km above sea level. When we were at a supermarket stocking up for the hike, I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why we couldn’t just stick to crackers and cans of tuna, why we had to buy rice, instant noodles, bread, spreads, etc. To me, it was just a two-day hike, something to be done and over with before we get back to the civilised world known as Taipei City. Just buy and eat what was easy to carry, no?
When we were done with the mountain, we spent the next week in Taipei holing up in an apartment that had been partitioned into several smaller dorms. When I wondered aloud why we couldn’t just check into a cheap 3-star hotel, my friends turned to me and good-naturedly declared, “WE ARE HERE TO ROUGH IT OUT!” This line would be repeated several times to me during the trip: like when I asked if it would make better sense to just split a cab fare rather than take the train to Xi Men Ding, or like when I suggested a cafe for dinner instead of eating for the nth time at the markets.
After one week of not being able to blowdry my hair with a hairdryer (the apartment had no such facilities), I silently swore to myself that I’d never “rough it out” when I travel.
Is The Travel Experience Less Valuable Simply Because I Don’t Want To “Suffer”?
Do not get me wrong. Just because I don’t like roughing it out when I travel, it doesn’t mean I just want to stay at exclusive boutique hotels and dine at Michelin-starred restaurants. I believe that when it comes to travelling, there is no point in stressing yourself out and, this can take its form in many ways. Some people don’t like to stress out over whether they will run out of money so are quite happy to settle their meals with sandwiches and roadside eats. Some people don’t like to stress out over safety and so would rather splash out on a hotel room than sleep in a common dorm. Some people don’t like to stress out over transport, because in Singapore, we stress out over that every day, so would rent a car or hire a driver. Different strokes, different folks.
I don’t believe in “suffering” for the sake of it. If there are 4 people in the group and, the traffic and cab fare in the city is reasonable, just take a cab. The time you end up saving by not taking the subway or a bus will just mean more time for you to explore the attraction. If there is a good budget hotel that offers rooms with en-suite bathrooms and in-room safes, I don’t see why there is a need to insist on a hostel simply because it’s more in line with the “backpacker’s image”.
There is nothing wrong with making some “creature comforts” a non-negotiable. For instance, whenever I book an Airbnb property, the 2 things that I consider must-haves are (1) a hairdryer and (2) my own en-suite bathroom. Checking into a place knowing at the end of the day, I can be assured of a good hot shower and nice hair, puts me in the right mood for a vacation.
The travel experience is not “corrupted” simply because a traveller refuses to “rough it out”. You are simply suppose to relax and enjoy yourself; if that means buffet breakfasts with made-to-order omelettes every morning, then so be it.
When Travelling Becomes A Game Of One-Upmanship
Do you often go to dinners or events only to have someone ask the entire table, “So, anyone travelling soon?”? And before you can say, “I’m going on a week-long vacation with myself in my very comfortable bed”, everyone rattles off where they’ve been, where they’ve heard is the next It destination to check out, and where they’ll be going for the upcoming long weekend blah blah blah.
I personally find that, increasingly, talking about travelling at social events is akin to talking about politics and religion. If it can be avoided, I tend not to want to talk about it. If I have to talk about it, I go for the lowest common denominator: “Yeah. Maybe Bangkok – anything new there?” I refuse to engage anyone in a conversation that will lead either to tales of a holiday in a super-expensive place or a holiday that is all about them beating the odds and getting to some super-hard-to-get-to place.
Cos at the end of the day, you’ll realise that travelling has become a game of one-upmanship: who has travelled more? Who has been to more exotic places? Who has eaten the weirdest food (or taken the most Instagram photos)? And, who has the most movie-worthy travel story of self-discovery through suffering and more suffering?
Are we travelling for ourselves or for other people?
Going Away Is About Making You Come Back A Better Person
I’m not saying you are a phoney for sharing your travel story. But if your motivation stems from wanting to prove to others that you are a “better traveller”, I’d say that you’ve wasted all that money. We travel to expand our horizon. We travel to enrich not just our lives but also the lives of others. Whether you’re coming back recharged and ready to contribute more at work, or whether you’re coming back with a new perspective to life, travelling should not become a competition between you and other people.
It’s not about who has spent more, who has suffered more, who has had a more harrowing experience.
It’s not about who was able to step further away from his comfort zone.
Going away is about extracting yourself from the daily grind, finding the best ways to rejuvenate your tired mind and body.
And if roughing it out is not for you, don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it. Staying on the beaten track is perfectly acceptable as a holiday plan.
If there is one thing you are unapologetic about as a traveller, what would it be?