I was sitting at a lovely cafe in Byron Bay, Australia catching up with a good friend over coffee. As we stirred sugar into our cups of caffeine Francis picked up the little wood stirrer stick and said to me “they used to have little spoons, but the backpackers kept stealing them.” My heart sank. Those little wooden stir sticks represented what’s wrong with how some people travel.
While I seriously despise complainers, I’m going to have a little rant. Because quite frankly, I’m sick and tired of bad backpackers and tourists. Let’s keep in mind that I’m not the perfect backpacker or expert traveler by a long shot, but I have recently seen some things that have seriously irked me and I’d like to get it off my chest. It’s also forced me to think more about travel and what it means to visit a place, then leave it.
Here are some examples of poor habits displayed by tourists and backpackers that make my blood boil.
Straight up stealing
One of the hostels I stayed at in Australia had a library system for pots, pans, and cutlery. You had to “check-out” items to cook and eat with, while leaving a $20 (Australian dollar) deposit. The hostel had experienced so many people stealing their pots and pans they had to enlist such a system. I’ve been staying in hostels for over 5 years and never seen anything like it.
The hostel said they were sure backpackers were stealing such goods for their camper van road trips. Because of that, the rest of us had to awkwardly tote around our kitchen supplies every time we cooked, while hoping nobody stole our pots and pans from our room. The hostel also had to fork out more money to buy multiple sets of cooking setups and keep track of it all. Not an ideal situation.
Arriving late and leaving early
The whole concept of arriving to a campsite late and leaving early minus paying isn’t an old trick. People sometimes do it as houseguests, which I hate. When it comes down to it, you’re stealing and running away with your tail between your legs. As I planned my road trip in the South Island of New Zealand I heard multiple times, “oh just show up late to campsites and leave in the morning, you don’t have to pay!” This is something I never could do and refuse to do. It doesn’t feel right and I won’t stand for it. While there are many free campsites in New Zealand, they are not all free.
Quite frankly I’m sick and tired of bad backpackers and tourists making a bad name for others by participating in such antics.
A lack of volume control
The first time I visited the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland it was during the dead of winter, which meant it was cold, rainy, and relatively peaceful. Seeing such a wonder in the calm of winter felt magical. Walking over the stones and taking in the scenery was wonderful, until the loud family showed up. This family of 4 was yelling to each other about who was taking photos and who had the snacks.
A lack of volume control seems to be a common problem among tourists, and even for me! When I was in New Zealand my friend told me multiple times to “shhhhh, you loud American.” This advice seemed rude to me at first, but I was glad he pointed it out. As I’m part of the problem sometimes.
Going where you don’t belong
If there are signs that say “DO NOT ENTER”, you probably should not enter. While I don’t follow every rule in life, I tend to follow the danger signs. I’ve seen people walking on the beautiful and delicate wonders in Arches National Park and galavanting on the pristine glaciers in the South Island of New Zealand, in places you’re not supposed to be. I don’t know why people walk beyond these signs or go against the rules. It tells me that they think they’re better than everyone else and don’t need to follow the rules. The signs are there to protect tourists and to protect nature.
What’s the lesson?
I love this quote by Maya Angelou:
“If you don’t like something, CHANGE IT. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
So here’s to changing how I feel about bad backpackers and hopefully trying to be a better backpacker and tourist in the future. But also, maybe it’s more of a philosophical discussion of how our actions can have greater repercussions than we know of. Although maybe I’ll save that philosophical discussion for a meal with a good bottle of wine later!
I can’t change the fact that people are going to outright steal and make a bad name for travelers, but I can change how I feel about it. There’s no sense in complaining all day. (Ahem, except I just did for a few moments.) So while I’ve just ranted on four examples I’ll shift that focus to the good travelers and people I’ve connected with over the years.
I’d like to share some moments of goodness and focus on that.
Granola Bar Kindness
When I was traveling in Brisbane, Australia I’d gotten back to the hostel from a run at 7:00 AM and realized that all my food was locked in the kitchen and the hostel didn’t open the kitchen until 8:00 AM. One of my dorm roommates who was from Japan and hardly spoke English (and I no Japanese) quickly realized that I was hungry. She then dug into her backpack and handed me two granola bars with wide open hands.
Lesson: Generosity and thoughtfulness lives.
When I was walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain I’d gotten some sort of stomach bug and felt pretty awful. I’d stopped walking early and checked into a hostel for the night. When I told the hostel owner I was sick he told me sit down for a moment. I watched him quickly whip up a pot of tea for me. Then he grated up 2 or 3 apples into a bowl, making the most wonderful homemade applesauce I’d ever tasted. Within a couple of hours and a good nap, I was feeling good as new.
Lesson: Kindness counts.
The Dutch to the Rescue
I was seriously lost in Brussels, Belgium last year. I’d thought I had a decent handle on the city, but then I was totally lost and it was really dark and quite late. I thought I was on a straight shot back to my hostel, but I was way off. The first person I asked for directions had this “oh you’re really in the wrong spot” look on their face and pretty much walked me to the door of my hostel. She was Dutch and had been visiting Brussels for a few days and knew exactly where I needed to be. This woman went above and beyond the normal call of duty for helping a fellow tourist, which I was incredibly grateful for.
Lesson: The Dutch always know where they’re going. (I’m sort of kidding.)
So here’s to focusing on what you can change and if you can’t change it: change your attitude.
Written in: Eugene, Oregon USA