Everyone should absolutely try—if they want—to get out there and see the world, broaden the mind, expand ye olde horizons. But perhaps not everyone should talk about it after the fact, particularly if you’re just going to sound like a tone-deaf tryhard who desperately wants to appear cool/affluent/worldly. Don’t do that, okay?
Let me make clear up front that I am pro-going places. So when I’m talking to someone who has traveled a lot, I want to know where they went, why they chose it, what was good or bad about it. Who knows, I might travel to that destination myself someday, so I’m interested. You would be surprised how hard it is to get people to talk about what’s good or bad about a place. Most of the time, I can’t even tell if they actually enjoyed it. That’s because most people collect passport stamps the way some people collect stamp-stamps.
I never traveled much growing up and finally got the chance to go to Europe for the first time a few months ago, but after a lifetime of listening to assholes talk about travel in the most mind-numbingly boring, bougie way, I realized that if you’re going to talk about how you went to London or Paris, there are a few key things to keep in mind so that you don’t sound like such a jerk.
Know your audience.
This is true when having literally all conversations possible, but especially true when having a conversation about travel. If you’re talking to friends who jet-set as much as you, go to town talking about how great the couples massage was or how you loved the free Veuve Cliquot upon checking in or how shitty the turn down service was. Otherwise assume that not everyone can travel as often as you do, wants to, or even cares, and work back from there.
Express an actual opinion about things you saw and did at that place.
In 99 percent of the conversations I’m forced to endure about where people traveled, I literally cannot tell if they enjoyed themselves or not. Perhaps even they are unsure, but find themselves simply recounting the data points of their travel itinerary like some kind of bougie zombie who can’t be bothered to quantify the experience, as if having gone is the only thing that counts.
Questions to consider: DID YOU LIKE IT? IF SO, WHY? WHAT WAS IT LIKE? STATE AN EXAMPLE OR TWO. When discussing any subject, you should try to do this by selecting what we might call the interesting tidbits and saving the rest for the garbage can in your mind. The one you can rifle through on our own time, but should never subject others to.
If you’re talking about a live band you saw recently, for instance, you tend to mention an actual takeaway—“I recently saw U2, and I was kind of floored to remember the number of hits they have had over their career, and the best song they played was definitely “All I Want Is You” for the sheer rawness of it”—versus, “Saw U2, we had fourth row seats!” Do you see how the former states an opinion, whereas the latter merely brags about your proximity to the artist? (PS: I didn’t really have fourth row seats.) Even if all you did in Paris was see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, you can talk about what that was like for you, if it was your first time, or if you found it hideously tacky and why. You can say pretty much anything other than a blasé recounting of how inured you were to the whole thing because you’ve seen so much and are so so jaded.
(And hey, maybe you have seen so much; maybe you are so so jaded. In that case, either refrain from talking about travel unless you’re around other jaded travel types, or explain that because you’ve been traveling for so long for whatever reason, you find it hard to be excited by the macarons in Paris, and now your thing is going to a foreign city and hiring a prostitute who doesn’t speak the language so you have to mime out sexual requests. See? Interesting. Be interesting.)
Understand that there are different types of travel.
Say the conversation at a party or gathering turns to travel and you find yourself ready to chime in about your particular journeys of late. Consider framing the conversation with a preface that explains your approach to travel, so that you’re making it clear that when you hit the road, you like to only take obscure backroads to offbeat historical treasures; or your idea of a good vacation is an all-inclusive resort at a Sandals somewhere; or that you like to really immerse yourself in a new city and hang out with the natives.
This way you can express not just your travel experiences, but also your travel values—this layer is possibly more interesting than the travel itself, because it’s how we really talk about what it means to you to get away—do you feel like you have to see the sights, or hang out with natives, or is all travel merely a way to relax and do nothing? No approach is innately any better or worse than the other, but if you just go spouting off how amaze it was to go to Cancun this year you don’t give someone much to work with. Plus, you’re into Cancun. Gross.
Limit your social media.
Of course you’re going to post pics of a gorgeous sunset you saw in Belize, or the tropical rainforest hut you rented in Costa Rica. Just don’t go nuts, any more than you would with pictures of your baby or the sushi you had for lunch today. Think of it as “impression management” that cannot possibly be as interesting for the viewer as it is for you to experience. Tread carefully. There’s no perfect amount of photos, but our own Clover Hope found that after a recent trip to Paris, she had posted a reasonable, considered amount of photos that amounted to some 10 percent of the 200 she’d taken over four days, thus documenting her trip as a fun experience but without alienating friends unnecessarily.
Mind the gap, please.
Yeah, you could go on and on and on about your three month jaunt through Spain this summer. But if you can’t tell whether the person you are speaking with gives a shit about it, here’s a hint: They fuckin’ don’t. So if they aren’t asking real questions and showing a genuine, eager enthusiasm to hear about your trip—which, again, is far more likely to happen if you ask questions of them and show a genuine, eager enthusiasm about having taken said trip—then turn the conversation back to them, or just find a graceful exit.
Don’t be smug.
Which could also be called “Don’t Make Any Stupid Broad Declarations About How Everyone Has to Get Over to Europe.” In keeping with the theme here, the idea is that you should never assume your listener feels like you, has done what you’ve done, necessarily gives a shit, or even agrees that travel is some kind of moral imperative that only philistines can’t be bothered with. So don’t act like that, either.
Travel is often presented as something you’ve got “no excuse” not to do, because there are always deals to be had and ways around the money and time issue, presumably, so anyone not taking the opportunity to make it happen one way or another is simply not trying hard enough. One, that is patently untrue, and two, not everyone puts a premium on travel, anyway, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing the world in an interesting way.
In a smart piece over at Time reprinted from The Financial Diet, Chelsea Fagan skewers this frequently repeated advice, writing of an acquaintance I’m confident we all have—someone who has found a way to travel a lot and is always posting about it online, with enviable Instagram photos or links declaring themselves a particularly superior breed of restless who just wouldn’t be happy grinding it out day in and day out in one place like the rest of us working stiffs. Or shares quizzes asking if you’re a “tourist”—blech— or a “traveller”—cool!
But it is useful — important, even — to begrudge her the attitude that comes with it, one that is all too prevalent amongst young people who do not have to worry about the foundations of their future financial security: This idea that you must travel, as some sort of moral imperative, without worrying about something as trivial as “money.” The girl in question posts superficially inspiring quotes on her lush photos, about dropping everything and running away, or quitting that job you hate to start a new life somewhere new, or soaking up the beauty of the world while you are young and untethered enough to do so. It’s aspirational porn, which serves the dual purpose of tantalizing the viewer with a life they cannot have, while making them feel like some sort of failure for not being able to have it.
It’s not as if you should apologize or feel guilty for having had the opportunity to go places. It’s great you went somewhere; most people want to go places. But no one likes a braggart, in which case the question is not whether you’re a tourist or a traveller, but whether or not you went to Paris and came back an asshole. Don’t punish us with your shortcomings.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.
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