Clutching their Lonely Planet guides like a southern Baptist clutches the Bible, for the alternative traveler, a Fodor’s or Frommer’s guide is simply too mainstream for their tastes. The hipsters of the travel world, these Lonely Planet wielding, hostel hopping tourists sightsee with an air of superiority, often hunting for the “authentic” experience, and disregarding all things touristy as inauthentic, cliched, and altogether unworthy of their all-too precious time.
After a month abroad in Europe and North Africa, I became all too familiar with these hipsters of the travel world. And, if it isn’t obvious enough already, I steadily became infuriated by their pretentious perspective and predominantly Debbie-Downer attitude toward what they deemed “touristy” activities and those people that once in awhile enjoy a shamelessly touristy jaunt (namely, me). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for a purely touristy travel agenda. I love getting beyond the gift shops and overpriced restaurants of typical tourist hotspots. I think that looking beyond the bookmarked pages of your travel guide and wandering around a city looking for cool restaurants and bars and just enjoying the opportunities that come to you is part of the magic of traveling. But often times, this organic travel experience doesn’t just happen, it comes after four miserable hours walking the sizzling midsummer streets of name-your-city, Europe and four hours of desperately trying to convince yourself that yes, those blisters on your heels, the faint smell of ass that seeps out of the summer sewers and permeates the city air, they are all part of an authentic travelers’ experience. I’ve tried to embrace the hipster traveler’s credo to no avail. Yet I still found myself in the company of a gaggle of these hipster types.
The hipster traveler’s angst stems from their denial of their own true nature. They steadfastly deny their tourist self, covering up their tourist shame with hipster pretentions. It’s one thing being a respectful guest in another country, being respectful of new cultures and steering clear of the stereotypical “ugly American” traveler persona, but it’s something entirely different to be so obsessed with “taking the road less traveled” so much so that you are limited by your ego and potential for embarrassment. There is a lot of fun to be had on the well-traveled road if you’re man (or woman) enough to shed your pretentions. Take a guided tour (gasp) and get some fun facts about a new city without an ounce of irony to comfort your sensitive hipster soul. Grab a pair of those nerdy headphones next time you’re at a museum, I guarantee that you’ll learn a lot more than you would wandering with your disaffected gaze before dashing off to see some shitty graffiti on your quest for gritty authenticity.
When it comes down to it, the hipster traveler is no less of a tourist than the middle aged Dad escorting his family of four around Europe. Going back to home sweet hostel and flipping through a dogeared copy of Lonely Planet certainly qualifies you as a tourist. Admit it. Move on. Enjoy your time, stop wasting it on being pretentious.