Where is the Darker Side of Travel?

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Amateur Traveler - travel for the love of itI had one of the most interesting letters I have every received on the Amateur Traveler today:

I have listened to the Amateur Traveler podcast for several years. After replaying another 40 or so episodes this week something has caught my attention. You don’t ever have people on that are unhappy or critical of their trip. At most you sneak a quick question about what was so bad, and as usual the guest takes the hint to down play ANY real unhappyness they encountered.

I began thinking how much this resembles a cult. How people are coerced into putting up the facade of utter bliss when traveling. It never occurred to me how censored your show is and why would it be considering you are the one who edits, picks the questions and the guests. Was all of this not to offend the sponsors and limit income… I wonder.

None of your show is real Chris. It’s make believe with the politically correct dictating every word and downplaying every problem. This is not travel, this is some state sponsored, spoon fed reeducation camp for what you apparantly think are feeble minds.

I challenge you to bring attention to the darker side of travel. Have some real guests who will actually disagree with you. Guests that won’t regurgitate the notion of every moment being little magical sunshine bursts. How they can’t wait to scurry back into the arms of another country or destination. This in short, is just plain nonsense.

I challenge you to some truth in advertising Perhaps stamping, “Your results may vary” on every show and every web page should suffice. Most people save several years worth of money to experience travel to another country. Even waiting a lifetime in most cases. How you can lead these unknowing people and their hard earned money into the cult of utopia is just wrong. Very, very wrong… Try adding some balance

Dramatic for effect. Amateur Traveler enthusiast and still a fan.

Some thoughts occur to me after reading this letter:

  1. That is mostly true with one big exception being an episode called Mis-adventure Travel in Siberia about travel gone horribly wrong. Although we have had guests say not to see the penguins in Melbourne because they are loud and smelly, not to go up in the Gateway Arch because it is boring, not to go to Disneyland, etc. These are the sort of comments that bring the most complaints. I did not agree with any of these comments but did not edit them out.
  2. The tag line for this show was from the beginning “travel for the love of it”. Amateur is derived from the same word as is Amore, which means love. The original definition was someone who does things out of love. I love travel. I try and find someone who loves a particular destination. To be honest even though they love it I sometimes listen to them and cancel any planned trip to that destination. Some places we talk about are not for me.
  3. I am generally an optimist and am so laid back that I am usually one Diet Coke away from unconsciousness. Things do go wrong in travel, but I am not the sort of person who comes back from travel with a list of complaints about the number of things that went wrong. I honestly think that travel goes better for me and that the universe, and the travel universe in particular, likes me because of this attitude.
  4. If you want a podcast about travel from the point of view of how bad it can be, listen to Mark Peacock’s Travel Commons. Mark is a friend and fellow podcaster but I describe his show as the anti-Amateur Traveler. His show deals with trials with airlines, TSA, hotels, etc.
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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

17 Responses to “Where is the Darker Side of Travel?”

Ryan

Says:

Interesting letter, and good response, Chris. I think that another point to be made is that attitude determines a lot. As the author of the letter said, some people save up for years to have the opportunity to experience a certain place. Sure, things can and will go wrong, but you’ve chosen that destination… you want to be there. I think the positive tone to the podcast is because the travelers know not to let minor bumps in the road spoil an entire trip.

By the way, thank you Chris for this podcast, I’m a long-time fan. You unknowingly helped me plan a backpacking trip through Europe. I didn’t visit every place that you podcasted about, but it helped me get some sense of which ones were for me. To my previous point, I had some bad experiences that trip (expected when traveling for a long period of time) but I didn’t let that color my whole experience. So, thank you Chris.

Christopher Elliott

Says:

I didn’t write that letter. Scout’s honor!

Erik

Says:

I’d like to point out that on my podcast about Michigan, I tried to tell the truth about Detroit being somewhat run down and dangerous in some areas. I took some abusive comments and got a few personal emails calling me a racist. I was also accused of being someone who doesn’t love Detroit and Michigan. I am proud to be from Michigan and Detroit, and I said that in the podcast. I believe people hear what they want to hear. I also believe that some people who have ‘bad’ experiences bring those upon themselves because they are negative and are always looking for that.
These shows should all be taken for what they are- people who like a place they have been and want to talk about it. Have you ever been pitched a show on a place specifically so the guest could do a butcher job? I doubt it.
Your shows have always been fair. You are a trusted voice- that was one of the overriding themes in all the TBEX summaries I read.

David Elwood

Says:

One more point Chris is that most people actually do have fun when traveling; they are probably on vacation, excited about doing and seeing new things. What’s to complain about?

Now, do a podcast about business travel and things might be different.

Diana Manson

Says:

Its always interesting to read a letter like this which makes you take a step back & examine the way you view things. I and I think many others choose to listen to Chris & his guests because we like the way they look at the world and take from the podcasts what is relevant to us – entertainment or travel hints for a trip we may do in the future. I find the balanced uncynical view of the speakers to be interesting & sometimes inspiring, there are plenty of places you can find more specific travel info on the “darker side ” of travel if you wish. Before a recent trip to Europe I read Rick Steves web site & got some good tips & I know there are many more out there.
Keep up the good work Chris – love listening as I walk around the countryside here in the South Island of New Zealand!

erika

Says:

Interesting question. I seem to remember that the standard list of questions includes the most overrated experience/thing and something that was not liked at a destination. Also, I agree with many others that making lemonade out of lemons is part of the travel experience. For those that save several years to go on a trip, maybe a prepared itinerary from a good tour operator would be the best investment before venturing out on an independent trip. Generally, research from multiple sources (current and historical) on a destination before the planning the trip increase the chances of an enjoyable experience.

Lynn

Says:

A friend of mine always says, “The worst day of traveler’s diarrhea on your vacation is better than the best day at work back home.” I subscribe to this theory as well. That said, of course travel is an emotional roller coaster. I traveled solo through Latin America last year and had bouts of loneliness, fear, anger, confusion and melancholy…but for people who travel because something inside them makes them go regardless of discomfort or fear of the unknown, all the positive feelings associated with it make it all worthwhile. Plus, you come home with a really funny story about when something went terribly wrong, and that’s usually more entertaining than anything else about your experience.

Vago Damitio

Says:

I just wish more people decided to stay home. It would make traveling so much nicer. Maybe I should change Vagobond into Stay Home!

~Vago

Agagooga

Says:

I do get the impression that your guests are overly positive, but I ascribe this more to general American optimism (and people’s loves for their hometowns/states in those cases) rather than a conscious effort on Chris’s part to censor the show.

Vacations will never be 100% smooth sailing, but it’s not to say that we should ignore and forget about the bad times. Indeed, it would be useful to encourage the guests to talk about some aspects that didn’t go so well so that listeners can learn from their experiences and minimise or prevent the same problems when they visit, or avoid those destinations altogether if there’re deal-breaking aspects.

Zoë Dawes

Says:

Fascinating exchange of views and good on you Chris for not only posting this here, but also in your celebratory 6 year newsletter and for the response. That’s what I love about this kind of platform – when people can voice their views, be listened to in a reasonable manner & then responded to in the same way. Rather unlike Erik’s experience in the response to his Detroit piece.

As someone who has come to your podcasts in the last year and now check them out every time I travel anywhere, I can trust them to be informative and personal. I have enough sense to know that everyone has different views of – well, everything, and take that into account when listening, reading or watching reviews. Plus, like you Chris, I am very positive and enjoy virtually every aspect of travel, (OK – NOT airport security queues!) so tend to look at the positives anyway.

Finally, thanks so much for including the QT podcast on the Lake District in your newsletter – and yes, it was very upbeat cos that’s how I feel about this fantastic part of the world. The downside is the weather … but hey, without that there’d be no lakes 😉

Happy Anniversary and may your celebrations be quirkilicious!
Z

Teresa

Says:

I think the letter writer is absolutely wrong.

Certainly there are things that can go horribly wrong on any trip – that is the nature of life. And there are always things that go wrong on every trip – once again the nature of life. If everything was perfect there wouldn’t be much to remember.

What I love about your podcast is not only hearing about places I would like to visit, but also hearing about places and realizing – that is not the trip for me. There have been a few episodes I’ve listened to and loved the actual show but I won’t be visiting. Or it may be moved down the list of trips I look forward to taking and something else moves up.

Since most of us have very limited travel time/money available we want to spend it on things we would love to do rather than things that don’t suit us at all. Then again, if we happen to be traveling through an area, it’s a wonderful thing to know what to look for along the way even if it’s a place we would not have made an independent effort to see. That’s where your podcast provides tremendous service.

Last of all add me to the list of “attitude is everything”. The letter writer strikes me as a person I would never want to travel with.

Ira H. Bernstein

Says:

As both a listener and presenter, I want to add my $.02 to your comments and those of others that undoubtedly will respond to “Is the Amateur Traveler a Cult?”

If it is a cult, it is a rather strange one because I never have met anyone in the group save for Kris, and I have only spoken to him over the phone. A cult is quite different from a group of people with shared interest, which is what the group consists of. The trip is paid for with our own money (thanks to my children having graduated college and gone on to careers). It is bizarre (a word that I find coming up many times in thinking about the letter) to use the term “coerced”, nor can I remotely think of what the coercion would be (if it is financial, where to I line up for payment?) Similarly, anyone with the most remote interest in travel would know that peoples’ experience varies, so why mention it. I only claim to speak for my family.

First, I have been abroad roughly 20 times and am planning roughly my 14th trip to Italy, my favorite location, with my wife and daughter. It would be the ultimate in stupidity if I did not enjoy these trips, wouldn’t it? Of course some times have been better than others, e.g., a scheduled plane or train connection was canceled, but why dwell on the negative?

I can also assure you that I was never censored or even guided as to my presentations save for the questions Kris asked which anyone who had heard the show could anticipate. The views I expressed were our family’s and reflected what I thought important. Again, it must be a strange sort of cult when people vary as much as they do with regard to how they travel.

You say you listen, but you are not clear in understanding that there are all sorts of travel preferences expressed. I would never go to several places discussed on the show nor travel in the style expressed by many presenters (nor they in ours). That does not mean that I do not respect and enjoy what they have to say. Similarly, why would anyone who habitually has bad travel experiences listen to the show? Please understand that self-selection and cultism are two different things.

Darrell Hickman

Says:

Let me add my 2 cents to this discussion. First vacations are expensive so most people especially on here are intelligent and they do there research to make sure they will have fun on their vacations and that the places they go too will match their personalities and vacation style. And second being an American I am more critical of places in the US than overseas because I am anticipating things being a little different and no need to be labeled the ugly american

Spencer Q

Says:

I wanted to make three points about the letter. First, Chris’ interview of me on Botswana was barely edited and definitely did not downplay the dangers of traveling in the African bush. If anything, he brought it up more times than I would have preferred, as it is generally a safe place to travel and I did not intend to scare anyone away from an amazing country. I believe that both of his travel podcasts are balanced and have covered both the best and challenging parts of traveling.

Second, I would like to have someone podcast about the environmental, economic, and cultural impacts of travel which we sometime ignore in our zest for travel (present company included). I think it would be good to hear about what we can do to minimize our footprint and help the people and lands we visit.

Finally, it’s Chris’ damn podcast and he can do it any way he pleases. 🙂 Happy anniversary and I can’t wait for the next podcast!

Cessy Meacham

Says:

I never read a letter more ridiculous and with so much non sense, a Cult? P..leeease!!!
There is no darker side of traveling, if he looks for darker side just turn on the local news.
Traveling is a state of mind and you make anything you want out of the Journey!!!!! This is your show Chris and many of us admire you for your great work, I am amazed of how cool you took it, He really got the temper of the Peruvian Inka in my blood. Shish!!! ..Ok now, no time for him, I am ready planning my next wonderful trip… cheers to you!

Jeff

Says:

Chris, As a former guest, I would say that most of us are positive because we’re speaking about a place that we are passionate about. Of course, you could change the format have someone on who really hated the destination and gave their perspective as to why they didn’t like it.

There are plenty of places that disappointed me or I really didn’t enjoy and was ready to leave. But, I see this as a show to give the reasons one should consider the destination featured for the week.

Matthew Stone

Says:

I appreciate the writer’s viewpoint, but I agree with the comments. Even the witty Andy Rooney only gets a couple minutes at the end of 60 Minutes to complain. I do not want to listen to people complain about their travels (and tales of woe are best left to the written word, where humorists can choose their words & hyperbole more carefully).

I also think it will be hard to find a local expert on a city if they had a terrible journey. I personally don’t want to spend 30 minutes trying to describe a visit to somewhere that I didn’t enjoy.

Here’s an old essay I wrote about Bad Trips that fits right in this disussion: http://www.globalpostmark.com/2010/11/bad-trips/

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