Travel; A rewarding experience or endorsement of fears, stereotypes

Posted: Monday, February 15, 2010

I wonder how people think when someone brings up the prospect of traveling. Are they thinking of taking a fancy cruise to the Bahamas, backpacking through Europe, or flying to Japan?

Are thoughts of scary people who speak unknown languages and tongues there to rob you of your coin? Confusing currency that looks like someone stole it off a monopoly board? I suspect that most people sadly enough believe what they hear. Stereotypes plague the travel industry, ironically all of these myths are perpetuated by travel guides, agents and hearsay. Paradoxically this creates a whirligig of foreign investment flowing into the hands of talented advertisers, publishers and private business. Guidebooks often are paid to steer travelers in the favor of whatever hotels, or hostels pay them off. I'm not saying that all guide books should be thrown into the 12th level of Dantes Inferno, but that one should be cautious of what they read and do some background research. Guide books are an amazing resource because they hold maps, not to mention a lot of contact numbers and times that hotels, theaters, run on during on and off travel seasons.

In May 2009 I embarked with our choir to sing in Italy on Kenai's last international choir tour. This was my first trip outside of North America. Having always wanted to leave this continent and set my little vagabond heart on fire. I immediately ran to the nearest bookstore and purchased books on everything about Italy, leaving myself with a wallet full of lint. In these books I read of all the major attractions titled with huge bold letters, "MUST SEE THIS" "TOP TEN ATTRACTIONS" things, places, people that millions of people a year trudge through the masses to see. I kept reading through these books and kept on finding the same thing, labeling what culture is in a top 10 list. When traveling there are certain ways you can go, visit the world's most famous attractions or go off the deep end, find a small corner of the city to watch the hustle and bustle of local life. I personally, from the last trip I had, would be to choose the line between both. Let's say a person reads an article that says that the Mona Lisa is the best thing to visit at the Louvre, if you're an art fan no matter what you'll go see this painting. What about those who are not history buffs or and art fans? It's still on that fancy bold list on page 42.

When I travel or plan to travel I really think hard about what it means to me to be wrapped up in the culture. Maybe I choose the Sistine Chapel, a timeless master piece of art, but there's miles upon miles of lines to constantly wait in for an attraction that might not live up to the hype in my opinion. Traveling is a major gamble, I have to be flexible in order to have fun. One of our trips was in a small town. Our guide pointed out a cafe that we could eat at. Immediately everyone began to scramble at the doors like monkeys fighting over the last banana. I thought to myself "There must be a better option than this" so my buddies and I preceded down the street to find a much cheaper "hole in the wall" gelato shop, which is now on my list when I return to Sicily. At times like that, I am glad that I thought for myself to reap the benefits of stepping outside the tourist mentality.

A fairly recent development in travel technology is the invention of blogs. These are written by people who have been to the destination, and they don't work for a guidebook. The best thing about blogs is the pure honesty, plus information that the author gives can be vital for a trip. If I've learned anything about people, it's that we like to hear what goes on firsthand from a real person. My most recent trip was to Europe for my second time in December 2009 through January. Countries visited: Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, France, Belgium and Poland. I went on the internet to research online about free things to do in Paris. Within a few minutes online I found 10 different blogs on the matter. The information was so useful that I put it into my tentative itinerary.

Travel is a wonderful rewarding experience that can either give you some more enlightened knowing about our brethren around the world, or endorse your worst fears and stereotyped ideas of the foreign world. We should take the initiative to study our destinations, get sources from personal experiences, and look up information from more sources than just the internet or just a guide book. By taking these cautionary steps people can enjoy their traveling experiences but can serve as great ambassadors for this country.

I'm certainly proud to be an informed traveler, and proud to show that we can actually pick up on the culture.

"What is the feeling when you're driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? -it's the too huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies." - Jack Kerouac

This article is the opinion of Zack Misner. Misner is a senior at Kenai Central High School.

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