December 15, 2014

“Authenticity” is often a pointless fetish for travelers

“Talking about the authentic is often what we do when we the overfed and privileged are discussing the fetish we cultivate for lives that look unchosen, for lives that are inherited, and thus seem to us unbeset by the anxiety of choosing one thing over something else. We juxtapose the inheritances that structure a traditional society with the sense of total arbitrariness we feel about our own lives, and we long to be relieved of the burden of choice by just being told what to do. As I say in [my] book, I think this kind of dynamic is what drives the impulse to make a big deal out of, you know, eating where the locals eat. But that’s so problematic for so many obvious reasons. Like, a lot of people in little street stalls in Thailand love to eat their pad thai slathered in ketchup. Personally, I think it tastes gross. Maybe that’s a trivial example. But, to me, all of these examples are trivial in their own ways. My feeling about authenticity is that we’re all best off when we don’t worry about it too much and just get on with the business of trying to travel in ways that feel meaningful to us, for whatever reason.”
Interview with Gideon Lewis-Kraus, World Hum, April 25, 2012

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

December 8, 2014

Almost no place is really obscure anymore

“The global landscape used to be a theater of various shadings — sunlit fields and canyons of dark obscurity, trackless jungles, and misty Shangri-las. Now the whole world is like a cineplex when the lights have come on. Almost no place on the surface of the planet is really obscure anymore. Satellites watch it all and can let you know to the millimeter how far continental drift moved your swimming beach last year. What’s up along the banks of the great, gray-green Limpopo? How’s traffic on the road to Mandalay? What’s the snowpack like across the wide Missouri? The Internet or Google Earth will tell you.”
–Ian Frazier, “The Tale-Telling Days Are Over” Outside, Nov 2012

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

December 1, 2014

We often make do with easy stereotypes of other cultures

“The problem is that we know little about other cultures, and rather than decent knowledge we are likely to make do with easy and false stereotypes. This is what Herodotus understood all too well. Better still, he knew that only mutual knowledge of each other makes understanding and connecting possible, as the only way to peace and harmony, cooperation and exchange. With this assumption in mind, a reporter takes a plunge into the hive of activity: travels, investigates, takes notes, explains why others behave differently from us and shows that those other ways of existence and understanding of the world have a logic of their own, are sensible and should be accepted rather than generate aggression and war.”
–Ryszard Kapuscinski, “Herodotus and the Art of Noticing,” Lettre Ulysses Award Keynote Speech, October 4, 2003

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November 24, 2014

The best travel writing has always been subjective

“It is safe to say that the lasting travel accounts are quite subjective, that — within limits — the more subjective they are, the more readable, the more “valuable” they are. Travelers, like novelists, learned long ago the truth of Todorov’s statement of a universal law: “The best description…is the one which is not description all the way.” That is, the best description is combined with, cannot really be separated from, narration, reflection, interpretation.”
–Percy G. Adams, Travel Literature and the Evolution of the Novel (1983)

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November 17, 2014

For expatriates, America-bashing is a kind of recreational activity

“I’ve found that, for expatriates, America-bashing can become a kind of recreational activity (“re-creating,” in a the process, a sense of home), a way of both justifying your choices and reminding yourself, in a playful and not-too-disturbing way, of the country and culture that — despite anything and all you may do to have it otherwise — are yours. Part of the pride and pleasure of being an American, after all, is that there’s so much to make fun of.”
–Michael Blumenthal, “Western Union,” from In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal (1999)

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November 10, 2014

Foreign reporting can be depressingly narrow

“Out in the great wide world, foreign reporting can be depressingly narrow, especially in the post-9/11 climate. Sometimes it seems as if there are only two possible subjects for stories: people we should fear and people we should pity. But those aren’t the individuals I met while living abroad.”
–Peter Hessler, Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West (2013)

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November 3, 2014

Elizabeth Becker on the economic contradictions of tourism

“Since the end of the Cold War and the opening of the world for travel, tourism has become an important source of foreign exchange for the world’s poorest nations, often the only one. While tourism requires some infrastructure, from airfields to modern highways, it is less expensive than building factories. In theory, poor countries should be able to use the new revenue from the tourism industry to pay for the infrastructure whole raising standards of living and improving the environment. One hundred of the world’s poorest nations do earn up to 5 percent of their gross national product from foreign tourists who marvel at their exotic customs, buy suitcases of souvenirs and take innumerable photographs of stunning landscapes. * But just as tourism is capable of lifting a nation out of poverty, is it just as likely to pollute the environment, reduce standards of living for the poor because the profits go to international hotel chains and corrupt local elites (what is called leakage), and cater to the worst of tourism, including condemning children to the exploitation of sex tourism. Like any major industry, tourism has a serious downside, especially since tourism and travel is underestimated as a global powerhouse; its study and regulation is spotty at best. Tourism is one of those double-edged swords that may look like an easy way to earn desperately needed money but can ravage wilderness areas and undermine native cultures to fit into package tours: a fifteen-minute snippet of a ballet performed in Southern India; native handicrafts refashioned to fit oversized tourists. What is known is that tourism and travel is responsible for 5.3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and the degradation of nearly every tropical beach in the world.”
–Elizabeth Becker, Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism (2013)

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

October 27, 2014

What makes us blind is that we think we see

“This is a truth about leaving the culture that raised you and crossing into another: We leave home with an arsenal of things we know about the place we’re going. There is no disarming all of what we know, no matter how much touching and kneading and feeling we do, no matter how much we think we’re trying. What makes us blind is that we think we see.”
–Alden Jones, The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia (2013)

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

October 20, 2014

Travel writing is about what the place brings out of the writer

“What raises travel writing to literature is not what the writer brings to a place, but what a place brings out of the writer.”
–William Zinsser, in They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing (1991)

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

October 13, 2014

Tourism is like a quick fix of empathy

“This is the grand fiction of tourism, that bringing our bodies somewhere draws that place closer to us, or we to it. It’s a quick fix of empathy. We take it like a shot of tequila, or a bump of coke from the key to a stranger’s home. We want the inebriation of presence to dissolve the fact of difference. Sometimes the city fucks on the first date, and sometimes it doesn’t. But always, always, we wake up in the morning and find that we didn’t know it at all.”
–Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams (2014)

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day
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